Graphic design utilizes visual media, such as pictures, decorative words, or animations, in order to convey a message. According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), graphic design is “a creative process that combines art and technology to communicate ideas.” The goal is to make a visually appealing final product that reflects the character of the person or organization being represented.

What Do Graphic Designers Do?

Graphic designers are hired by clients who wish to portray themselves, their company, or their products through visual communication. They design everything from fliers to magazine layouts to entire websites. It is essential for graphic designers to know how to manipulate color and the basic principles of design in order to appeal to the audience. Graphic designers must also be proficient in computer technology and the latest software.

How Can a Background in Technical Writing Benefit This Career?

Most technical writing degree programs implement some graphic design into their curriculum. Charles Kostelnick, expert in visual design and English professor at Iowa State University, writes that “instead of placing text for a brochure, newsletter, or annual report into the hands of the graphic specialist, professional communicators will likely design these documents themselves” (Kostelnick, 1990). This puts even more pressure upon the technical writer to acquire design skills and be proficient with the software involved.

What Can Students Do To Prepare for a Career in Graphic Design?

Graphic design has been a part of the study of technical communication since its beginnings in the 1950s. Regarding the first degree programs for technical writing, Edward Malone writes, ” the curriculum for the [technical writing] degree consisted of such courses as graphic arts, editing and publishing, techniques, layout and design, and article writing” (Malone, 2011). Basic knowledge of graphic design and its related software puts you at an advantage; companies can save money by hiring an employee who is experienced in both technical writing and design, rather than hiring two separate people to collaborate. The following sections discuss some of the important things for students to consider before pursuing graphic design as a career.

Clients and Pricing

If you work for a design company, client prices will most likely be determined for you. However, many graphic designers work independently. While many graphic designers charge per project rather than per hour, it is really up to the designer to set prices. Some factors that influence price include the amount of work involved and the region in which you live. The following websites provide useful information on pricing:

Technology and Software

It is essential to be up to date with the latest graphic design software; however, this technology changes constantly. You must have the ability to adapt quickly to new technologies. This ability is essential, since software companies frequently update their packages, and new software emerges all the time. Currently, some of the most widely used graphic design software includes:


You must be familiar with the basic principles and elements of design in order to be a successful graphic designer. Even if you are creatively gifted, it is important to know basic design rules. The following list provides a few useful resources for the study of design:


For further reading, refer to the following graphic design resources:

2012 Best Graphic Design Software Comparisons and Reviews. (2012).

This is a useful resource for anyone looking for graphic design software but unsure of which one to purchase. It compares three top design software packages side by side and provides reasons why they are the best.

Airey, D. (2007, October). First steps to graphic design pricing. David Airey. Retrieved from

David Airey, a seasoned graphic designer, gives his advice on pricing and other concerns on his website. He gives an insider’s perspective and provides helpful insight for amateur designers.

de Jong, M. D. T. (2010). Redesigning technical communication behind the scenes. Technical Communication, 57.1, Retrieved from

This article comes from the STC’s publication Technical Communication. Editor Menno de Jong describes the process of completely redesigning the journal, which required the use of skilled graphic designers as well as other professionals.

Kostelnick, C. (1990). Typographical design, modernist aesthetics, and professional communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 4.1, 5-24.

This article describes the growing trend of technical communicators assuming greater control over document design.

Malone, E. A. (2011). The first wave (1953 – 1961) of the professionalization movement in technical communication. Technical Communication, 58.4, Retrieved from

This article provides a history of technical communication, specifically its beginnings in the 1950?s and early 1960?s.

Miller, E. (n.d.). Charging hourly vs. flat rates for graphic design projects. Graphic Design. Retrieved from

This article provides a basic set of pros and cons for charging hourly vs. flat rates. It also includes a section describing the possibility of using a combination of the two approaches.

Mirel, B. (1995). Collaboration between writers and graphic designers in documentation projects. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 9.3, 259-288.

This journal article discusses the collaboration between writers and graphic designers to create a final product.

Monteiro, M. (2012, April). Design is a job. The Designer’s Review of Books. Retrieved from

This website provides book reviews from a designer’s point of view. Although this particular article discusses Mike Monteiro’s book Design is a Job, many relevant books can be found on this website.

Poggenpohl, S. (1993). What is graphic design? Graphic design: A career guide and education directory. Retrieved from

The American Institute of Graphic Arts provides a general definition for graphic design on this webpage. However, other sections of the website provide more useful information for designers.

Entry by Laura Dragonette