Perhaps you’ve loved art and design all your life and want to pursue it as a career, but you’re also practical enough to wonder if you can make a living doing it. Fortunately, the answer is yes – many people with artistic talent have found that graphic design offers a career path with the perfect balance of creativity and practicality.

What Is a Graphic Designer?

Graphic design is the art of visual communication. Graphic designers specialize in the creation of visual content, using typography, photography, color, illustration, and other visual elements that communicate messages or present information. They convey ideas to stimulate, instruct, and attract customers through physical art or visual arts, which include photographs, words, animation, or pictures.

Graphic designers are problem-solvers. They take complex information and turn it into easy-to-understand visual messages. Good graphic design is about much more than making things “look pretty” – it’s about finding the most effective way to communicate ideas and information in a visually appealing and engaging way. Graphic designers are often thought of as “creative types,” but the reality is that the best ones are also highly analytical and strategic. They must be able to take complex information and turn it into easy-to-understand visual designs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Graphic Designers

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Graphic designers work in various industries, conceptualizing and creating visual concepts, and developing layouts for print media, websites, digital media, and more. Depending on their specialty or area of focus, they might design logos, create designs for social media campaigns, develop marketing collateral, craft point-of-sale materials, design page layouts, or create digital ads.

Companies need graphic artists to help them stand apart in a crowd of similar products. Having a cohesive and well-designed visual identity allows businesses to build trust with their potential customers and communicate information to their target audiences clearly and effectively. Graphic designers accomplish this by creating art and visuals that are consistent with the company’s messaging and on-brand.

Graphic Designer Job Description

  • Using specialized graphic design software to create designs, layouts, artistic or decorative effects, animation, custom illustrations, logos, and other design elements
  • Creating rough illustrations by hand, using pencils, pens, markers, and other traditional art supplies
  • Selecting photos and images, hand sketching product illustrations, or creating other visual elements to represent ideas in a design
  • Work closely with other graphic designers and members of the design team to generate new ideas and brainstorm concepts
  • Researching current design trends and competitor products for a particular category or market
  • Meeting with clients or account managers to discuss the client’s needs and requirements, pitch concepts, and receive feedback on initial designs
  • Reviewing and editing final images and designs to ensure that they achieve artistic or functional objectives and meet client specifications
  • Balancing multiple projects simultaneously and managing deadlines

Graphic Designer Skills

To be successful in the graphic design industry, you must have an eye for style, overall layout, and function that is shaped by a deep understanding of composition, typography, color theory, and graphic design principles. In addition to your artistic ability, you must also be highly skilled in the use of a variety of computer software packages, including design software, photo editing software, and layout software.

Other key skills required for graphic designer jobs include:

  • Excellent communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
  • Technical skill and proficiency with specialized graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign
  • Detail-oriented with strong project management skills
  • Ability to think beyond traditional design concepts and generate design ideas that inspire and captivate consumers and satisfy the requirements of clients
  • Knowledge of HTML and basic coding used in web design

Graphic Designer Education

While there are numerous examples of successful graphic designers who have developed the skills necessary for the job with little to no formal education, most designers enter the industry after completing a degree in graphic design. The skills, technique, and knowledge required to be successful in the field of graphic design can be learned by watching tutorials online and experimenting with software, but a formal education provides students with a holistic understanding of the design process that goes far beyond what can be learned on one’s own.

In addition to learning about design principles, software, and industry trends, students who attend college learn important transferable skills such as project management, critical thinking, and the business side of design. Programs explore topics such as how to run a freelance business, how to interact with clients, and how to market your work. Attending college also exposes students to a network of other designers, which can be beneficial when seeking employment or collaboration opportunities after graduation.

Graphic Designer Jobs

Graphic designers work in various settings and top industries, including advertising, media, publishing, fashion, entertainment, public relations (PR), marketing, and retail. Many designers working within these fields are self-employed and work as freelance contractors, while others work for advertising agencies, design firms, or in-house design departments at larger companies. Some designers may also teach as professors or instructors at design schools.

The most popular job titles for graphic designers include:

Art Director

An art director is typically a talented designer with extensive experience and seniority who is responsible for developing the overall look and feel of a project or product. Art directors manage a team of graphic designers and typically oversee the design process from start to finish, from the initial client meetings and design brief to planning, reviewing, and approving designs created by their team members or outside designers.

