What is a Graphic Designer?

“What is a graphic designer?”

What is a graphic designer is a question I get most often. In my last post I talked briefly on what a graphic designer is and does. In this post I want to go a little deeper on the types of graphic designs.

A graphic designer is a creative problem solver that uses their imagination to find an innovative solution for someone’s problems and needs. Graphic designers are visual communicator.

Forms, manuals, packaging, posters, brochures and page layouts are just some of what can be created by a graphic designer.

So, now that you know a generic way to describe a graphic designer – let’s go into more detail.

In-House Graphic Designer

An in-house graphic designer can be employed by any size company, in any industry. Most in-house graphic designers are made to be generalist; in fact they need to be. In-house graphic designer are responsible for everything to do with that company – really, I mean EVERYTHING. They are responsible for everything from business cards, letterhead, paperwork forms for processing orders to posters and magazine ads/spreads for marketing campaigns to packaging to product instruction to even website design – this could mean laying out a psd file for a web designer to writing code to using Adobe Muse or WordPress. Basically you will be responsible for everything print, web, mobile and social media related. An in-house graphic designer with be responsible for anything that has to do with the visual presentation of the company.

Depending on the size of the company and the number of employee that make up the creative and/or marketing department, will depend on how much of a generalist you will need to be. Some companies will allow for you to be a specialist. My personal experience on this matter is that there may be a specialist for web design however, this does not mean that the web designer will not be responsible for other duties and that the graphic designer will not also need to assist the web designer.


  • Stability: You are THE graphic designer. You know when you’re supposed to be at work, and that’s it. Guaranteed client – the company is your client.
  • Communication: It will be easy to truly understand what your client needs because they’re sitting in the office next door.
  • Hours: Unlike an agency, you probably won’t need to work long hours. This tends to be a 9-5 job
  • A Dull Work Space: Unless you are working for a tech savvy or super trendy or creative company you will more than likely be in a regular-old school, typical cubicle style layout for privacy and clients (not design clients) that visit. A dull work space and really zap your creativity and put you in a bland head space.
  • Less Collaboration: You could potentially be working alone or with just one other person. This doesn’t allow you to learn from others.
  • Less Challenging: In-house designers tend to be treated like a production line – quickly churning out products one after the other. You won’t be able to foster your creativity quite as much with an in-house job. Not being able to go outside the box can get boring at time.

Agency Graphic Designer

An agency graphic designer is a generalist. Because of the changing needs of every client, being a generalist is key. If you’re going to be working for an agency, you will be working for different companies and clients that are contracting your agency to get their project done. You will need to be able to do everything and you’ll need to be able to do it well. You will need to be consistent across campaigns. Being a generalist will help your agency keep their cost low and teams small. You will need to be able to handle print, web elements, social media, videos, illustrations and at least basic web design skills I survive in an agency.

  • Variety: Because you are working with many different clients, you get a good variety of projects.
  • Collaboration: You often work on projects with others, so you have the opportunity to learn from those more experienced.
  • Salary: Agencies usually pay well and give you the opportunity to move up in the company.
  • Long Hours: Designers typically work long hours when working in an agency.
  • Deadlines: This is a huge part of working for an agency. 

Boutique/Studio Graphic Designer

If you are choosing to work for a boutique or a studio, this is where you have the opportunity to potentially become a specialist rather than a generalist. This is a great environment to work in if you like the ability to really focus in and become great at your chosen passion. In this type of setting, you tend to work with a team of specialist rather than a group of generalist like in an agency. Each individual teammate is specializing in a particular element of a project that will create one big project and/or campaign. If your goal is to be a specialist and you enjoy working with a tem, than working in a studio or boutique is the perfect setting for you to enter into.

  • Variety: Because you are working with many different clients, you get a good variety of projects.
  • Collaboration: You often work on projects with others, so you have the opportunity to learn from those more experienced.
  • Salary: Usually pay well
  • Work/Home Life: Easier to separate work and home life.
  • Specialty: Get to specialize in your chosen element
  • Project Selection: Usually not being able to pick and choose the projects you want to work on.

Freelance Graphic Designer

As a freelance graphic designer, you will need to be either a generalist or you need to have a specialty. Freelance graphic designer often work alone but can grow their network to help gain clients and pass client along to their network when they have too many request or request for items they don’t work on.

Just like an in-house graphic designer, a freelance graphic designer can be a generalist of sorts. As a freelance generalist graphic designer, you will probably get more money and more projects with the more disciplines you can do and you can do well and efficiently. Because of the variety of disciplines you will gain diversity in clients.

You can also decide to be a freelance designer that chooses to specialize in something in particular. This is similar to a boutique/studio graphic designer. For example, you could specialize in logo design and branding or you can only do print or maybe you want to only work on mobile design work with web designers. It is up to you what you want to specialize in and can promote this to gain clients.

  • Flexibility: You can do as much or as little work as you want. You pick your own hours and own clients.
  • Salary: You get to set your own pay rate as a freelance designer.
  • Work from Home: Most freelance designers work from the comfort of their own home.
  • Risky: If you can’t find clients, you won’t get paid. It’s as simple as that.
  • Working Alone: If you are a very social person that this might not be right for you. It can be hard to really get work done when you’re working from home and alone if you don’t have the motivation.

Thank you for reading.

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