Marry beauty with function, and you’ve got design. Wed creativity with business savvy, and you’ve got the perfect designer. If you’re imaginative and original and you want to make your vision concrete–as a product or a logo or the next big fashion hit–then you’ve got the designer’s spirit. Why not turn that enthusiasm into a design career?

Regardless of the branch of design you choose to follow, you’ll need a good education at a college, technical, or professional school. You’ll study aesthetics as well as production. You’ll practice your particular art hands-on, but you’ll also learn the computing skills that support your design specialty. In addition, you’ll hone your communication skills, both written and oral, since design is ultimately about understanding and pleasing the consumer.

Whether you long to make websites or wearables, graphics or photographs, compelling advertisements or comfortable living rooms, you’ll need an entrepreneurial streak and good business sense. Nearly one in three designers is self-employed, and designers tend to do far more freelance work than other professionals.

Earnings for designers vary according to your field and specialization. Window dressers usually make about $20,000, while in-demand ad-people or graphic designers pull down six figure incomes. Top fashion designers have empires. Ultimately, your success in design depends on your persistence, your timing, and your ability to market your own special flair.

Here are some design specializations:

Web Design & Development
Web designers create Web pages, Web sites, and even Web applications, though the term “designer” usually indicates the person in charge of a Web site’s graphics, whereas the developer creates the look and feel of the site as a whole. You’ll need both computer skills and graphic design talent to follow this creative career path. Web design and development can lead you toward freelance self-employment, to a design firm, or to a Web design position in business, e-business, or advertising, among other industries. Salaries for Web design jobs vary widely, but most fall in the $30-50,000 range with experience.

Graphic Design
Graphic designers arrange images and words to create composites that deliver a message or identify a product. Most work in a variety of media and use computers to develop graphics for print publishing, online media, advertising, or businesses. If you opt for this design career, you’ll need to be part artist, part psychologist, and all communication expert. Most junior graphic designers work in design teams, earning salaries in the $30,000 range. Freelancers earn $10-15,000 more, while graphic designers who work their way up to director positions, design firm partnerships, or ownership can make as much as $80-90,000.

Interior Design
Interior designers creatively plan and construct interior spaces for both commercial and residential clients. Thus, interior designs must be both functional and beautiful. If you follow this career path, you’ll need visual and verbal skills and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program. Interior design is the only design career that requires state licensing. You’ll need an entrepreneurial bent to sell clients on your designs, and stamina since interior designers rarely work 9-5. Once you’ve served your apprentice years, you stand to make from $30-50,000. View a complete list of Interior Design Schools.

Fashion Design
Fashion designers create clothing and accessories, or the materials that compose them. If you want a fast-paced, cutting-edge fashion career, your best route into the style business is a bachelor’s degree from a respected fashion design program. In school, you’ll create your portfolio and, ideally, serve an apprenticeship that gets your fashionable foot in the door. Though salaries for top-name designers can be stratospheric, most designers earn between $35-75,000 annually. View a complete list of Fashion Schools.

Photography
Photographers must develop both their aesthetic talent and their technical skills, since they take pictures and turn them into usable images by developing and printing film or manipulating digital media files. If you opt for photography, choose a program of study that includes both fine art and business courses, since more than half of all photographers are self-employed. You can market your photographs in many venues: to the public, to magazines and newspapers, ad agencies and other businesses. Portrait photographers usually work in studios. Take this career path for love, since the median salary for photographers is around $24,000.

Digital Media Production & Design
Digital media designers create video and television, CDs and games, e-books and interactive Internet applications. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to travel this ever-changing, cutting-edge design path–whether it takes you into interactive media or advertising or gaming. Median salaries for digital designers and multi-media artists were $43,980 in 2002, though most made between $34-61,000.

Computer Animation
Computer animators make movies and videos, advertisements, or similar media products. If you love design and computing, then find a university or art school that offers a bachelor’s degree in animation. Draw by hand, as well as on the computer, and you’ll be able to snag an internship before you’re out of school. Create a knockout portfolio to show potential employers, and you’re headed for a design career with a median salary of $44,000 in general, or $59,000 in movies and videos.

Computer-Aided Design
Designers who specialize in computer-aided design, or CAD, work in the drafting professions. Whether they create 2-D or 3-D solid models, CAD users develop, test, and evaluate the designs that eventually become working prototypes. You can learn CAD in trade schools or community colleges, or you can study computer-aided design as part of another design specialty, such as commercial design, interior design, or set design. If you opt for a drafting career, you might make $25,000 during your apprentice years, but you’re looking at $40,000 once you get established. View a complete list of CADD Schools.

Advertising & Design
Designers who work in advertising create images that sell. They make the logos that give products their identities or corporations their signature symbols. To market your design skills in the fast-paced ad world, you’ll need both aesthetic chops and business savvy. Your ideal first job is an apprenticeship or internship while you’re still in school. You’ll have one of the higher paying design jobs once your career takes off, though you should expect to work long hours and weekends to push $60,000.

Once you graduate, expect several years of on-the-job training in any entry-level design position. Since creative types flock to design careers, you’ll have to compete for jobs early on. If you can get an internship while you’re still in school, you’ll have an advantage. Eventually, you may decide to head back to school for your master’s.

If you want to know more about these and other design careers, contact the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (www.nasad.arts-accredit.org).