Art Professor

Instructors at design colleges and universities typically have a Master’s degree in graphic design, fine arts, or a closely related field. They teach students about design principles, software, and design trends while also helping them develop the skills necessary to be successful in the field. They are also typically involved in curriculum development and may be called upon to contribute to the design industry through research and creative work. Many professors also have professional job experience as graphic designers and can share real-world insights with their students.

Logo Designer

A logo designer (or brand identity specialist) designs company logos and branding materials for companies, products, services, and events. They work with their clients to develop a unique visual identity that can be used across various marketing materials and communications. This may include custom illustration work and carefully selected colors, typefaces, and complementary images. One brand identity specialist may be responsible for developing the visual identity for an entire company, or they may work on projects for a specific department or product line.

Creative Director

Companies that have a large creative department often employ a creative director to oversee all aspects of the department’s output. The creative director is responsible for managing a team of graphic designers, approving designs, working closely with the marketing team, and ensuring that the work meets the client’s objectives and satisfies their needs. Creative directors working in production design may manage the budget for their team’s projects and file annual reports.

Freelance Graphic Designer

Freelance graphic designers are self-employed contractors who work on a project-by-project basis for a wide range of clients. They typically have a diverse portfolio of completed projects to show potential clients and must be skilled in marketing, sales, and design. Freelance graphic designers often work from home or have a studio where they meet with clients.

Multimedia Designer

A multimedia designer creates interactive or animated designs for websites, digital presentations, online games, app interfaces, advertising, and more. A solid understanding of color schemes, typography, motion graphics, animation, and interactivity is necessary to create a design that looks good on the screen and is intuitive to use.

UI UX Designer

A UI UX designer is responsible for creating an online user experience that is easy to navigate and visually appealing. The focus of their job is on the overall ease and pleasure of use when designing screens, menus, buttons, graphics, navigation, and sample layouts for websites, applications, and software interfaces. Companies employ UI UX Designers to improve customer satisfaction and increase conversion rates by making their products more user-friendly.

Web Designer

A web designer is a specialized graphic designer who creates designs specifically for use on the internet. In addition to their design skills, web designers must also have a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and other web development technologies. Web designers are responsible for planning how website content will be organized, including basic page structure and navigation between pages. They also create graphics, logos, animation, and other website design elements.

Graphic Designer Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a graphic designer was $59,970 in May 2021, which is the equivalent of $28.83 per hour. Graphic designers in the top 10 percent nationally earned an annual mean wage of $98,260 or $47.24 per hour.

The job market for graphic designers varies greatly depending on experience and skill level, which suggests that graphic designers have significant opportunities to earn more as their career progresses. 

Highest Paying States for Graphic Designers

The salary earned by graphic designers can vary significantly by location, with some earning substantially more than others with the same job description in another state. For example, graphic designers in the District of Columbia earn over $83,000 on average, whereas a graphic designer in Wyoming earns just $40,200 per year on average. The states listed below represent the top-10 highest paying states for graphic designers. 

District of Columbia$39.94$83,070
New York$32.82$68,260
New Jersey$31.58$65,680
Rhode Island$31.04$64,570
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2020

Resources for Graphic Designers

Graphic Designer FAQ

Graphic design ranked as the second-best college major out of more than 200 possibilities for its high earning potential, a mid-career salary of more than $71,000 per year on average, and overall job satisfaction. The strong demand for graphic designers in various industries is also promising, with the projected number of job openings expected to rise by three percent between 2020 and 2030.

The number of years it takes to become a graphic designer varies depending on an individual’s capabilities and experience. A four-year bachelor’s degree is typically recommended for those interested in the profession because it offers the most comprehensive training in design principles, new software, and production techniques. However, self-directed learning and apprenticeships are also viable paths to becoming a graphic designer.

It is possible for a person to call themselves a graphic designer without a degree if they have significant experience and exposure to the industry. Many designers have ascended to their current positions with top companies without following a traditional educational path, learning through on-the-job training, self-teaching, skilled trades programs, or other artistic pursuits.

Many would answer yes to this question since graphic designers must have a broad range of artistic and technical skills. Thorough knowledge of the principles and elements of art such as color, form, perspective, and composition is required. Graphic designers must also be comfortable working with computers and complex software programs like Adobe Creative Suite.