Get a list of the most important graphic designer skills employers & clients look for. Learn how to improve your graphic design skills and build your career.
10 min read
January 19, 2022
Build Your Portfolio
Art by tubik.arts
As a new graphic designer, you're about to embark on an exciting adventure. Whether you're applying for graphic design jobs at an agency or want to venture into the world of freelancing, you'll be getting paid to use your natural creative talents. To distinguish yourself from other graphic designers in the job pool, you need just the right combination of graphic designer skills. In this guide, you'll learn what technical and soft skills you need to get hired and succeed in your career.
Visual Designer vs. Graphic Designer
First, you need to determine whether you want to be a graphic designer or visual designer. While there are similarities in skill sets, understanding the difference between graphic design and visual design will help you build a career that best suits your talents and interests.
Graphic designers are responsible for using text and images to communicate a specific message. Logos, print advertisements, and brochures are all examples of projects completed by graphic design professionals.
Visual designers are responsible for building brands on digital media. Although they use some of the same skills as graphic designers, their goal is to create a consistent brand image across multiple digital platforms such as websites, apps, social media, etc.
Art by Julia Hanke
Skills needed to be a graphic designer
Graphic designer skills can be classified as technical skills or soft skills. Technical skills are specific to your job, while soft skills are the skills and personality traits that allow you to succeed in any role. For a graphic designer, one of the most important technical skills is the ability to use Adobe Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) to complete design projects.
Technical skills for graphic designers
Employers look for versatile graphic designers who have the technical abilities needed to hit the ground running. These are some of the most desirable technical skills for a graphic designer:
- Typography skills:As a graphic designer, you must be able to arrange words and letters in a visually appealing way.
- Font selection:Font type, size and weight all affect the appearance of your designs and may influence the way people perceive your message, so you must be able to choose an appropriate font for each project.
- Ability to follow branding guidelines:Branding guidelines are standards used to determine how a brand will be presented to audience members. To succeed in the industry, you must be able to follow these guidelines closely.
- Design principles:Successful graphic designers know how to use white space, color, hierarchy and other principles to compose well-balanced designs.
- RGB and CMYK: You must be able to choose the right color set for each project. CMYK is ideal for print projects, while RGB is typically used for digital designs.
- UX design:Skilled graphic designers understand how to create simple designs that are useful and meet established accessibility guidelines.
- Digital technology (HTML, CSS, JS):Technology skills are especially helpful if you plan to design websites or work as a visual designer.
- Picture skills (photography)/photo editing:You may have to incorporate photos into your graphic design projects, so it's important to know how to edit stock photos or take high-quality photos of your own.
Art by Joanna Nowak
Soft skills for graphic designers
No matter how good your technical skills are, it's difficult to succeed in the design industry if you don't have the soft skills employers desire. As we noted earlier, soft skills are personality traits that can help you succeed in any industry. These traits help you communicate effectively, collaborate with others and build positive relationships with colleagues and clients. As a graphic designer, you should have the following soft skills:
- Collaboration skills:Good collaboration skills make it easy to work with others in pursuit of a common goal. A skilled collaborator listens to others, communicates consistently, and owns up to their mistakes.
- Emotional intelligence:People with high levels of emotional intelligence excel at managing their emotions, allowing them to resolve conflict and reduce stress on their team members.
- Communication skills:You must be able to communicate effectively with colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders. Potential employers are always looking for graphic designers who have strong communication skills that can express their ideas clearly and consistently.
- Time management:Graphic design is a deadline-driven profession, so you must be able to manage your time effectively.
- Creativity:Creativity refers to the ability to generate new ideas and use them to solve problems or communicate with others. Successful graphic designers are highly creative and innovative.
- Storytelling:If you're trying to appeal to a specific group of people, storytelling is a great way to find out what audience members need and show them how your employer can help. Storytelling skills are especially helpful for visual designers charged with building consistent brand images.
Art by Darya Semenova
How to improve your graphic design skills
Now that you know what skills you need to become a graphic designer, it's time to start building your portfolio. Here are some of the best ways to enhance your graphic design skills or build on your existing expertise.
