How to Become a Graphic Designer in Arizona?

Graphic design is a discipline and career that combines art and design with technology. If you are creative and enjoy making things but also like using tech and software programs, this could be a great career opportunity for you in Arizona.

Graphic designers work with clients or for companies to create designs for logos, brand materials, advertisements, marketing materials, websites, magazines, brochures, and more. They use design and technology to communicate a message about a product, brand, event, charitable cause, or organization.

This career involves working with several software programs but is also creative work. Designers use both type and images to create their work. This is a growing career in Arizona, where qualified and skilled designers are in high demand and earn a good salary.

Are There Requirements to Work as a Graphic Designer in Arizona?

Graphic design is not a regulated industry. The government does not set any education, training, or certification requirements for people in this career. What this means is that anyone can call themselves a graphic designer, but in reality, it’s not that simple to start working in the field.

Most graphic designers hold a four-year degree in graphic design or a related area of art or design. While this isn’t a strict requirement, most employers prefer to hire designers with a degree. At a minimum, you must be able to work with the software programs used in the industry.

Graphic design is an excellent career for freelancing. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 19% of people in the industry are self-employed. Even self-employed workers need training and education to do the job and attract clients interested in skilled, educated designers.

To study to be a graphic designer, you do need to meet the admission requirements for schools and programs. Many require certain high school courses and a minimum grade point average (GPA). If you are still in high school, take a variety of general education courses and art classes. The art classes will help you build a portfolio of work, which schools often like to see for admissions.

Choosing a Graphic Design Program in Arizona

The best and most comprehensive design programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD). The accreditation ensures that a program meets certain standards and that students get the experience and courses that the school promises. There are two NASAD-accredited design schools and programs in the state at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University:

Arizona State University, Tempe

ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is a large program that encompasses fine arts, music, film, dance, theater, performance, film, and design. It is a unique program in that it includes so many areas of the arts and allows students to earn cross-institute degrees and mix and match courses.

The Design School within the Herberger Institute is the largest design school in the country and consistently ranks in the top 20. Design students here learn through collaboration, across disciplines, and by embracing innovation and problem-solving. They also work in partnerships with local communities and industries for real-world experience.

Among the many degrees offered here is a bachelor’s degree in visual communication, also known as graphic design. It currently ranks as the 12th best graphic design program in the country. Graduate students can earn a master’s degree in visual communication design or a master of science degree in visual communication design.

The focus of the curriculum is on adapting to the rapid changes in the design industry and developing a visual language through process and synthesis. Some of the classes undergraduate students take include design experience, graphic design history, principles for graphic design, design drawing, typography, visual communication, and motion graphics. The program also requires students to complete an internship for practical experience guided by faculty.

To be admitted to the design school, students must first apply to ASU. Admission requirements include transcripts that show certain courses. Students must also have either graduated in the top 25% of their class, have a 3.0 GPA, or have scored 22 on the ACT or 1120 on the SAT.          Once admitted, students can begin taking courses and apply to the program of their choice.

The University of Arizona, Tucson

U of A’s School of Art is one of the top art schools in the country. It offers a wide range of programs and degrees, including one relevant to a career in graphic design: B.A. in Design Arts & Practices. The program aims to give each student a strong foundation in design with skills that apply to careers in graphic design, product design, industrial design, web design, user experience design, and more.

The degree is interdisciplinary with a broad range of course options. Students take classes in the School of Art and the School of Information, combining art, design, and technology. Project-based courses promote problem-solving, innovation, collaboration, and using design to solve social and environmental problems.

Some of the classes that students in the Design & Arts Practices program take include contemporary art and theory, design studio, illustration studio, typography, information graphics, animation, design for web and devices, and more. Students also have the opportunity to exhibit work in one of several on-campus galleries.

To apply, prospective students begin with admission to the university, which requires an application and transcripts. There are no testing or essay requirements. Students graduating in the top 25% of their class or with a 3.0 GPA are guaranteed admission. Once accepted to the university, students can apply to the School of Art. Financial aid and scholarships are available for tuition assistance.

Unaccredited Arizona Graphic Design Programs

These large universities are not suitable for everyone. If you can’t afford to spend four years in school, consider a two-year graphic design degree. Phoenix College offers an associate in applied science (AAS) degree in graphic design that takes just two years to complete. Students in the program take courses in art, photography, graphic design, digital arts, web design, and art marketing while creating a portfolio of work for later job hunting.

Central Arizona College in Coolidge offers an AAS in digital media arts. The program is designed to prepare graduates to begin working or to transfer to a four-year program. Students can choose a graphic design emphasis that includes coursework in graphic design software, digital imaging, portfolio development, and more.

Eastern Arizona College’s AAS in graphic design program includes fundamentals of design, color and design, graphic design, digital illustration, typography, website development, and portfolio development. Students can also opt for a certificate in graphic design, which is just 25 credits and prepares students for entry-level work in the industry.  

Outlook and Salaries for Arizona Graphic Designers

According to the BLS, the job outlook for graphic designers across the U.S. is positive but slower than average. The current rate of job growth in the industry is 3%, less than the average job growth rate of 8% across all industries.

The news is more positive in Arizona, where, according to Projections Central, job growth for graphic designers is expected to be nearly 10% through 2028. Currently, 2,340 designers work in the state, and this is expected to grow to 2,570. In addition to new positions, people leave the industry and open more opportunities for new, qualified designers.

The median salary for graphic designers across the country is $53,380 per year and $25.66 per hour. Designers working in advertising and public relations earn the most, while those in printing earn the least. The average pay in Arizona is a little lower at $51,680 per year and $24.85 per hour. However, the top earners in the state can make more than $93,000 per year.

How to Find Work as a Graphic Designer in Arizona

With such strong growth in Arizona, it should be easy to find work as a graphic designer if you have the education and technological skills. This is a career well-suited to freelancing, so if you have always wanted to be self-employed, this is a good opportunity.

If you prefer to work as an employee, look for jobs with design companies or with the marketing, advertising, or art departments of other companies. Most large companies hire graphic designers to create their promotional materials, design logos and work on their websites. To give you an idea of what is available, here are some current job listings.

  • Video editor/motion graphic designer, Harkins Theatres, Scottsdale, $65,800 to $83,400 per year
  • Graphic designer – print shop, PepsiCo, Phoenix, $39,000 to $55,000 per year
  • Graphic designer, Maricopa Community Colleges, Tempe, $61,571 per year
  • Logo and branding designer, RYNO Strategic Solutions LLC, Phoenix, $44,500 to $56,300 per year
  • Graphic designer II, Desert Financial, Phoenix, $55,400 to $70,200 per year

Arizona is home to many opportunities for graphic designers. If this career interests you, start with a college program in art and design. This will give you the foundational knowledge, technological skills, and practical experience to become a desirable job candidate or freelance designer.