Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Growth in Graphic Designer Employment Concentrated in Portland Area
by Will Burchard
Published May-27-2014

Graphic designers remain the largest occupation among art and design occupations in Oregon, but instability in key industries of employment has slowed growth. Job openings between 2012 and 2022 for graphic designers statewide are projected to be somewhat higher than the statewide average. Also, above average growth is expected in the Portland area.

Graphic designers, also known as graphic artists, possess a unique skill set that requires creativity, in addition to marketing and technical savvy, to produce images through a variety of media types. Graphic designers work with ever-changing technologies to produce these images. Those with website design and animation experience are in increasing demand. But there's much more to graphic design than being able to use a computer to create images. Graphic designers must be effective communicators. The opportunity to combine arts with technology "draws" people to careers in graphic design.

One Job, Different Applications
Graphic designers are mostly involved in the business of communications and marketing. The images they produce are used to deliver messages to consumers to compel them to buy or pay attention to something. They use methods such as color, type, illustration, photography, animation, and print and layout techniques to produce images in a variety of electronic and print media. Typical job duties might include developing the layout and production design of magazines, newspapers, books, and other publications. Others may be involved in producing promotional displays, packaging, and marketing materials for products and services.

Graphic designers need to have some knowledge of marketing in order to understand the needs of their clients. Once graphic designers understand those needs, they prepare sketches or layouts by hand, or more commonly, with the aid of a computer, to illustrate the intended message. They are constantly trying to keep up with changing technologies in everything from software to paper.

Not surprisingly, the largest industries of employment for graphic designers are specialized design services, publishing (print and software), advertising, and management of companies and enterprises. These industries employ roughly two out of five graphic designers in Oregon. The remaining graphic designers are spread throughout a variety of industries (Table 1). The only major industry that does not employ graphic designers in Oregon is natural resources and mining. Even so, many businesses across all industries, including natural resources and mining, contract with graphic designers to create things like company logos and brochures.

Table 1
Primary Industries of Employment
for Graphic Designers in Oregon
Industry 2012 Employment
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services 880
     Specialized Design Services 389
     Advertising and Related Services 193
     Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting 131
     Computer Systems Design and Related Services 92
Information 387
     Newspaper, Periodical, Book, and Directory Publishers 234
Manufacturing 346
     Printing and Related Support Activities 147
     Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing 86
Management of Companies and Enterprises 205
Wholesale Trade 147
Education and Training Important
A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level positions, but some employers may only require an associate degree. Those with relevant work experience are most competitive in this labor market. Graphic designers should also maintain a portfolio that contains examples of their best work. At least twelve colleges and universities in Oregon offer graphic design programs. Related programs include Web page and digital/multimedia design, design and visual arts communications, and commercial and advertising art.

Employers expect graphic designers to be familiar with current graphics and design software. How can these artists keep up in such a dynamic industry? "Through trade periodicals, blogs, and websites, as well as vendor educational opportunities including on-site training," according to Liz Cawood, president of Cawood Communications in Eugene. Employers increasingly want graphic designers with website design and computer animation experience. Aside from the educational and training requirements, graphic designers must be creative and be able to effectively communicate their ideas in words and images. Graphic designers need self-discipline to start projects on their own, budget their time, and meet deadlines and production schedules.

Employers Want More Than Just Computer Skills
"Newer designers place too much emphasis on computer skills - they begin designing before thinking through how to communicate effectively," says Cawood. "Knowledge of software programs is essential, yet it can't replace a good grounding in the fundamentals, for example, type, composition, and form vs. function."

The first step in effective graphic design is to understand the message the client wants to send to its customers or users. Before a designer touches a computer to design an image, information needs to be gathered about the cognitive, cultural, physical, and social characteristics of the target audience. This information is gathered by meeting with the client, creative or art directors, and researching customer groups. Often working as part of a team, designers use that information to create graphic designs that capture the client's message and meet the needs of the customer.

"In an agency setting, designers need to be good listeners and collaborators. They work as part of a team and benefit from multiple perspectives," says Cawood.

Slower Job Growth Ahead
There were 2,588 graphic designers employed in Oregon in 2012. Employment is concentrated in the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley (Graph 1). Employment of graphic designers is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations in Oregon. Graphic designer employment is forecast to grow by 19.4 percent between 2012 and 2022. The forecast is for all occupations to grow by 15.4 percent. In addition to the 503 new jobs projected for the 10-year period, 685 replacement job openings - primarily due to retirements and individuals leaving the labor force - will provide many more job opportunities for workers.

Specialized design services and advertising are two of the primary industries of employment for graphic designers. These industry groups are comprised of many small and medium-sized businesses and are relatively stable. But other key industries of employment, including printing and publishing, have faced steep employment declines, closures, mergers, and acquisitions that have lessened the demand for graphic designers in those industries.

Advancement opportunities for graphic designers vary depending on firm size and industry. Experienced workers may advance to chief designer, art or creative director, or other supervisory positions in larger firms. Some graphic designers open their own firms, and may specialize in one area of design.

The 2013 average annual wage for graphic designers in Oregon was $48,079, which was higher than the statewide average of $46,402. The wage at the tenth percentile was $26,915. In general, graphic designers can expect to earn wages below the statewide average when they start their careers, but should eventually earn wages comparable to or higher than the statewide average over time. These wages do not include the self-employed.

Nationally, about one out of four graphic designers were self-employed in 2012. Some work full time while others work part time. Many do freelance work on the side in addition to holding a salaried job in design or another occupation.

Graph 1
Most graphic designers work in the Portland metro area and Willamette Valley, 2004
Future Trends
Demand for graphic designers should increase because of the expanding market for Web-based information and expansion of the video entertainment market, including television, movies, video, mobile phones, and made-for-Internet outlets. Reduced demand in traditional print publishing, though, is expected to temper overall job growth. "Communication vehicles keep expanding, and the graphic challenge is to keep the look consistent through all of them," says Cawood. "How we use the Web will change drastically in the next 10 years and the designers that stay at the forefront of that new media will be in demand. Yet, print isn't going away, so designers will have to be comfortable with all forms of media."

Some graphic designers will specialize in certain media types, but Cawood cautions graphic designers not to put all their eggs in one basket. "Though there is some interest in specialization, I think the generalist is going to rule; someone who can see the big picture and then orchestrate how all pieces are created consistently and with crisp graphics."