Take online classes
If you don't have a degree in graphic design, there are plenty of ways to develop the skills you need to succeed as a designer. Taking online classes is one of the best, as it gives you an opportunity to learn from experienced professionals and complete projects that can be used to build your portfolio. Some organizations even offer free classes, making it easier for designers of all ages and backgrounds to access high-quality education. If you're ready to learn, check out these options:
- Canva Design School:Canva Design School offers a series of 12 lessons to help you build basic graphic design skills. The course touches on typography, color theory, and other important design principles, ensuring you understand how to create visually appealing designs that get your message across.
- Dribbble Workshops: Build your graphic designer skills learning alongside industry leaders in Dribbble's live, interactive design workshops. Whether you want to learn relevant skills like logo design, or how to become a successful graphic designer, Dribbble has a workshop for you.
- Udemy:Udemy has hundreds of courses on graphic design, from short intro classes to training programs with 10+ hours of educational content. You can learn more about the principles of graphic design or do a deep dive into a specific skill, such as using Adobe Photoshop to edit images or brainstorming tools (Miro, Figma) for motion design.
- CalArts graphic design specialization:The California Institute of the Arts offers a graphic design specialization made up of five courses. Each course builds on the previous one to ensure that you can apply basic and advanced design skills to multiple projects.
- LinkedIn Learning:LinkedIn Learning, previously known as Lynda, offers courses to help users improve their professional skills. The graphic design learning path includes 11 courses to help you learn in-demand technical skills and improve the soft skills needed to collaborate with others. These courses include Illustrator 2021 Essential Training, Color Trends, Photoshop 2021 Essential Training, and Color for Design and Art.
- Creative Live:LinkedIn Learning and Udemy offer asynchronous learning opportunities; once you sign up for a course, you can access the content at any time. Creative Live is a little different. Live instructors teach their classes at specific times, so you must be online while the course is in progress, or you won't be able to access the content later.
Art by tubik.arts
Read graphic design books
Reading graphic design books is an inexpensive way to learn specific skills, refine your design process, or get a better idea of what it's like to be a professional designer. Check out these books the next time you need some inspiration or want to learn a new skill:
- Thinking with Type:In Thinking with Type, Ellen Lupton explains the principles of typography, focusing on spacing, alignment, shape, and order. You'll learn more about using style sheets, captions, ornaments, font licensing, and enlarged capitals, among other typography topics.
- Designing Brand Identity:In some cases, it's not enough to be a great designer. You also need to know how to use your design skills to build cohesive brands. In Designing Brand Identity, Alina Wheeler explains how to develop and implement effective brand identities. The book includes 30 case studies to show you how well-established companies have used graphic design to build consistent brand images.
- 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design:Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne provide an overview of how graphic design has changed throughout history, commenting on how new ideas led to technological and stylistic advancements in the field.
- The Non-Designer's Design Book:If you're just starting out in the graphic design field, you might benefit from Robin Williams' guide to the fundamental principles of design. Williams explains how to design with color and type, work with multiple typefaces and think from a design perspective. The book also includes tips for completing specific types of design projects, including newsletters and brochures.
- How Do I Do That in InDesign?Once you understand the fundamentals of design, you'll need to be able to use industry tools to work on projects. In How Do I Do That in InDesign, Dave Clayton and Scott Kelby explain how to complete specific actions in Adobe's design software. You'll learn how to add grids to each document, drag out ruler guides, check for errors, change the pasteboard size, and much more.
Art by Lauren Castro
Find a design mentor
Everyone can benefit from working with a design mentor—someone who has experience completing a wide variety of design projects and collaborating with others. To find a design mentor, designer Jenna Freitas recommends reaching out to famous graphic designers via social media. She says:
"DM your heroes. I’m serious. Reach out to them. This sounds crazy but we aresolucky to have social media as a platform to connect to all these people we admire."
Many designers remember how difficult it was to find their footing when they first entered the industry, so you might get a few responses. If you don't hear from any of the people you contacted, check out the LinkedIn profiles of successful designers. LinkedIn profiles are a good place to find out what skills successful designers have, the schools they attended, and what organizations they recommend joining to advance your graphic design career.
Create self-initiated projects
Completing paid projects is great, but if you're always following someone else's guidelines, you won't have many opportunities to improve your design skills or develop your own signature design style.
