What Does it Take to Become a Graphic Designer in San Diego?

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Nearly 30,000 graphic designers work in California, the state with the highest employment level in the field 1.  We recently interviewed Scott Norton, program director for Graphic Design at Coleman, regarding the questions he most often receives about pursuing a design career in San Diego.

Do you need a degree to become a graphic designer?
Obtaining a design degree is important, as employers seek individuals that have mastered tools such as the Adobe Creative Suite (Illustrator, PhotoShop, Indesign), which is taught at Coleman. Students also learn fundamental design principles so that students have a working knowledge of the technical aspects of design. In addition, Coleman teaches digital imagery, web and multimedia, vector graphics and typography.

“The advantage of becoming a graphic designer is that the skills you obtain in the classroom can be applied to a wide variety of careers in advertising, web design or game development,” Norton said.

Throughout a student’s career at Coleman, the career services department, as well as graphic design instructors, are available to provide practical advice on creating a resume and developing a portfolio. In 2015, the College Scorecard, an interactive online tool established by the U.S. Department of Education to assist families with college decision-making, ranked Coleman “above average” for high graduation rates and high salary upon degree completion.

How difficult is it to become a successful designer?
“Successful designers make it their passion,” said Norton. “They are constantly working on projects, whether in class or at home. And, they capitalize on social media to help them with their networking.”

While employers still want to see the traditional artist portfolio in-person, the web has become the new tool in showcasing an artist’s talent. DeviantArt.com is the largest online social community for artists and art enthusiasts to display their photos, digital art or paintings. Those interested in comic book creative are flocking to sites like Penciljack.com and DigitalWebbing.com. Employers are utilizing the web, also, often turning to Instagram in search of the next big designer.

However, Norton believes that good old-fashioned networking is still critical for new designers, especially self-employed freelancers. “You never know when the next job opportunity will present itself,” he said. “The key is to stay active in the community, network with others and maintain a positive attitude.” If a client is pleased with your work, sending a hand-written thank you note and asking for a referral are gestures will help generate word-of-mouth about your reputation as a solid designer.

What if I’m not interested in a traditional graphic design job?
The growing popularity of comic-inspired movies, the annual Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego, and a recent Washington Post story on record-setting sales for comic books in June, are inspiring a whole new crop of young people to pursue a career in this exciting industry. “The success of leading comic book artists such as Annie Wu and Tradd Moore, is the result of their working harder for longer than other artists in the field,” said Norton. “Comic creative is fiercely competitive, which is why I tell students to continue to take on traditional jobs and seek out networking opportunities that will lead you closer to your ‘dream job.’”

How would you characterize the current job climate for graphic designers in San Diego?
San Diego represents a large and diversified economic landscape. It is home to a booming tourism industry, military and civilian technology, more than 430 biotech firms, and 13 area chambers of commerce in that represent thousands of small businesses. This rich, diverse community lends itself to a myriad of job opportunities for graphic designers.

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About Scott Norton
Scott Norton is the program director for Graphic Design at Coleman University. He has been a freelance professional creative since Y2K and holds an MFA in Graphic Design. He lives and works in San Diego where he has dedicated his existence to supporting the growth of the next generation of great designers.

127-1024 Graphic Designers. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271024.htm#st

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