How to Become a Graphic Designer in Tennessee?

The career of graphic design is an exhilarating one that is constantly developing. Graphic design companies consistently seek tech-savvy graphic designers to help them create and share their brand identity, create advertising and marketing tools, and more. If you are a creative person who enjoys working with technology, working as a graphic designer could be a rewarding career for you.

This isn’t a challenging career to get into, but you need post-secondary education. Most graphic designers studied for a degree in graphic design or other fine arts fields or, at minimum, have an Associate in Arts degree and experience.

What Do Graphic Designers Do?

Graphic designers use a combination of software and other design principles to promote and convey messages. They may create advertisements, brand images, logos, digital images, magazine and print images, and more. Many companies depend on graphic designers to represent their brand and their ideas and values.

Graphic designers may be employed by a design firm or work in large companies’ advertising or marketing departments. They may also work for publishing companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Some graphic designers are self-employed and work as freelancers, where they choose their own clients and hours.

Requirements for Graphic Designers

This career is not regulated on a statewide or national level. Employers usually determine the requirements for this job and the education requirements for employees. A degree is not mandatory, but many employers prefer to hire a graphic designer with a four-year degree.

Taking art and design classes in high school or dual enrollment and any available computer design programs can help prepare you to enroll in a graphic design program.

Accredited Graphic Design Programs in Tennessee

The widely recognized agency that approves art and design schools and programs is the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD). NASAD makes certain that programs meet the basic standards of graphic design and that the programs provide all the necessary components for students to work successfully in graphic design. The following programs in Tennessee are NASAD accredited.

Austin Peay State University

The Department of Art + Design has recently moved into a new building and contains three on-campus galleries. It awards students with a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) degree in art with a concentration in graphic design. This program encourages students to think critically, ask questions, and gain knowledge and skills to excel in their careers.

The four-year degree plan consists of 120 credit hours, including courses in drawing, studio foundations, typography, English, math, sciences, graphic design and art history. Students will also take arts and humanities electives. Students will submit a design portfolio for review in their senior year and participate in a design showcase.

The BFA program at APSU prepares students for a graphic design career working in a design firm or freelancing. It also helps students learn how to work with their clients to meet their design needs and think like designers.

Belmont University

The Watkins College of Art at Belmont University in Nashville offers students the option of completing a BFA in Design Communication. Graphic design students learn visual communication skills and the fundamentals of design. When creating their portfolio beginning their sophomore year, students will explore the foundational concepts of design and typography techniques. The program also focuses on historical methods, the philosophy of design, and the relationship between culture and design. Belmont has an art gallery in which students can display their work.

The Design Communications degree can be completed in four years. This program centers around six core design classes, beginning with the student’s sophomore year. All art students take the same core studio courses their first year, then gravitate toward courses based on their major beginning their sophomore year. Additional courses for design communications majors include printmaking, web page design principles, typography, art history, linear design, interactive media, identity and branding, and narrative and advocacy design.

Students start compiling a portfolio of their artwork during their sophomore year. The portfolios are reviewed by faculty during the student’s sophomore, junior and senior years. Feedback is given to help students further their education and career.

Tennessee State University

Also located in Nashville, Tennessee State University offers a Bachelor of Science degree in art with a concentration in Graphic Design. This program prepares students to work professionally in their art-related career fields. Students learn how to examine and resolve aesthetic, intellectual and technical problems through experimentation, historical awareness and practice.

Tennessee State believes that students benefit from first-hand studio experiences. There are on-campus studios where students receive instruction and experience. They also can attend lectures and participate in exhibits at the Hiram van Gordon Gallery.

Faculty members act as facilitators in the classroom and studios, while students are active participants. Once every semester ends, the faculty critiques student projects and works of art. Students receive ongoing reviews and comments to ensure their progress.

The four-year graphic design program consists of 120 credit hours. Coursework includes but is not limited to: art appreciation, art history, design, fundamentals of drawing, figure drawing, painting, crafts, illustration, production, advanced drawing, advanced illustration, intermediate painting and watercolor painting. Students will also complete a project and internship during their senior year.

The graphic design computer lab at TSU is equipped with 15 iMac computer stations that contain up-to-date Adobe Creative Cloud software. Recent student projects include teaming up with Grassmere Zoo to create sign graphics for the Historic Home and Farm at the Grassmere Zoo.

The University of Memphis

The art department offers a BFA in Art-Graphic Design degree program available for students interested in pursuing a career in graphic design. The degree requires that students pursue a minimum of 120 credit hours over four years. Students will take art and general education courses during their first and second years. Students interested in the graphic design concentration have to complete the Incoming Evaluation for Graphic Design before enrolling in any graphic design courses. Students will submit a portfolio to enter the graphic design concentration in their sophomore year.

The curriculum in this program covers the main aspects of design and visual communication for both digital and print. Students will receive instruction in graphic computer applications and software, visual communication, developing creative solutions, and developing the skills for practical application. The faculty provides students with encouragement, instruction, and guidance to enhance their personal educational experience.

As the aspects of graphic design are ever-changing with new communication models and technology constantly evolving, the curriculum at the University of Memphis changes to keep up with the latest technological advances. The computer labs in the art department are equipped with multimedia capabilities, image generation, printers, scanners and typography. The computers also meet the current industry standards in hardware and software.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville

This university offers a NASAD-accredited BFA degree program in Graphic Design. Like most other BFA degrees, this is a four-year program consisting of 120 semester hours. This program provides students with problem-solving and intellectual skills that they will need to work in this job field.

The program is centered around the foundations of design. Coursework includes 12 credit hours of foundational courses, 45 credit hours focused on graphic design, 18 credit hours in studio and design, nine credit hours in art history, and 30-35 credit hours in general education and electives.

Students will complete a portfolio review at the end of their first year. If they pass the review, they will be granted access to the upper-division courses. Students should also complete an internship with local sponsors during their senior year.

What is the Career Outlook for Graphic Designers in Tennessee?

Projections Managing Partnership (PMP) reports that graphic design career is growing nationwide at a rate of 3 percent. In Tennessee, growth is slightly higher, at a rate of 5 percent. There are 490 job openings in graphic design in the state per year at this growth rate.

According to BLS, graphic designers make an hourly average of $28.83, or $59,970 annually. In Tennessee, graphic designers make $23.95 hourly, equivalent to $49,810 annually. Of course, you have the potential to make more depending on experience, any certifications you may have, and where you work in the state. Also, freelancers may make more since they can set their own rates and hours.

How to Find Work as a Graphic Designer in Tennessee

To work as a graphic designer in Tennessee, begin with completing an accredited graphic design program at one of the schools listed above. The more designs and concepts you can prove you’re familiar with, the better your chances of being hired by a reputable and high-paying company. Start working on your professional portfolio as soon as possible to showcase your work to your professors and future employers or clients.

Most designers are employed in specialized services, while others work in advertising, public relations and the print industry. In Tennessee, you will have the most luck finding work in larger cities like Memphis, Nashville and Franklin. Potential employers in the state include universities, airlines, UPS, Deloitte and Design Team Sign Company.