Maria Galybina comments, "In my opinion, the most important thing is to focus on creating things you really love. Then, you won’t feel like you’re putting in so much effort, and the art of creating will fill you with joy." Take Maria's advice by setting aside some time to create self-initiated projects. These are projects you complete simply for the joy of improving your craft. You don't have to follow a client's style guide or adhere to an established set of brand rules; you just have to sit down and start creating.
Another benefit of working on self-initiated projects is that they can help you branch out into other types of design. Graphic designer Patrick Moriarty states:
"One of the best pieces of advice that I've received is to create the work you want to get paid to make."
If you've been spending all your time on logos when you really want to be designing brochures or annual reports, use your personal time to create samples that align with the type of work you want to do.
Art by Anton Kakhidze
Ask for feedback
If you never ask for feedback, you won't know what people really think about your work, causing you to miss out on valuable opportunities to improve your graphic design skills.
Although it's important to get feedback from design professionals, you should also be asking non-designers to look at your work and tell you what they think. This is especially important if you focus on business-to-consumer design rather than business-to-business projects. Someone who isn't a professional designer can look at your portfolio and tell you if the designs are visually appealing and easy to understand, two hallmarks of effective graphic design.
Online forums and communities like Dribbble are a great resource for graphic designers looking to get feedback on their work. When people can't see your reaction to their feedback, they're much more likely to be honest. If you ask a stranger for feedback, you also won't have to worry about how it will affect your relationship.
Sign up for design communities, post your recent design project, and ask people to provide constructive feedback that you can use to make improvements. You'll be surprised by how many people are willing to take a few minutes out of their day to help you grow as a design professional.
Showcase your graphic design skills in your portfolio
Graphic design is a rewarding career filled with creative challenges. But to become a graphic designer, you'll need to showcase graphic design skills in your portfolio and resume. that demonstrate using design software, selecting fonts, and following the basic principles of design throughout your creative process. You'll also need to demonstrate strong collaboration skills, creative thinking, effective communication, and that you can come up with innovative ideas. If you build just the right combination of technical and soft skills, you'll have a better chance of landing the design job of your dreams.
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What Graphic Designers should know 2022? ›
Graphic Designers work with a variety of tools as part of their day-to-day, so they will need to master certain graphic design software. Some of the technology that Graphic Designers should be familiar with include: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Sketch.What are 5 skills you think a graphic designer needs to have? ›
- Creativity. You probably don't need us to spell it out for you, but let's drill this home: Creativity is one of if not the most important graphic design skills. ...
- Communication. ...
- Typography. ...
- Adobe's Creative Apps. ...
- Interactive Media. ...
- Coding. ...
- Branding. ...
- Delivering Presentations.
Graphic design is a great career for people who are creative thinkers and enjoy art, technology, and communication. There are design needs across every industry, so Graphic Designers have many opportunities to take on a range of new and exciting projects.What do you think are 3 important skills of being a successful graphic designer? ›
You'll also need to demonstrate strong collaboration skills, creative thinking, effective communication, and that you can come up with innovative ideas. If you build just the right combination of technical and soft skills, you'll have a better chance of landing the design job of your dreams.What is trending in Design 2022? ›
The graphic design trends of 2022 are a ragtag bunch once you take them all in. Frasurbane and anti-design, escapism and grunge, doodles and parametric patterns. It's hard to imagine any of these disparate personalities mingling at a party, but next year they effectively will be.What is your strongest design skill? ›
Problem solving might just be the most key skill out of all the graphic design skills, besides actually using the Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch or other design software. That's because all digital products need to solve the users' problems.What do employers look for in a Graphic Designer? ›
Employers look for graphic designers with strong problem-solving skills to ensure that they can make adjustments to their designs based on their intended purpose. Graphic designers also use problem-solving skills when setting expectations with clients and collaborating with other designers.What qualities and skills should a good Graphic Designer have? ›
- Creativity. A great graphic designer must be imaginative and they must be able to apply that imagination into their work. ...
- Consistency. ...
- Problem solving. ...
- Always learning. ...
- Able to take criticism. ...
