How to Become a Graphic Designer in Hawaii?

Graphic designers influence much of our visual lives even though we may not realize it. From the cereal box we used to read while having breakfast, the ads on the subway on the commute to work, to workplace branding, a graphic designer’s impact is everywhere we look.

For someone artistic and interested in visual communication and the way people think and act, a career as a graphic designer may be especially appealing. Before getting into the industry, aspiring graphic designers should know that there are many choices when it comes to their careers as well. That’s because graphic designers can work in virtually any industry and take on roles such as illustrator, brand designer, layout artist, art director, and creative designer, to name a few.

Beyond the many different career choices on offer, a graphic designer will have the opportunity to work with clients spanning many industries and choose whether they would prefer to work in an urban environment or settle in a smaller town. The choices for a dedicated student are almost unlimited.

What is Required?

There are no state or national requirements for graphic designers, but with the industry being such a competitive one, obtaining a post-secondary education can be critical to standing out from the crowd when applying for work.

Many employers in the design industry are looking to hire someone who has obtained a certain level of education to ensure that they are coming into the position with a certain level of competency.

The bureau of labor statistics (BLS) notes that 62 percent of graphic designers across the US report having obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 15 percent report not having gone further than an associate’s degree.

What to Look For?

  • Personalized Support

Look for a program that has a supportive faculty. Taking a tour of the department and talking with the professors will give you a good idea of how invested they are in their students. If you can, speak to past and current students in the program to get a sense of what to expect.

  • Proper Facilities

Take a tour of the facilities where you’ll be studying to make sure that you’ll be learning in a proper studio environment.

  • Internships

An essential aspect of a quality program is an internship. In a competitive industry, having professional experience before graduating is invaluable to standing out.

  • Modern Technology and Varied Content

The design industry is an ever-evolving one, so you’ll want to make sure that the program you choose can teach you about the latest technology being used in the industry.

Top Schools in Hawaii

Although Hawaii’s population is smaller than some states in the mainland US, there are still five high-quality programs for students interested in graphic design. If you’re having trouble deciding on what program is right for you, the following list should help you make a choice.

University of Hawaii, Manoa

The University of Hawaii Manoa is located in Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu. Located on the South shore of Oahu, the city is considered the gateway to the island chain.

The four-year BFA program offers students a degree in studio art with a concentration in Graphic Design. Although the program creates an environment for focus on one particular subject, students are encouraged to explore media outside of their concentration. The department houses modern studios as well as an art gallery where students have the opportunity to participate in multiple exhibitions throughout the year and are required to assist in the planning of a BFA exhibition.

During their time in the program, students are exposed to many different topics such as typography, graphic design, digital design, layout and web design just to name a few.

All students must complete 120 credits over their four years at the University. Students wishing to obtain their BFA will have to undergo and pass a portfolio review before they will be allowed to register for fourth-year courses. All portfolio reviews take place in late spring.

University of Hawaii, West Oahu

The University of Hawaii West Oahu is located in Kapolei, known to many as the second “city” of O’ahu in relation to Honolulu. Kapolei is about a 40-minute drive from Honolulu but offers a smaller-town feel.

The four-year BA in Creative Media with a focus on design and media prepares students to meet the visual communication needs of the design industry. Students learn to solve complex problems by integrating methodology, aesthetics, human factors, prototyping, technology, content, materials and audience.

Students build a core of media and design-related knowledge, but they also get the chance to learn about subjects such as digital drawing, computer graphics, interface design, and art through applied geometry, typography and color design.

Over the course of the four-year program, students must complete at least 120 credits in order to obtain their degree. All students must create a portfolio of work that will be used when applying for work post-graduation. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to participate in an internship which gives students invaluable work experience prior to graduation.

Brigham Young University Hawaii

BYU Hawaii is a small private university located in the small town of Laie, which is located on the North-Eastern coast of Oahu.

The four-year Visual Arts BFA with a concentration in Graphic Design prepares students to enter the design industry as professionals in the areas of print and digital media for publication, branding, and web design. Students will also gain skills in illustration, photography and video.

The first year of the program creates a core of art and design skills. In the second year, students begin their concentration and have the chance to explore topics such as digital design, typography, branding, publication design and motion graphics.

In the spring of their first year, all students wishing to pursue a BFA must submit a portfolio of works from their foundation year for review. Acceptance to the program does not guarantee that the student will receive their BFA. Students must complete an internship as well as their thesis-level coursework and submit a professional-level portfolio for review.

Kapi’olani Community College

Kapi’olani Community College is located in Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu, located on the South-Eastern coast of Oahu.

The college offers students a two-year AS degree program that can be taken as a stand-alone program or as a stepping stone toward a bachelor’s program at another institution. The program has a heavy focus in technology-driven design and working in the latest media.

During their time in the program, students are exposed to subjects such as typography, graphic symbolism, corporate identity, interface design, and motion graphics, to name a few.

The New Media Art program is a selective admission program. Students are required to complete five prerequisite art credits and submit a portfolio and statement of intent. The deadline for submissions is April first, and if accepted, the student may register for the upcoming fall semester. Students have the opportunity to participate in an internship or on-campus practicum. Both of these options provide students with invaluable real-world work experiences before graduation.

Kauai Community College

Kauai Community College is located in the community of Lihu’e, which is the second-largest town on the island of Kauai. Known as “the flower island,” students of the college are surrounded by all kinds of natural inspiration and beautiful views that enhance their experiences in design and aesthetics.

The college’s two-year Creative Media AS degree program exposes students to multiple areas of design through various media, including graphic design.

Although not specific to graphic design, the program is an excellent introduction to many creative media that can be applied to graphic design. Students will have the opportunity to explore topics such as digital arts, composition, introduction to electronics, writing for media, graphic design and starting a business.

Over the course of their two years in the program, students must complete a minimum of 60 credits. As well, students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA during their time in the program in order to graduate. The curriculum includes an internship in the spring of the second year. Those looking to pursue a bachelor’s degree may transfer into the Creative Media BA program at the University of Hawaii, West Oahu or another University on the mainland.  

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

Although Hawaii’s population is on the smaller side, graphic designers working on the islands make a decent amount. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic designers make an average of $49,980 per year, which is just under the national average of $50,710 per year. With time and a good education, the top 90 percent of graphic designers in the islands have reported making up to $79,470 per year.

Regarding career outlook, new graduates or those transitioning into a career in graphic design should know that there are only expected to be 60 openings from 2018 to 2028. This technically comes out to an increase of zero percent, but there were only 590 employed in the field in 2018, so the number was small, to begin with.