Working in Advertising as a Graphic Designer

Ad agencies require persuasive designs, not just artistic ones

Graphic designer displaying a logo design

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As in many graphic design fields, working in advertising entails more than creating designs and page layouts. Although a specific job might be to create a print ad for a campaign or to design a logo, this field also requires an understanding of marketing, public relations, and consumer trends and habits. In addition to the business side, a designer in advertising needs to be an expert in digital and print design and production. Here's what you'll need to become a professional graphic designer in the advertising field.

An Understanding the Target Audience

Advertising design is all about persuasion. The job of a graphic designer is to sell a product or service. To do this job well, you need to understand consumer psychology and be aware of market trends and research. You likely won't perform this research but will work with marketing departments and professionals to understand the target market. You must also have an understanding of the agency's clients and how those clients position themselves in the market.

Above all, you must be able to communicate the specific benefits—not just the features—of the product or service to the target market. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak" is an old but relevant industry maxim.

A Working Knowledge of the Tools and Techniques

A graphic designer knows how to create eye-catching visuals. To gain these skills, study typography, understand color theory, and learn how to draw. You should also become a wiz at Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It's even better if you know HTML and CSS.

To use these tools to sell, however, you must understand how to organize and arrange elements on a page so that the viewer's eye follows a certain path. Guiding a viewer to take action—click a button, visit a website, or make a phone call—is the ultimate goal, and every element should work toward it.

The Ability to Work With Clients

As a graphic designer for an advertising agency, you'll meet with clients to determine the scope of a project and to refine the message the design should communicate. You'll also help develop strategies to reach the target market.

After you create a rough design, you'll present it, get feedback, and incorporate requested changes until you end up with the final design. Alternatively, you may work directly with the art director rather than the client. Either way, you'll go through several rounds of revisions before a design is approved.

A Willingness to Work With Other Departments in the Agency

Most agencies employ professionals in various disciplines who work together to produce a project. These include copywriters and account executives. Market researchers, department managers, and agency principals might attend in-house meetings, too. This collaborative approach results in an on-target piece that benefits from the specialized input of each discipline.

Brainstorming
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This collaboration requires people skills and diplomacy. You'll likely be involved in brainstorming sessions at the beginning of a project, and you must be willing to offer your creative ideas. Likewise, you must be able to handle constructive and creative criticism; after all, art and design are subjective.

Egos are often landmines in ad agencies, but maintaining keen focus on the client's desires can help you navigate them. Knowing when to encourage a client or art director in a certain direction and when to acquiesce to the client's demands is important. You might not agree with a creative decision pushed by a client, but it's the client who pays the agency.

The Flexibility to Work on Different Types of Projects

Ad agencies develop a wide array of products, from ads (either print or digital) and brochures to logos and branding strategies. Social media adds another layer to the marketing mix.

Marketing Mix
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A graphic designer needs a thorough understanding of the full design-to-production phase. Online projects require an understanding of web-based concepts such as low-bandwidth graphics, scalable images, and mobile and responsive design that displays well on a range of devices.

Print projects require familiarity with printing concepts such as DPI (dots per inch), inks, page bleeds, cut sizes, and saddle stitching. Every printer has different requirements for format, but most accept high-quality PDFs

Prior Jobs, Education, and Experience

Graphic design jobs at ad agencies typically require a bachelor's degree in graphic design. A solid portfolio, however, can go a long way, with or without such a degree. The same goes for training in a field that could be useful to the agency's creative team, such as website development.

Consider breaking into the industry as an intern if you have no experience. At the very least, this will help you build a portfolio. Your talent is key. The trick is to harness and augment it with education, experience, and on-the-job training.