- 3D Designer. National average salary: $53,386 per year. ...
- Video game designer. National average salary: $57,355 per year. ...
- Industrial designer. National average salary: $68,357 per year. ...
- Design technologist. ...
- Visual designer. ...
- Creative manager. ...
- Art director. ...
- Concept artist.
Motion graphics designers are most in-demand at AI companies, the entertainment industry, startups, marketing firms, and creative agencies, digital journalism organizations, e-commerce platforms, and the automotive industry.
What are soft skills for designers? ›
- 10 important soft skills for designers. Designing is rarely only about design. ...
- Communicating Design to Non-Designers. Source: Hannah Swann on Dribbble. ...
- Empathy. ...
- Time management. ...
- Listening, Thoroughly. ...
- Giving and receiving feedback. ...
- Presentation. ...
- Empathy. ...
- Goals, Anti-Goals, and Audience. ...
- Problem Framing. ...
- Idea Generation. ...
- User testing, feedback, and validation. ...
- User experience (UX) design and user flows. ...
- Branding, visual, and user interface design. ...
- Motion and interaction design.
The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture.What are 2 responsibilities of a graphic designer? ›
Graphic Designer responsibilities include:
Conceptualizing visuals based on requirements. Creating images and layouts by hand or using design software. Testing graphics across various media.
Psychedelic Shapes and Fonts
The psychedelic design takes over the stage these days. In contrast with futuristic designs and celebration of high-tech, old-school and back-to-60s types of design are pretty popular. Brighter colors and abstract illustrations are the essential parts of this trend.
“The future of graphic design is going to be elevated to new heights by being fused with augmented reality and eventually, 3D printing. Augmented reality and virtual reality experiences allow people to get inside the experience whether it's for recreational, educational or occupational purposes.Are gradients outdated 2022? ›
Textures & Noisy Gradients Are Still In
A bit of a carryover from 2021, textures and gradients are another sure bet for 2022. While textures add depth and complexity to otherwise flat elements, gradients do the same to stale or boring color palettes.
Motion graphics designers are most in-demand at AI companies, the entertainment industry, startups, marketing firms, and creative agencies, digital journalism organizations, e-commerce platforms, and the automotive industry.What is hot in graphic design? ›
Graphics in Motion
Today's brands are engaging consumers through motion graphics and animation, and we're likely to see the trend evolve even further in 2022. From subtle in-app motion graphics to looping gifs to animated shorts, motion brings stories to life.
- Study design theory. A proper understanding of concepts such as grid theory can transform your work (Image credit: Future) ...
- Get the most from feedback. There's a fine art to getting the most from feedback. ...
- Start a side project. ...
- Experiment. ...
- Talk to other designers. ...
- Read a book. ...
- Try changing your software.
What are the design trends for 2023? ›
Because we're returning to basics. 2023 design trends will bring us basic elements that will be more prevalent. Expect to see more clean shapes, geometric compositions, and bright primary color palettes.What are two strong personality traits of graphic designers? ›
- Communication. ...
- Curiosity. ...
- Passion and Drive. ...
- Openness. ...
- Ability to Take Criticism. ...
- Problem Solving. ...
- Self-doubt. ...
Employment of graphic designers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.
AI will soon replace designers, but it will do so for the designers of today instead of the designers of the future. Designers would be able to use AI as a creative collaborator and tool to meet the ever-evolving needs of the workplace.What is holographic design? ›
In its simplest form, a hologram is a photograph of light that's scattered from an object and displayed in a three-dimensional way. Resulting in a shimmering, fluid-like effect, holograms are undoubtedly eye-catching – but when integrated into digital design, the holographic trend can be absolutely hypnotising.How do you keep up with graphic design trends? ›
- Make education part of your routine. ...
- Get out of your comfort zone. ...
- Take advantage of online media. ...
- Build a community. ...
- Read plenty of books and magazines. ...
- Don't rule out the non-experts.
For graphic design, the Y2K is a trend that uses a lot of glitter, metallic, and futuristic elements. It's recognizable by bubblegum pink color, all things related to tech enthusiasm, and cyber-inspired fonts. The Y2K aesthetics also uses a lot of stickers, chrome color, and block type fonts.