Understanding graphic designer qualifications (with FAQ)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Graphic design is a crucial part of a company's marketing department and sales success because they provide eye-catching designs to compel customers to buy products or services. Having a strong creative ability can help you succeed in a career as a graphic designer. Understanding the qualifications and duties associated with this career can also help you determine if it's the right job for you. In this article, we describe the qualifications you need to become a graphic designer, how you can achieve them and answer some common questions about qualifying.

Related: 9 types of graphic design jobs to consider

Understanding graphic designer qualifications

To understand why many employers require their employees to have specific graphic designer qualifications, it's important to understand what graphic designers do in their roles. Although a large portion of your graphic design work may include using your natural creative skills, this is only one aspect of the role. As a graphic designer, you'll also be responsible for:

  • having a good understanding of industry software such as Photoshop

  • having a professional approach to deadlines, clients, business costs and time management

  • being able to work on a variety of mediums, such as magazines, social media posts, books, websites, business identity and product packaging

  • working to client-agreed briefs and deadlines

  • developing creative ideas based on concepts that reflect the client's objectives

  • making adequate changes and edits to briefs based on client feedback

  • submitting and presenting final versions of designs to clients

Fundamentally, graphic designers help develop a company's visual identity and brand image. Beyond creativity, successful graphic designers possess many admirable soft and hard skills, such as excellent time management, software skills, multitasking, professionalism and communication. Because graphic design can be so multifaceted, gaining qualifications can help you prepare for these responsibilities.

Related: How to write an appealing graphic designer CV

Graphic designer FAQ

To become a professional graphic designer, you may need an undergraduate degree at least. And though the options for your design-related discipline can include photography, visual art, illustration or 3D design. Some employees prefer a degree specifically in graphic design.

How can you qualify as a graphic designer?

You can obtain the appropriate qualifications by attending university or college. You may need 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 or an equivalent for a level 3 course. You may also require 1 or 2 A-levels, a level 3 diploma or experience for a level 4 or 5 courses. If you decide to apply to a university, you can either take a foundation degree or a higher national diploma. You also have the option to pursue a degree in a design-related subject such as illustration, art and design or communication design.

If you decide to attend college, you can take college courses such as a Level 2 Technical Award in Graphic Design or an A-level Graphic Communication. This route may require joining a company as a design assistant or apprentice to develop your expertise, and a great portfolio that demonstrates the skills you already have are even more beneficial to employers.

Are there further education degrees in graphic design?

After you have achieved an undergraduate degree, you may choose to pursue a postgraduate qualification in graphic design. Although this level of qualification isn't necessary, it may prove to be a useful distinction that separates you from other talented graduates when it comes to applying for jobs.

The UK has many universities that offer one-year master's degrees that encourage you to develop innovative concepts and ideas. To complete this postgraduate qualification, you present a final major project combining your technical, creative and conceptual skills.

Related: How to write a graphic designer cover letter (with examples)

What skills do you develop during your degree?

Prospective employers may prefer degree holders for the technical skills they develop in this setting. During your college or university degree, you may have the opportunity to develop your skills in several important areas, including:

  • colour and design fundamentals

  • digital illustration

  • scripting webpages

  • designing webpages

  • motion graphics

  • business graphic design

Developing these skills in a professional setting ensures that you learn them to a level and proficiency that businesses can rely upon. Obtaining a degree also gives you the opportunity to develop an extensive portfolio by using class assignments to represent your skills.

Do you need a qualification to become a graphic designer?

Although some employers may favour degree holders, there can be alternative routes into graphic design. Some employers may hire trainee or entry-level designers based on a good amount of previous experience and an outstanding portfolio. Like other art-heavy careers, such as tattoo design or fashion design, your creativity can sometimes be enough to get you into graphic design, along with improving other skills such as analytical, technical and critical skills to succeed.

To grow the software knowledge, vision and skills necessary to be a successful graphic designer without pursuing a degree, there are several avenues to consider. You can research graphic design or marketing companies open to accommodating volunteer designers, for example. Or, you can apply for an internship that, with the right dedication, may turn into a full-time job. And, with the right dedication and focus, you can take a handful of core skill graphic design courses with volunteering or interning to grow your knowledge base.

Related: 14 self-employed jobs in the UK

Do you need any other requirements or skills?

Apart from the skills you can learn by getting a university degree, there are several auxiliary skills necessary for graphic design. For example, it's crucial for all graphic designers to have a great understanding of technical skills and design software tools such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator. Beyond this, you can expect to need a large amount of strong creative talent and the resolve to learn several varied hard and soft skills to apply this talent to your career choice. These skills include:

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a common transferrable skill important for many industries, including graphic design. Developing the ability to analyse, evaluate, problem solve, interpret and reflect upon elements of your planning and creative process is crucial in making the best decisions for your clients. Critical thinking can help to ensure that your creative skills are in line with client and project specifications and expected outcomes.

Time management

Whether you work for a graphic design company, a marketing department within a larger organisation or choose to be self-employed and do freelance design work, you can expect to work to tight deadlines. Beyond managing your time for one brief, you may also have several clients and projects simultaneously. You may need to keep your time well managed and appropriately rearrange schedules for unexpected setbacks or new clients to maintain expectations.

Strategy

Graphic design allows you to use your creative strengths to achieve eye-catching designs, but to complete a brief successfully, you may require developing sound strategies. Your design strategy may start with an open-ended brief from a client. You then conduct the appropriate strategic market research, brainstorming and concept development to create an end product that meets all client requests.

Problem-solving

Problem solving is something graphic designers engage with continually. A client brief, for example, is a problem that your client wants you to solve. The problem is how to attract potential customers to a new service or product in a way that's both enticing and brand-representative. Creating a brief to a client's specific expectations is an ongoing process, and you may encounter several requests for tweaks or revisions from your clients. Once you revise your design, your brief may need to go through the process of client approval several times until the end result meets client satisfaction.

Portfolio Management

One of the most important skills needed to succeed as a graphic designer is being able to manage a successful portfolio. Your portfolio is a selection of your past work that demonstrates and highlights your strengths and successes. When you apply for a job in graphic design, whether it's for a full-time position or approaching a new freelance client, your portfolio is a benchmark of your talent. Employers rely upon portfolios to provide the concrete evidence they need to make designer hiring decisions, so keeping your portfolio well managed is key.

To manage your portfolio, you can highlight your latest client successes and most impactful designs. This way, you present employers with the most pertinent information about your creative skills that can highlight why you're the best choice for their next graphic design project.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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