3 Career Paths for Graphic Designers

Today, I will showcase to you three career paths for graphic designers or a creative professionals.

I’m going to define them I’m going to talk a little bit about the pros and cons of each one of the career paths but first I wanted to take a moment and mention that it’s a great time to be in a creative career.

Design is driving everything as driving innovation is driving media and there are more opportunities and more jobs in creative professions than ever and there’s also more options within those jobs;


Digital and VR,

3d and gaming.

Media and motion.

Broadcast and print

It’s just amazing and also the money is better than ever as well if you do it right the best thing about it is that when you work with clients I’m always told that working with their designer and their agency is always the best part of their day, so doing this kind of work is really fun.

3 different career paths for graphic designers can take;

1. Freelance

2. Working for an agency

3. Working for a company or corporation

I. Freelance actually breaks down into three different avenues:

I. One is working as a freelancer as an individual on your own

II. Another is working through an online marketplace and

III. There’s also working through freelance temp agencies.

Working at an agency could be working on a design agency, a branding agency or an advertising agency, an in-house that’s an in-house corporate or company setting, I’ve done all three in my career.

I have worked and hired designers into all three of those career paths and I’ve also worked with clients in all three of those career paths.

I’ve had good times and bad times in all three and my opinion is that there’s no absolutely perfect path to take.

I’ve actually taken all three and it’s really benefitted my career so let me tell you a little bit about those three paths.


First of all let’s start about online freelance and when I say online freelance, what I mean are places like oDesk and fiber and Elance.

One of the pros of this is that anyone can join but that’s also one of the cons, anyone can join meaning there are a lot of weekend warriors and less talent people who are selling their services on these sort of sites.

So there’s a lot of competition and sometimes it’s harder to find really good people or if you are a good designer, to stand out from the people who are not so good.

One of the cons of this approach is that there’s a lot of downward pricing pressure and what I mean by that is that there’s a lot of international competition from designers who are a lot less expensive than designers in the EU or in the United States and so it’s driving down the prices of delivering some of this work.

There’s also a lot of competition because it’s so easy to join, there’s a ton of people there, so it’s hard for a really talented person to become recognized and rise above another con.

With this approach, you lose visibility in many cases to your clients because the marketplace doesn’t want to be cut out of the financial aspect of the process, they make it difficult for you to have a direct conversation or a direct relationship with the client and therefore it’s hard to build that relationship over time.

Another approach in freelance is as an independent freelancer so one of the pros of this is that you’re your own boss.

It’s all on you and no one is there to answer to accept that your client. Obviously you can create your own creative vision and your own priorities and you have time, freedom so you can spend your time the way you want.

One of the cons of being an independent contractor or freelancer is that you generally will work with smaller companies at the beginning until you advance very far in your career Where as a consultant you can work with larger companies.

You need to do your own business development so you got to go out and find your own clients, you need to manage your own client relationships and you also need to do all of the administrative stuff that goes along with having a business, from scheduling to finance to taxes to expenses.

They are all very time-consuming and you know it’s not just all pretty pictures and design there’s a lot of administrative work that goes into being a freelancer.

It can at times be lonely because you’re not being exposed to a lot of other people in your field across disciplines or in a working environment.

I suggest that it’s best to either work on an in-house corporate setting or in an agency setting before you move off as an independent consultant or freelancer.

Another approach and this is one of my favorites for freelancers is temp agencies.

There are temp agencies in New York like 24/7 or the creative group or creative circle and what these companies do is, they interview and hire graphic designers, and companies and agencies come to them and say I need a graphic designer and then they will farm out one of their people to those companies for a period of time, generally longer term engagements, could be a day could be week, could be months.

One of the pros of this is that you as a freelancer will get to work with a large number of clients, companies and agencies without having to commit to a full-time job.

So you can see what it’s worth like working in an agency or working in a corporation without making commitment.

It’s a great educational tool when you’re early in your career it’s also great to build experience and to make a broader range of network friends and acquaintances to build your professional network.

You can also work on a lot of different things, so you get a lot of variety in your work and you build a broader portfolio that has a greater range of work in it, which also can be really great at the beginning of your career.

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Another great thing is that they find the work for you, so they call you up say we have this company came to us and they send you out, you don’t have to do the business development to find the clients.

One of the cons of working in a temp agency is that they take a cut of the money so you have to actually charge more in order to make the money.

They take a percentage off the top and can still be a little insecure because you never know when they’re going to call you up or want you to go out on something, it’s a really great option for more junior level designers who want to get a broad range of experience and exposure without having to commit to a full-time gig.

The last con is that if for some reason you find an agency or company that you’ve been freelance doubt to that you really like working with if they want to hire you full time they’re going to have to pay the temp agency a finding fee or you have to have sometimes a significant waiting period before you can be hired full time, that’s one of the significant cons of doing it this.


The next career path for graphic designers is working at an agency, a branding agency, design agency or a advertising agency.

Some of the pros of doing it this way is that you’re going to learn the business of design, you’re going to be exposed to a lot of different aspects of the design industry by working with account managers, working with strategists, financial people, production media.

You’re going to see how clients are landed through business development, you’re going to see how they’re pitched to, you’re going to experience a lot of competition in an agency environment with other designers and you’ll also get some of the best coaching.

You’ll get in your career from creative directors and agencies so you’re going to become better faster in your career. You will learn the strategy and process and be exposed to a nice variety of clients.

What can also be really good for your portfolio is tough work, it’s generally very fast paced and sometimes very long hours and a kind of sink or swim environment.

But the good part of that is that it’s going to build credibility for you as a designer, if you can swim and an agency and it’s going to be great for your portfolio and good for your resume.

Some of the cons of working at an agency are that it can be high pressure, can be fast paced and long hours, it can also be insecure and this is the most important part when agencies lose a client, they have to lay people off so there’s a lot of coming and going at agencies.


The last career path for graphic designers I’ll talk about is working in-house at a corporation or a company, one of the pros of working this way is that generally, at corporations the money is the best, then agencies are freelance.

There’s a great deal of stability and also the benefits can be greater, you will work with a particular brand or brands in depth for a long period of time so you really learn about brand development.

You’ll also learn deeply about business and brand strategy, some of the cons of working at a corporate in-house environment is that there can be little or less variety than working as a freelancer or in an agency, you may work on a brand or two over a long period of time.

I knew one person who started off their career and after three years of working in their first job they had worked only on Kingsford Charcoal and all they had in their portfolio was Kingsford Charcoal work which made it very difficult to kind of get that next job.

So it can be bad for your portfolio in terms of varieties, can be a little boring for you as a designer if you’re working just on one brand and it can be slower in growing your talent, because of the level of competition and the speed of that work.

Corporate environments can be more political so they can be more matrix in terms of complexity and how they operate and how divisions work with each other.

In some cases in-house design departments are less valued than external agencies or external contractors, don’t ask me why. I’ve been in both situations but corporations always seem to value their internal people just a little bit less than the people on the outside.

So those are three major career paths for graphic designers.

The thing to remember is that there’s no perfect answer but also that nothing is permanent and nothing’s forever, so you can try one path and if it doesn’t work out and you don’t like it you can always try another and having a variety across those paths is actually really good for a career, because when you go into an agency they like people with corporate side experience when you go into a corporate side they like people with agency level experience.

So cross populating or making jogs in your career path is not a bad thing and it also great to build your portfolio with breadth of work, different kinds of industries, different kinds of categories.

So get out there do great design but also make sure that you take some time and learn about the strategy of design, and learn about the business of design, never stop learning and never stop creating so that’s it I hope you learnt a thing on three career paths for graphic designers and creative professionals.

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