How to Become a Graphic Designer in North Carolina?

A graphic designer is a professional who combines design and technology to communicate ideas, messages, brands, information, and more. If you are creative, enjoy art and design, and also like working on computers, consider becoming a graphic designer in North Carolina.

Careers for graphic designers are growing throughout the U.S. Many companies in North Carolina and other states need designers skilled and trained in art, communications, and software design programs. They hire designers to make marketing and advertising materials, to build web pages, to design logos, to make illustrations, and to design layouts for publications.

Steps to Take to Become a Graphic Designer in North Carolina

North Carolina has no formal requirements for graphic designers. This is an unregulated industry, which relies on what employers and clients seek in candidates to determine qualifications. Most employers prefer to hire designers with a four-year degree in graphic design or something similar.

Even more important is that a graphic designer knows how to use all the relevant design software. If you have a portfolio of your work and can demonstrate that you understand design principles and how to use the software, a degree is less important.

Even without strict requirements, it’s best to earn some level of credentials to work in this industry. In high school, take art classes or any design classes your school offers, in addition to computer courses. After graduating, enroll in a graphic design program at a university. If you cannot afford a four-year degree, start with a two-year program at a local community college.

Choosing a Graphic Design School in North Carolina

When choosing a school and design program, put those accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD) at the top of your list. Accredited programs deliver what they promise and are more widely recognized by employers. These are some of the NASAD-approved schools and programs in North Carolina:

University of North Carolina, Charlotte

UNC Charlotte’s College of Arts and Architecture aims to train future artists, designers, and creative professionals to use art and design for social equity and civic engagement. Every program includes expert instruction, research, exhibits, and community work and participation.

The Department of Art and Art History offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design. This is a professional program designed to prepare students to begin working in design, advertising, and other areas of visual communication. Students in this program take foundational studio art classes and art history courses.

The coursework specific to the degree includes classes in design thinking, graphic design, typography, user experience and user interface design, communications design, interactive art and design, and print production. Students can also take a senior projects course or a graphic design internship.

To be admitted to the College of Arts and Architecture and the graphic design degree program, students must first apply to UNC. They must then submit a portfolio of work and have a minimum grade point average of 2.0 to declare their major.

Appalachian State University, Boone

The Department of Art at Appalachian State offers students a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design and a Bachelor of Science degree in graphic communications management. The school offers the latter degree to prepare students to work in several areas of communications. Graduates of this program have become digital press managers, design project coordinators, social media specialists, web designers, and marketing managers.

For a more traditional approach to design, the BFA in graphic design is a good choice. This program includes a solid foundation in art and design and courses in communications, typography, software, and studio practice.

For admission to the Department of Art, students must gain admission to Appalachian State and submit a portfolio of work for review. New students must purchase a computer with particular hardware and subscriptions to graphic design software.

North Carolina State University, Raleigh

NCSU in Raleigh is home to the College of Design, with programs ranging from architecture and industrial design to graphic design. Students here can earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in graphic design.

Students in the undergraduate graphic design program study all aspects of visual communications through various types of media. The study begins with a solid foundation in design and advances into specialized studio work. They work alongside and collaborate with students in art, architecture, industrial design, and landscape design.

The courses students in graphic design take include design, context, and experience, typography and technology, typographic language, branding and service design, publishing design, and designing for settings and people.

Advanced courses allow students to pursue areas of interest and get more hands-on with studio work and creation. Students may also choose to study abroad at the North Carolina State Prague Institute or complete an internship. A portfolio review along with admission to NCSU is required for admission to the graphic design program.

West Carolina University, Cullowhee

The School of Art and Design at Western Carolina University offers several programs focused on creative and critical thinking, project-based learning, community engagement, and collaboration. The programs combine these areas of focus with skill, technique, craftsmanship, and technology to prepare students to be working artists and designers.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a graphic design emphasis teaches students the formal principles of design along with critical thinking and the ability to use multiple media to solve problems and communicate ideas. Students combine graphic design with other areas of art, collaborate with other students, engage in research, and complete an internship before graduation. Students gain admission to Western Carolina first and must submit a portfolio for the graphic design program by the fall semester of their sophomore year.

High Point University, High Point

High Point’s graphic design programs are part of the David R. Hayworth School of Arts and Design. Students can choose between a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design. The BFA is a studio program and professional degree accredited by NASAD. The B.A. program is a design studies degree with a concentration in graphic design.

The BFA program is best for students hoping to work as graphic designers upon graduation. It includes 72 credit hours of major coursework in graphic design, typography, illustration, web design, digital imaging, motion design, brand identity, and more. Students also complete a senior capstone project and build a professional portfolio of their work. To be admitted to the program, students must complete freshman year courses and submit a portfolio for review.

What is the Career Outlook for Graphic Design?

Job growth in graphic design is trending upward but slower than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Growth in careers for designers is just 3% between 2020 and 2030, compared to average overall job growth of 12%. Even with slower growth, graphic designers can expect to see nearly 24,000 new positions each year across the country.  

Growth in North Carolina is more positive. According to Projections Central, the number of graphic design jobs available through 2028 will grow by 6%. This amounts to about 940 open positions per year for qualified individuals in the state.

Graphic Design Salaries

The BLS reports that the median salary for graphic designers across all states is $53,380 per year. The median hourly rate is $25.66. In North Carolina, those figures are $49,980 per year and $24.03 per hour. The top 10% of earners in North Carolina in graphic design careers make more than $83,000 per year.

How to Find Work as a Graphic Designer in North Carolina

Job growth for graphic designers in North Carolina is strong, which means there are plenty of opportunities for qualified designers. This trend is expected to continue for several years and longer. Look for jobs with any type of company with a marketing or advertising department. Graphic designers also work for design firms, publishers, periodicals, newspapers, and printing companies.

According to the BLS, 19% of graphic designers are self-employed. This career is well suited to remote and freelance work. You can start your own small business or take on design work on a part-time, virtual basis from anywhere in North Carolina.

If you want to work for a company, you can find positions all over the state, with most of them concentrated in larger cities like Charlotte. These examples of current job listings for graphic designers in North Carolina give you an idea of what to expect when you begin your job search:

  • Graphic designer – government services, The Brooks Group, Greensboro, $23.15 per hour
  • Graphic designer, Quint Events, Charlotte, $46,100 to $58,300 per year
  • Graphic designer, Summit Athletic Media, Charlotte, $40,400 to $51,200 per year
  • Senior motions graphics designer, Projas Technologies, Charlotte, $90 to $100 per hour
  • Graphic designer, Casco Signs Incorporated, Concord, $15 to $23 per hour
  • Junior visual designer, Atypic, Charlotte, $53,200 to $67,400 per year

Getting work as a graphic designer in North Carolina is a matter of education, training, and portfolio building. Begin with a degree program in graphic design, build your portfolio of work, and start your search.