What Is a Graphic Designer? Definition and Requirements

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 July 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.

A logo, website, advertisement and publication are all visual representations of a company's brand and values. Graphic design is the field that creates the most effective colours, images and layouts to help consumers engage with a company. Understanding what these designers do and exploring the different areas of graphic design is an important step in deciding if a career in this field is right for you.

In this article, we discuss what is a graphic designer, what they do, the eight areas of design, skills for graphic designers and how to become one.

What is a graphic designer?

A graphic designer is a professional in the arts and design industry that creates a design by combining text, images, colours and other elements. Graphic designers work in almost every industry to create interesting content for companies that can get the customer's attention and represent their brand. Content can be digital like advertisements on websites, printed for brochures or flyers or published like magazines.

Some businesses that might employ graphic designers include:

  • Advertising companies

  • Publishing companies

  • Brand agencies

  • Media companies

  • Television networks

  • Small businesses that need site design or other content

Related: Digital Design Job Description And Related Jobs

The 8 types of graphic design

There are several areas in graphic design that professionals may focus on. Depending on their design needs, companies may look for a graphic designer who specialises in one or a few of the categories. The below list describes some of the basic qualities of each type:

  • Visual identity: visual identity graphic design is creating the visual elements of a company's brand including their logo, colour palette and related images. Graphic designers with this specialty create both print and digital media that reflects the messaging, vision and values of a company.

  • Marketing and advertising:this type of graphic design focuses on targeted advertising campaigns or marketing goals like increasing brand awareness. Designers might create banner ads, flyers or brochures that are visually appealing, informative and engaging.

  • User interface (UI): user interface design is how a user interacts with a website or application. UI designers might be more proficient in front-end coding and may have to design interfaces for desktops, browsers, mobile devices and tablets.

  • Publication: publication design can include interior and cover design for books, magazines, graphic novels and newsletters. These designers create layouts and designs that incorporate text, images and colours to create pleasing and easy-to-understand content.

  • Packaging: packaging is a marketing tool that reflects a company's brand. Packaging designers may create designs for shipping boxes, shopping bags, labels or other containers that require designs that fit custom specifications.

  • Motion: motion graphic design is when typical design creations like advertisements move, such as videos and animations. Designers might need to create videos or a series of frames that can animate the required content such as advertisements, GIFs, tutorials or promotional videos.

  • Environmental: environmental design is when graphic designers create art or other visual elements in places to make them more memorable or to inform visitors. This can include designing murals, museum exhibitions or public transportation.

  • Art and illustration: this type of design includes fine art like paintings or illustrations like those seen in comic books. Graphic designers with this specialty create album art, book covers, t-shirts and video games.

Related: Best Careers For INFP Personalities

What does a graphic designer do?

Graphic designers create engaging content for individuals or companies. Some of the specific job responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with clients to define requirements for projects

  • Advising clients on design strategies in the market

  • Identifying what message their content conveys

  • Creating images, layouts and design using specialised software

  • Creating designs for logos, websites, packaging, covers, and software

  • Creating designs by hand

  • Presenting designed elements to clients

  • Editing, reviewing and redrawing designs in response to customer feedback

  • Checking quality of all final designs before printing or publishing

Graphic designer average salary

According to Indeed's salary guide, the average graphic designer salary is $71,230 per year. This figure might vary depending on the designer's experience, location and the industry. Graphic designers can also work as freelance employees, which may cause additional hours and higher salaries.

Graphic designer work environment

Graphic designers often work independently in studios or in office settings. Depending on their required tasks, they may need larger spaces and equipment like computers, easels, drafting tables and photo editing software. Some industries or companies, like graphic design firms, have entire teams dedicated to design for different clients. Freelance graphic designers might also decide their own work hours and lengths, and perform tasks from private studios.

Top 5 graphic designer skills

There are several technical and soft skills hiring managers look for when looking for qualified candidates. Skills might vary depending on the software company's use and the required tasks. This list applies to most graphic design jobs:

  • Photo editing software: even if you physically sketch first, many designers work in photo editing software creating layouts and designing within specifications. You'll typically learn how to use different applications in your education.

  • Creativity: graphic design requires you to think of visual content solutions that don't yet exist. Art is a creative field, so hiring managers might ask about your creative process.

  • Attention to detail: size of images, colour relationships and other specifications are crucial parts in designing things like logos, websites and advertisements. Graphic designers often incorporate texts in their content so it's important to proofread and check every detail before printing or publishing.

  • Knowledge of market trends: knowledge of industry standards and competition is often a preferred qualification for some companies. Trends in user interface like mobile navigation and reflowable text are helpful when designing content that can excel in a market.

  • Research: similar to knowledge of market trends, the ability to research competitive designs and successful marketing campaigns is necessary to creating memorable content.

Related: Creative Thinking: How To Start Thinking Creatively

How to become a graphic designer

These steps can help you begin a career as a graphic designer:

1. Complete a formal qualification

One of the minimum requirements to becoming a graphic designer is completing a vocational education and training (VET) qualification after completing secondary school. Some jobs may require a bachelor's degree in art, design or a related field. Although employers may not require further education like master's degrees, earning higher degrees can impress hiring managers and prepare you with additional skills, specialised skills and networking opportunities before entering the field.

2. Strengthen your skills

If you have design software or equipment or even access to learning materials you can continue to refine and strengthen your graphic design skills on your own. This might mean studying theory or reading books on the subject to see what others do in the industry. Studying what other successful graphic designers do, can teach you new techniques that you can apply in different jobs.

Experimenting by designing and requesting feedback on your own projects can be a great way to practice, too. Research or create prompts as if they're client requests and see what designs you come up with. Even if the designs need work, practise with the software and process can help improve your skills.

Related: How To Develop Your Skill Set To Advance Your Career

3. Prepare a resume

To get a job as a graphic designer, hiring managers and recruiters expect a resume. If you don't have graphic design experience, highlight your education. Consider showing how you can apply soft skills from other jobs to the open position. For example, if you developed attention to detail at an office position, showing this on your resume can highlight how you might be attentive to client requirements.

Related: How To Make a Resume

4. Prepare a portfolio

Showing potential employers your previous work can be one of the most effective ways for hiring managers to know you're the best candidate. Create a broad portfolio for work that you're most proud of, that client's have loved and that showcases your unique style. If you apply for a job in a specific industry, research the company's website and competition to see what sort of work you want to showcase in your portfolio. For example, if the designer role is for website design, present some design features and link to previous websites you've designed.

5. Gain experience

As you build a portfolio and a resume, gaining professional experience can help you get higher-level design jobs. Consider gaining experience from internships, designing for charity organisations and freelancing. These are all opportunities that can help build your portfolio and resume, even if you have little professional experience.

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