What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

The creative work of a graphic designer is everywhere you look – from the product packaging you see on grocery store shelves to a billboard advertising a new movie. 

Using design software and drawing skills, a graphic designer creates eye-catching visual communications to convey information in an effective and aesthetically pleasing way.

Graphic designers — also called graphic artists — select photos, colors and font types to create designs for advertisements, packaging, logos, websites, posters, brochures and marketing materials. They rely on their design skills to know how the elements best fit together.

Graphic designers often work for publishing, marketing or advertising companies. Many are self-employed. Designers often specialize in a particular area, such as book covers, package design or industrial design.

As employers of all types increase their digital footprint, opportunities for graphic designers will increase. In fact, one of the best aspects of this career is the need for graphic design in so many industries. 

Keep reading to learn more about what kind of training you’ll need and what it’s like to do this job.

$ 34,700 - $ 93,200
$ 55,300
A graphic designer studies a color palette at her desk
Graphic designers are constantly on the lookout for inspiration to help them create innovative concepts. (Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Job Responsibilities

  • Discuss the scope of a project with a client or team member
  • Plan layouts, mock up concepts and refine designs
  • Illustrate concepts and reinforce messages using design skills and layout software 
  • Proofread work
  • Submit work to client for approval
  • Make suggested edits and complete final version
  • Contribute to team efforts by accomplishing tasks as needed

How To Become a Graphic Designer: FAQs

What steps should I take?

First, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. While in school, focus on fine-tuning your drawing skills and learning everything you can about specialized graphic design software. 

After that, requirements vary by employer. Many will look for an associate degree in graphic design, web design, art, animation or a related field. (In fact, graphic designer is one of the top jobs for community college graduates.)

Other employers will require a bachelor’s degree. However, a four-year degree may not be required if you have highly developed computer skills with a mastery of applications such as Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator. 

Degree programs include courses in the fundamentals of design, studio art, color theory, typography, web design, advertising and marketing, in addition to specific graphics and design software applications. If you want to specialize, additional courses will be helpful. For example, a future website designer will need to know user experience (UX) design.

Look for programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

You can also gain experience through internships. If one is available, jump at the opportunity because the people you work with here will create the foundation of your design network.

No matter what training path you take, you’ll want to showcase your talents in a portfolio, a collection of work that demonstrates your style, creativity and ability. Employers will rely heavily on a designer's portfolio when they are trying to fill a graphic design position.

Are there any other qualifications?

Professional certifications are rarely required but they can be a good way to validate your expertise for potential employers.

How long does it take to become a graphic designer?

An associate degree typically takes two years, and a bachelor’s degree takes four. Many online degrees can be earned on a more flexible schedule.

Continuing education and staying up to date on technology is essential to remain competitive. Also, don’t forget to keep up with design trends!

Is there a demand for graphic designers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predict about 24,800 job openings each year between 2021 and 2031. Most of those jobs will be in the digital realm.

What qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

Most successful graphic designers share these traits: 

  • Creative and able to express ideas artistically
  • Good at managing multiple tasks and meeting deadlines
  • Good analytical skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Strong computer skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Self-motivated
The bottom line:

Not everyone has the aptitude to be a graphic designer, but if you are creative and embrace learning new things, this could be the career for you. Check out training opportunities near you and take the next step.

What It's Like To Be a Graphic Designer

What It's Like To Be a Graphic Designer

Creativity and ambition usually comes naturally to graphic designers, says Pauline Lu.

"But the willingness to take critique, be flexible and work together with a team is what makes someone good at this job."

Anyone who thinks they want to be a graphic designer should read the rest of her advice.

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