What does a graphic designer do? (Skills and requirements)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 8 November 2022

Published 3 January 2022

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.

If you're interested in an artistic career, you may wish to consider graphic design. A company often requires a graphic designer to manage the design aspect of its marketing efforts. It is a role that requires taught skills and experience in addition to a flair for design. In this article, we explain what a graphic designer does, the skills and education required for the role and how you can find employment as a graphic designer.

What does a graphic designer do?

The answer to 'what does a graphic designer do?' can vary, but in general, a graphic designer is someone who creates new designs for products, advertisements or services. They make sure a brand looks good in print, on-screen and off-screen. Graphic designers are involved in multiple stages of a project, from product design to marketing content and packaging design. They're responsible for a project's visual elements and may work with various types of media such as print, digital and TV.

Related: 35 graphic design interview questions (with sample answers)

Graphic designer responsibilities

As a graphic designer, the type of work you do is likely to vary from project to project. Here are some of a graphic designer's common tasks:

  • Designing print layouts: This work includes creating business cards, flyers, newspapers, magazine advertisements and direct marketing materials using design software.

  • Artwork creation: Graphic designers create artwork using different mediums, including drawings or sketches, digital design and traditional art.

  • Creating website designs: This type of work requires familiarity with all aspects of modern web design and involves either filling out templates or creating designs from scratch.

  • Making digital designs for advertisements: This involves creating tailored designs in the required size to fit the specific business and platform.

  • Creating motion graphics: These can include social media GIFs and videos used to advertise products online.

  • Branding: Graphic design plays an important role in creating a company's or product's brand by helping to communicate the desired image to existing and potential customers.

  • Content development: When a company wants to launch new products or services, it may need help creating graphics that highlight those products or services on its website and social media pages.

Subcategories of graphic designer roles

A graphic designer may be in charge of web design, branding, print design or visual communication. If the company is small, the graphic designer might also be the content marketer. In large corporations, the general role of graphic designer tends to be split into separate roles filled by different people:

  • Creative director: This is the person who creates the vision for the project and manages the team.

  • Layout designer: A layout designer designs and produces layouts in a specific format for print or digital productions.

  • Typographer: These professionals are in charge of fonts and typography for a particular project. They may also work with typographic scales and size formats.

  • Illustrator: An illustrator creates 2D images to support the creative process such as logos, brochures and posters. They may also produce infographics or 3D renderings of products using various illustration techniques.

  • Graphic apparel designer: This is someone who makes designs to print or embroider onto T-shirts, jumpers, trousers, jackets and other clothing items.

Related: 9 types of graphic design jobs to consider

What education does a graphic designer need?

While it may be possible to gain work as a graphic designer on the basis of experience and talent alone, completing an undergraduate degree can provide a surer route into the industry. A graphic designer typically has a bachelor's degree or higher in a related field, such as marketing or art. A background in marketing can help you visualise the overall goal behind your artwork and designs. With an art degree, you can discover the history of art and graphic design and what it takes to be a designer. An art degree can also give you insight into what type of job you might want to pursue as a graphic designer as well as an understanding of other art forms and career paths.

It is also possible to complete an undergraduate degree in graphic design, which can include a work placement. If you know that you wish to pursue a career as a graphic designer before selecting your degree programme, you may appreciate the emphasis on practical experience a graphic design degree can offer. The final year of the programme is typically focused on building a portfolio, which you can then use to showcase your abilities to potential employers.

An art or design-related degree course may also cover the basics of designing with various types of design software as well as other relevant topics like typography, colour theory and photography. However, if your degree doesn't cover these topics, you can learn these skills through certification programmes. Your university may offer design-related certifications as part of its skills training provision. It is also possible to find free online certification programmes. Alternatively, completing a master's degree in graphic design can allow you to gain the specialist skills and experience needed as well as a competitive edge in the job market. You can also apply to internships to gain practical experience and start to build connections in the industry.

Related: 12 essential web designer skills

What types of companies employ graphic designers?

One type of company that employs graphic designers is a digital or web agency that hires people to work on various different projects at once. Another type is an advertising agency. Advertising agencies hire design specialists to help produce advertising for clients across various channels like TV, social media, billboards and print. Some firms hire graphic designers to work on product packaging or digital material for specific products. Publishing houses also hire graphic designers to work on book covers, magazines and newspapers.

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

Finding employment as a graphic designer

To find employment, it's critical to develop physical and digital portfolios of your best work, either from companies you've worked with before or from your own art samples. It is your portfolio that showcases your experience and style and can allow you to stand out in a recruitment process. Hiring managers may be less concerned about your education and more interested in the work you can show them. The samples allow them to assess if you're able to produce the kind of work they are looking for in the role. It's ideal to have at least two to three samples of your work that involved the use of each of the major design software programmes.

As with any role, it's crucial to communicate well during your interview. This is true of graphic design interviews because good communication skills are valuable when trying to understand a client's needs and wishes. You may also want to request a trial assignment from your prospective employer if one isn't readily available. Most employers want to know that you can follow a brief and meet set requirements. A trial also lets you demonstrate your work and abilities.

Related: How to become an advertising graphic designer (with salary)

What skills do graphic designers require?

There are many skills that you can expect to use in this profession, such as:

  • Critical thinking: The role requires you to be good at finding solutions to problems and identifying inconsistencies in work briefs.

  • Visualisation: This involves the ability to think in design terms and visualise workable solutions.

  • Analysis skills: The role may require you to be good at analysing complex problems in graphic design work and recognising opportunities for improvement in your designs.

  • Creativity and imagination: Translating ideas into artwork and using your imagination to create new design concepts requires a high level of creativity.

  • Good technical skills: As a graphic designer, it's important to have strong technical skills, such as the ability to sketch, draw and paint. A strong knowledge of typography and the main software programmes for this role are also beneficial.

  • Communication skills: Being able to communicate with managers, clients and other designers is necessary for success as a graphic designer.

Related: 6 essential graphic designer skills

How can you become an expert in graphic design?

To become an expert in graphic design, it's important to learn the basics of typography, colour theory, layout and visual composition. Using this knowledge, expert graphic designers easily and efficiently create layouts, logos and visual designs that are appealing and serve a specific purpose. Therefore, it helps to learn the basics in university and then practise them consistently before pursuing a career.

Originality and advanced technical skills are the keys to success in this profession. You can gain expertise in graphic design by honing your skills over an extended period of time. It also helps to learn how to translate your abilities into work that differs from your competitors. You may also wish to pursue further qualifications to help with this process.


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