How To Become a Graphic Designer in Washington DC?

Graphic design uses technology to stimulate consumers by conveying messages visually. It is the visual communication of ideas through a combination of art media. The artistic expression of graphic design is seen in things hidden in plain sight, from the billboards that advertise products to the exit signs that tell us where to leave the building.

Graphic design is comprehensive and can be divided into different areas, including:

  • Product design
  • Branding, publishing and print design for logos, business cards, letterheads, brochures, book and magazine covers, books, shirts, mugs, billboards, stickers,  etc.
  • Website design which requires UX skills
  • Environmental graphic design for museum exhibits, retail store design, wayfinding systems, etc.
  • User experience design: this deals with the design of applications
  • Motion graphics and animation design

With technology growing, graphic design has also evolved, and new types of jobs are being created. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for graphic designers will grow by 24 percent by 2028.

What is the Role of a Graphic Designer?

A graphic designer applies creative and technical skills to create illustrations and visual concepts. These concepts show themselves in the movies we watch, the adverts we see, the products we buy and the apps we have on our phones.

As a graphic designer with experience, you can have a satisfying career as a creative director for advertising agencies and design studios. You can also be a freelancer promoting your service on platforms such as Upwork, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr. One of the best ways to become a designer is to get a degree in a NASAD (National Association of Schools of Arts and Design) accredited college. Luckily, Washington DC has a lot of accredited programs that you can become part of.

In the coming paragraphs, we will explain how to start your graphic design journey, the best schools you can go to and places you can get a job.

Admission Requirements for Graphic Design Programs in Washington, DC

First and foremost, you should know that Washington DC does not have standard requirements to get a graphic design degree like most professional programs. However, some things could help you get into the school easier, such as familiarity with design software and a portfolio.

Design software is essential in graphic design because you cannot create complex designs without it. The most popular ones are SketchUp, Adobe Photoshop, and Canva. As for a portfolio, it is a collection of your works that showcase your talent and ability. Most programs need you to submit it during the application review process.

Something else that can help you get into good graphic design programs is having experience in design. You can get experience in graphic design from studios and advertising agencies. The schools in Washington, DC, are pretty competitive to enter, so you need to stand out in any way that you can. You could also stand out by taking online courses on Coursera, Skillshare and Udemy. These courses keep you up to date on design trends and give you extra certifications that you can show off. It is also good for personal improvement, which helps you in the field of practice.

Note that you need good SAT and ACT scores to get into most of these programs.

Some of the Best Graphic Design Schools and Programs in Washington, DC

American University – Washington, DC

The graphic design program teaches you the theory and practice of graphic communications designs. The coursework covers editorial and publication design, illustration, packaging, corporate identity and interactive design.

At American University, you have access to two full design labs with 20 Macintosh computers up to date with all industry-standard design software used for web and interactive design. These labs are available 24/7 and free for registered graphic design students. The program is a four-year one, and at the end, you are given a BA (Bachelor of Arts) in graphic design.

To apply for a graphic design major, you must have at least six credit hours in a foundation design course and a minimum of 2.0 GPA. The tuition costs an average of $51,361 per year.

The George Washington University – Washington, DC

You can get a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) with a major in graphic design in this school in their Columbian College of Arts department. You learn how to solve problems with visual communication under the graphic design faculty. You also learn to develop and execute brand strategies in diverse media formats such as print, motion and web.

The George Washington University school of graphic design allows you to participate in real-world projects such as Design Lan and World’s Studios Ignites Change. At the end of your degree, you participate in a school-wide thesis exhibition called NEXT. If you do well in it, your work can catch the eye of big industry players and can get a job. Application for this program can be submitted through the Common Application. For more inquiries, go to the admissions website. The school tuition is around $46,818 per year.

University of the District of Columbia – Washington, DC

You can get a two-year Associate Degree in Graphic Design or a four-year BFA with a major in graphic design. The AA degree offers many courses in the aesthetic, theoretical and technical parts of graphic design. After completing the AA degree, you can transfer to the BFA in graphic design, provided you submit a portfolio and maintain at least a B in all major courses.

While at the University of the District of Columbia, you are taught state-of-the-art labs with up-to-date technology. You also cover major areas in graphic design such as animation, logo design, web design and illustration. The tuition costs around $30,000 per year.

Howard University – Washington, DC

This school aims to prepare you for a career in graphic design with enough knowledge and skill in visual communication by teaching the theories and practical applications of graphic design principles. You can get hands-on experience from internships that you can apply for while in school.

The curriculum at Howard University for graphic design students is intensive in teaching you how to identify and solve visual problems. You do this by learning how to produce visual forms such as 2D, 3D, digital, printed, motion and interactive designs. Full-time enrollment in the graphic design program costs you around $32,155 per year. You must have completed all your foundational art courses to get into this program.

Gallaudet University  – Washington DC

The program at this university gives you the chance to develop a strong understanding of graphic design, digital photography, 3D modeling and fine arts. While at the school, you develop a strong knowledge base and technical skills that can open doors for you when you graduate. The courses you take include illustration, drawing, principles of design, typography and photography.

At Gallaudet University, you also have access to a lab where you can practice your graphic design skills. The university connects you to meaningful internships in Washington DC so that you can gain professional work experience. After you complete the program, you graduate with a BA. The tuition for the school is around $17,038 per year.

Salary and Outlook for Graphic Designers in Washington DC

At an average yearly income of $85,070, Washington DC has the highest-paid graphic designers in the country. The pay is higher than the national average of $59,970. As your experience increases, your income also does, and by ten years, your base salary should have increased by $20,000.

As a graphic designer, your work is very dynamic, so you are not just limited to the jobs in your state. You can find remote jobs and do side gigs to increase your income above your city’s average. The rise of NFT in the world right now makes it an exciting time for graphic designers such that you can mint and sell your work on OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace and make more money in one sale than the state average.

Working as a Graphic Designer in Washington, DC

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the District of Columbia employs around 1490 graphic designers as of May 2021. Owing to the fact that the world is only getting more digitized and advertisements permeate every part of our life, the need for graphic designers would always be present. You just have to position yourself with the correct information and the proper certification to grab the right opportunities.

A prominent example of this is graphic designers who understood the rise of web2 and mobile applications and went for UI/UX design certifications to increase their chance of getting better jobs.

To get an idea of where you could work as a graphic designer in Washington DC, here are some places you can work in Washington, DC

  • Graphic Designer, US Library of Congress, DC, $74, 950 to $95,430 per year
  • Graphic Designer, The Washington Commanders, DC, $37,000 to $46,800 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Fastsigns of Washington, DC, $33,400 to $42,400 per year
  • Graphic Designer, XLA Associates, DC, $64,500 to $81,700 per year
  • Graphic Designer, EYP, DC, $65,100 to $82,500 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Smithsonian, Remote/DC, $126,233 to $164,102
  • Graphic Designer, Chong & Koster, DC, $60,000 to $64,000 per year
  • Graphic Designer, SM&A, DC, $75 per hour
  • Graphic Designer, PBS Distribution, Remote, $67,700 to $85,700 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Priorities USA, DC, $75,000 per year
  • Graphic Designer, Access Intelligence, DC, $38,900 to $49,300 per year