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Graphic Designer

What does a Graphic Designer do?

Graphic designers use images and lettering to communicate information and ideas with a high visual impact. The particular objectives of a piece of visual communication will be set by a client’s brief, which involves the graphic designer listening to clients and understanding their needs before making design decisions. The brief may be rigidly commercial or may be artistic and aesthetic, but a good graphic designer often achieves both aesthetic and commercial objectives. Their designs are required for a huge variety of products and activities, such as websites, advertising, magazines, posters, packaging, exhibitions and corporate communications.

A graphic designer’s work may include:

    • learning about a client’s business
    • developing and refining design briefs through research
    • developing and presenting design ideas by producing rough sketches or computer visuals
    • choosing the most suitable materials and style
    • understanding production techniques (and constraints) of both print and digital media
    • working in collaboration with other disciplines, such as photographers, software coders, copywriters and printers
    • managing budgets and schedules.

What qualifications do I need?

There are many ways into the field of graphic design, from studying a degree to having no formal training at all. Unlike other areas of design, graphic designers can often trade on their talent, ideas and portfolio as much, if not more, than formal academic qualifications. Nonetheless, most professional graphic designers study a degree or diploma in graphic design or a related art or design-based subject. Practical experience with graphics and familiarity with design software, as well as an ability to work and produce visual ideas away from the computer, will appeal to employers.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Visual Arts
• Computer Applications Technology
• Information Technology
• Graphic Design


Where can I study?

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Diploma: Graphic Design

Tshwane University of Technology
Diploma: Fine Arts

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Diploma: Fine Arts

Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography
Various courses

Where can I get more info?

National Arts Council of South Africa – www.nac.org.za
The Advertising Standards Authority – www.asasa.org.za
Media Skills for Africa – www.editorial.co.za


Interview with a Graphic Designer

Louise van Niekerk | DESIGNER | Lovelab

Louise van Niekerk | DESIGNER | Lovelab


Why did you choose design
I set out on this adventure because I had dreams of fame and fortune. These days I get up every morning because I want to design for change. Making a difference is what matters to me now –
no matter how big or small it may be.

What training did you undergo
I completed my Diploma in Graphic Design with Inscape Design College (Pretoria), and then went on to finish my BTech degree with the Tshwane University of Technology (Pretoria). I am currently completing my master’s degree at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. In terms of industry experience, I practiced keeping my creative sword sharp at a small design firm for a number of years before recently starting my own company.

Is there a type of personality best suited to this work?
You have to be one tough cookie! Someone with passion, perseverance and guts: an entrepreneur who’s not afraid of making suggestions and creating for hours. To quote from one of my favourite musicals (Mary Poppins-1964): ‘You must be kind; you must be witty, very sweet and fairly pretty.’

Do you believe experience is as important as formal training?
Absolutely. Although experience forms a large part of any good designer’s make-up, formal training lays the foundation. The latter provides you with a set of tools, techniques and conceptualisation skills needed in the application of design, while practical ‘real world’ encounters help to enforce what you’ve learnt.

Describe a typical day on the job
Morning coffee • daily planning • checking emails • following up on jobs that are on the table • phoning service providers • checking more emails • brainstorming session • sketching • phoning clients • back to the drawing board • lunch on the go • responding to emails • turning sketches into digital concepts • time out for finding inspiration • tweaking of designs • signing off to recharge until tomorrow

What do you like the most about your job?
Nothing beats seeing the final product come to life. I love being part of the creative process where something is created from nothing.

Any aspects you aren’t too keen on?
That would have to be the looooooong hours.

Any advice for young people starting out in your career?
If you do it for love (and not for money) no one will be able to steal your happiness. Act with conviction but have a teachable spirit: you’re never too old to learn.

Care to share a future goal
To have fun… wherever the wind may blow me.

Describe your job in three words.
Creative problem solving.

Jean Berrisford | GRAPHIC DESIGNER | Union Swiss

Jean Berrisford | GRAPHIC DESIGNER | Union Swiss

Why did you choose this profession?
My interest in shape, colour and texture quickly lead me to typography, pattern, print, logos, layout, etc. I was up for the challenge and fun of visually expressing ideas via applied graphics. I have always thought it a privilege to create commercially for Joe Public, as opposed to creating for a select few in galleries.

What training did you undergo?
A degree in graphic design at Stellenbosch University.

Is there a type of personality best suited to design work?
Not really, due to the enormous variety of scope available to designers. An outgoing person might enjoy being part of a high pressure advertising agency’s creative team, but be less inclined to work from home as a freelance book designer, for example. No matter what area of design one works in, however, communicators of great ideas should be intuitive, single-minded and courageous.

Is experience as important as formal training?
Yes. Formal training gives you a broad understanding of a spectrum of design disciplines, whereas work experience allows you to hone your skills in a specific area of design.

Describe a typical day on the job
My day involves receiving design briefs, or working towards specific presentations. Suppliers whom we oversee include illustrators, photographers, printers and packaging manufacturers. Our rather unique team at Union Swiss comprises accountants, programmers, marketers and designers. Every day we refine ways of communicating all there is to know about our products – Bio-Oil and a new range of oils that will launch this year – to our worldwide distributor network via our extranet, and to consumers via our website.

What do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the journey of possibility and discovery that goes with creating a visual piece of communication; the understanding of what it is you want to say, and then the exploration of how you’ll communicate it, which could involve exploring the shape of a bottle, comparing typefaces for the financials of an annual report or experimenting with the lighting of a photograph.

What are your goals for the future?
Finding simpler, happier ways of communicating. Designing responsibly – always.

What advice would you give to young aspirant designers?
The industry values young people with good, fresh ideas. A good portfolio is one which is bursting with those ideas.

Describe your job in three words
Challenging • Creative • Fun