Growth in Graphic Designer Employment Concentrated in Portland Area

by Michael Doughty

October 20, 2020

Graphic designers remain the largest occupation among art and design occupations in Oregon. Even though instability in key industries of employment has slowed growth, job openings between 2019 and 2029 for graphic designers in Oregon are projected to be higher than the statewide average for all occupations. 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 is 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 their clients’ needs. Before a designer touches a computer to design an image, they need to gather information about the cognitive, cultural, physical, and social characteristics of the target audience. This information is gathered by meeting with the client, creative directors, 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. 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. Graphic designer’s interaction with modern software and technologies creates the need to constantly update their knowledge in these areas.

Not surprisingly, the largest industries of employment for graphic designers are specialized design services, publishing (print and software), computer systems design, administrative and support services, and advertising and public relations services. These industries employ nearly half (30.3%) of graphic designers in Oregon. The remaining graphic designers are spread throughout a variety of industries. Many businesses across industries contract with graphic designers to create things like company logos and brochures.
Education and Training Are Important

An associate’s degree is required for most entry-level positions, but some employers may require a bachelor’s 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 18 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. 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.

Opportunities and Job Growth Ahead

Publishing and printing, key industries of employment for graphic designers, have faced steep employment declines, closures, mergers, and acquisitions that have lessened the demand for graphic designers. However, an above-average growth rate is projected for this occupation in coming years. Demand for graphic designers is driven by 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.
There were 4,514 graphic designers employed in Oregon in 2019. Employment is concentrated in the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley. Employment of graphic designers is expected to grow faster than the average growth rate for all occupations in Oregon. Employment of graphic designers is forecast to grow by 11.6 percent between 2019 and 2029. The forecast is for all occupations to grow by 8.6 percent. In addition to the 523 new jobs projected for the 10-year period, 4,763 replacement job openings – primarily due to retirements and individuals leaving the labor force – will provide many more job opportunities for workers.

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 median wage for graphic designers in Oregon was $54,329 per year in 2020, which was 28 percent higher than the statewide median of $42,307. The wage at the 10th percentile was $33,987, which reflects what an entry-level graphic designer may expect to earn. In general, graphic designers can expect to earn wages below the statewide median when they start their careers, but should eventually earn wages comparable with or higher than the statewide median over time. These wages do not include the self-employed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about one out of five (21%) graphic designers were self-employed in 2019. 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.

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