A Graphic Design Career in Washington State

Graphic designers combine technology and artistry to create perfect visual concepts for marketing and advertising. Designers typically create logos, images and illustrations in order to evoke an emotion or idea. The career requires an in-depth knowledge of art, design, and specific software programs for design creation.

Graphic designers need to be able to think creatively and translate that process into a visual medium. As such, they will require solid decision-making and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to use many tools like CAD, graphics software, traditional artistic media and video creation software. In addition, designers need to have excellent communication skills, as they will need to accurately discern what the client is looking for and create a design that speaks to their audience.

Washington Requirements for Graphic Design

You need to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent to work as a graphic designer. In addition, clients and employers will expect you to have studied graphic design and demonstrate specific skills. Most graphic designers will have taken at least a certification course, while many pursue degrees at the associate, bachelor or graduate level.

Graphic designers can also seek out certifications for specific types of programming. Some of the most prevalent and respected certifications in the field include Adobe Certified Associate (ACA) in InDesignIllustrator and Photoshop, and Certified Digital Designer. Your best bet is to research which certifications are most sought after in the areas in which you wish to work.

Washington Universities for Graphic Design Careers

Washington state has plenty of opportunities for those who wish to study graphic design at the college level. Programs are available statewide, both in smaller communities and larger cities and at varying levels, from certification to graduate courses. Some of the best programs in the state are detailed below.

University of Washington

The University of Washington in Seattle, WA, offers both bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree programs in Graphic Design. The program emphasizes the conception and creation of visual designs, and students will focus on the objectives of design above the production methods for design creation. The program has received numerous awards and featured in renowned publications, including Novum, IDEA, and Art and Design.

This intensive program is aimed toward information theory problem-solving and organizational skills; and is a leading department at the University of Washington. With 20 years of experience in offering graphic design, the program has honed its approach to the benefit of the students. It has evolved to offer one of the most professionally oriented programs in the industry. Admission to the program is based on previous academic performance and depends on whether you are a current University of Washington student, a new freshman, or a transfer student. Admission details are available here.

Tuition and fees for undergrads at the University of Washington run around $10,304 per semester. However, students have options for financial aid and scholarships to help cover the cost of attendance. The financial aid office helps students find the necessary resources to fund their education.

Campus life includes opportunities for students to join clubs and sports teams, take trips and workshops and gather for on-campus events, like movie nights. Student housing includes residential dorms, Greek housing and graduate student apartments. Many students also choose to live off-campus. In either case, students have access to all that the vibrant city of Seattle has to offer. 

Western Washington University

Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design. The program emphasizes the connection between design and the culture that it represents. The program focuses on problem-solving and offers ample opportunity for students to make connections between industries, their intended audience, themselves and the world. Students will learn all aspects of design without specialization, allowing them to be more fluid in their practice. As such, the design components of the program will include both traditional print-based graphic design and interactive design.

The total estimated cost of attendance for a year at Western Washington University is $26,934 for in-state students and $44,161 for out-of-state students. The university offers tools on its website to help estimate your specific costs for attending, and funding resources are available through the university’s financial aid office. Funding assistance includes state and federal student aid, as well as a number of scholarships.

Bellingham, WA, is a smaller community with the advantages of a larger city. Its proximity to the coast of Washington is attractive to those who enjoy the beach and ocean sports enthusiasts, like sea kayakers and windsurfers. Backpackers, hikers and skiers also find a suitable home in Bellingham, as the community has ample opportunities for outdoor activities. For those who prefer indoor experiences over spending time in nature, the city has plenty of cafes, entertainment venues and shops.

Shoreline Community College

Shoreline Community College in Shoreland, WA, offers an Associate in Applied Arts and Science in Graphic Design. Students in the program will gain familiarity with industry-standard software and use creative solutions for design problems. The technical training portion of the program is done partially online with industry partners and allows for students to self-pace. The college embraces a self-directed learning model to help students gain lifelong learning skills and develop creative skills and collaboration abilities.

Software programs with which students will become familiar over the course of the program include Fontographer, Javascript, Joomla, 3D Studio Max and ZBrush. The program also teaches topic-based training in Storyboarding, Matte Painting, Digital Printing Effect and Project Management, among other essential skills. Graduates of the program find work creating logos, producing layouts, providing illustrations and assisting senior designers.

Tuition for Shoreline Community College is $170.14 per credit hour, with the Graphic Design program requiring 112-121 credits for graduation. Students will also be subject to additional fees for campus projects, transportation, technology, and other fees as are necessary for coursework in specific areas. The financial aid office assists with scholarship applications for those who need funding to complete their educational goals.

Students at Shoreline have the ability to participate in student support services, an essential service for many non-traditional students. In addition, the campus hosts a variety of events, sports programs and a Veteran’s Resource Center.

Central Washington University

Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. The program explores digital and print media with an emphasis on critical thinking. Students cannot apply directly to the Graphic Design program but rather begin as BA students with an art major and apply for Graphic Design at the beginning of their junior year. Students planning to start a degree in Graphic Design will be assigned an advisor to help them navigate the Graphic Design track from the beginning of their college experience.

The cost to attend Central Washington University is estimated at $26,053 per year for an in-state resident undergraduate student and $42,129 for an out-of-state student. The financial aid office can help prospective students apply for financial aid and available scholarships to help cover the cost of education.

Located in the center of the state, Ellensburg has a lot to offer. Residents enjoy skiing, snowboarding, hunting, swimming, hiking, camping and fishing. The area also boasts gorgeous scenery, numerous breweries and pubs, museums and galleries and plenty of shopping. In addition, Ellensburg offers more unique activities, such as vineyard tours and rodeo shows.

Salary Expectations and Growth Projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that graphic designers made an average annual wage of $59,970 in 2020, with a range of salaries between $31,310 and $98,260. Those in Washington can expect higher than average earnings, as Washington state is listed among the top states with the highest salaries for the profession. In fact, the wages in the state were surpassed only by the District of Columbia. In 2020, average wages in the state were $75,420.

Graphic designers can also expect ample opportunities for work, with more and more job openings added every year. According to Projections Central, there will be an estimated 299,000 graphic design jobs in 2028, up by 8900 from 2018. These numbers translate to a 3.1 percent growth rate over the ten years, meaning graphic designers do not need to worry about dwindling opportunities in the foreseeable future.

Potential Graphic Design Career Trajectories

Graphic design is a career that affords a plethora of options, from corporate work to nonprofit to freelance. With a career in graphic design, you can choose the path you want to take, whether it be a nine-to-five job, a part-time side gig or business ownership.

For those looking for the highest-paying graphic design jobs, the BLS lists several of the top-paying industries. These high rollers include banking and monetary authorities, software publishers, natural gas distributors, the federal government, and the securities and financial investment industry. In Washington, potential employers include Washington State University, Brown and Caldwell, Parametrix, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and Adobe, Inc.