Graphic designers and illustrators (NOC 5241)

High opportunity occupation

About this job

Graphic designers and illustrators create and produce images to communicate information. They structure and organize visuals to represent information through images.

Graphic designers may work in a range of areas including web and digital design, motion design, advertising, branding and marketing. Illustrators may specialize in children’s books, advertising, editorials and humour, medical, scientific and technical illustration, as well as multimedia and digital design.

Watch the video below to see what a graphic designer does in a day.

Common job titles
  • 3D artist
  • 3D modeler
  • advertising art director
  • animated cartoon artist / colourist
  • animation artist / layout designer
  • animator, 2D / 3D / animated films

Duties

Graphic designers:

  • Work with clients to set the overall look, graphic elements and visual content of communications materials
  • Research and provide clients with ideas, best practices and concepts
  • Identify the most effective medium to produce the desired visual effect using the best method of communication
  • Develop graphic elements that meet communication or project objectives
  • Prepare sketches, layouts and graphic elements using traditional tools, multimedia software and image processing, layout and design software
  • Estimate the cost of materials and time to complete the project
  • Use existing photo/illustration banks and typography guides, or hire an illustrator or photographer to produce images that meet project needs
  • Establish guidelines for illustrators or photographers
  • Co-ordinate all aspects of production for print, audio-visual or electronic materials, such as websites, social media and other digital media
  • Co-ordinate sub-contractors
  • Work in a multidisciplinary environment
  • May supervise other graphic designers and creative professionals

Illustrators:

  • Work with clients to determine the nature and content of illustrations to meet project needs
  • Develop and produce realistic or representational sketches and final illustrations, by hand or using computer-assisted design (CAD) software, for printed materials, such as books, magazines, packaging, greeting cards and stationery or for online/digital distribution
  • Help develop storyboards for electronic productions, such as multimedia, interactive and digital products, and television advertising/productions
  • Produce 2D and 3D animated drawings or computer illustrations
  • May adapt existing illustrations

Work environment

Graphic designers and illustrators work in many settings and on a range of projects – both long-term and short-term. They work in studios, offices or from home. Work hours tend to be Monday to Friday; however, some deadlines require overtime or working on a weekend/holiday.

People in these careers work for advertising and graphic design firms, large organizations with marketing and communications departments and digital production companies.

Many graphic designers and illustrators operate their own businesses. Some may work alone. Others may work for an agency of hundreds of designers working in multiple offices around the world.

People in these careers often work with public relations professionals on community engagement, issues and crisis communications. Visual elements – both online and printed – play a key role in making sure that information is clearly and effectively communicated to stakeholders.

Graphic designers and illustrators spend a significant amount of time, on computers at desks, doing work that requires intense concentration and hand-eye co-ordination. They may experience eye and wrist strain. Often, they face tight timelines, challenging projects or clients and stressful situations.

Insights from industry

Work for graphic designers and illustrators is affected when the economy slows down. However, demand in some areas remains stable. It’s helpful to know the creative industry. Research online, talk to professionals in the business and understand where you fit into this industry.

Individuals starting their careers may wish to join a professional organization like RGD, DesCan or the Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators (CAPIC). Access to workshops, peer mentoring and employment-related networking are important.

In a challenging employment field, individuals with more extensive education from credible organizations have a much greater chance of being hired.

Historically, job opportunities in design and illustration were concentrated in urban centres, but more opportunities for remote work are now available.

Many organizations, including banks and insurance companies, retailers and municipalities, now employ large numbers of graphic designers to implement and complete design projects in-house. Also, areas of specialization that are of particular interest right now are accessible design, sustainable practices, user experience (UX) design and 3D illustration. 

Career paths and resources

Career paths

Recent graduates can find junior positions in advertising and marketing agencies, graphic design studios, communication design firms, magazines, newspapers and in-house corporate teams.

Many entry-level graphic designers and illustrators choose self-employment as an option, building their client base straight out of school.

With experience and further education, individuals may progress to management or senior positions, such as senior designer, art director or creative director.

Additional resources