What the heck is a Graphic Designer?

I wanted to be a graphic designer my whole life. I just didn’t know it.

My mom recognized my artistic vein early on, and encouraged it however she could. She signed me up for fifth grade Art Club. She found a friend to give me drawing lessons. Every time my artist aunt visited, mom made sure we had time to draw together.

Lucky for me, mom was an elementary teacher. She would sometimes hand me markers and posterboard and ask me to make posters for a lesson. I will never forget the summer she served as youth music teacher for church camp. I got to put all the song lyrics on posters and embellish them with illustrations! In high school, my favorite part of cheerleading was making posters each week to support upcoming games. The ironic thing is, I never took art classes in high school. Drawing pictures did not capture as much of my attention. Imagery with type and a message was the thrill I sought.

Growing up in a small, rural area, my counselor was ill-equipped to craft my career. I was on a college-prep track, which was fine. I planned to go to college, but had trouble deciding on a major. When I told my counselor I wanted to make posters for a living, she said, “A commercial artist?! No, you’re too smart for that. You need to be a doctor or a lawyer.” Thanks, but no thank you.

When I started college, I was on a mission to find my career, to learn what it was called and how to achieve it. After many visits to the campus career center, I found an index card entitled “Computer Graphic Designer”. It sang to me.

So what the heck is a graphic designer? The role is so immersed in our culture that most people don't realize it exists. Everything you see that has words and imagery—billboards, ads, websites, stationery, greeting cards, signage, street banners, clothing, invitations, product packaging, etc.—was created by a graphic designer. While we use computer programs to layout the art, most of our ideas start as sketches first. Some of us specialize in web media, some in print materials, and some in motion graphics (think opening movie credits). We supply the digital art files. It’s a vast, long-established, evolving field.

Still, when I told my friends and family I was going to be a graphic designer, I got mixed reactions, and had a lot of explaining to do. Most every time I tell someone what I do for a living, I get a blank stare in response, and quickly launch into my explanation.

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