What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Artist working from reference on a digital tablet
Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Graphic designers create visual elements, such as images, illustrations, and text, to communicate messages through digital, print, and other types of media. Also known as graphic artists, they can develop designs for magazines and newspapers, websites, packaging, video games, promotional displays, marketing materials, and more.

Graphic Designer Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Determine the scope of a project by meeting with clients or the creative director of a company
  • Present possible design concepts to clients or colleagues
  • Use digital tools and software, such as illustration, photo editing, and layout software, to create designs
  • Create visual elements such as logos, images, and illustrations
  • Design layouts for projects, and determine which colors, images, and fonts to use
  • Incorporate feedback and changes recommended by clients or the company's creative director
  • Prepare digital files for production

Graphic designers must often work with a number of stakeholders to complete projects and be comfortable working on multiple iterations under tight deadlines.

Graphic Designer Salary

A graphic designer's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and whether they're working for themselves or a company.

  • Median Annual Salary: $50,370
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $85,760
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $29,610

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

Beyond getting the proper education and training, having a portfolio of graphic design work to show potential employers is essential to landing a job in graphic design.

Education: Most jobs in this field require a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a degree in a related field with technical training in graphic design.

Certification: The nature of the job usually requires the use of specific types of software and digital tools. Although certification isn't required to use these tools, graphic designers can often earn it through programs offered by makers of the software or third parties. This can demonstrate a level of competence and may provide a jobseeker with a competitive advantage.

Continuing education and staying on top of new trends in design, changes in consumer tastes, and new software, is essential to success in this ever-evolving field.

Graphic Designer Skills & Competencies

In addition to formal education and technical skills, a graphic design career requires the following soft skills. These are personal qualities one is either born with or acquires through life experience.

  • Creativity and artistic ability: Graphic designers must be able to create unique visuals that express ideas and concepts
  • Listening skills: This is critical to understanding a clients' needs.
  • Verbal communication: You must also be able to clearly present and explain your ideas to clients.
  • Comfort with technology: This type of work often depends on the use of many types of digital tools and software.
  • Time management skills: The tight deadlines and simultaneous projects that often come with this work require the ability to prioritize tasks.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts only 4% job growth for graphic designers overall between 2016 and 2026, which is slower than the average for all occupations. However, the job outlook varies by industry. The BLS predicts that graphic design jobs in traditional publishing (magazines, newspapers, books, etc.) will decline by 20% during the period, but graphic design jobs related to digital services will grow by 24%.

Work Environment

Graphic designers are often employed by specialized design services firms, advertising agencies, and publishers. Some are freelancers, which means they work on a job-by-job basis, usually for different clients.

Work Schedule

Most graphic design jobs are full-time, but longer hours are required when there are impending deadlines. Freelancer hours can vary from part-time to busier than full time.

How to Get the Job


You can find hundreds of options for accredited schools for graphic design through the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.


Use digital platforms, such as Behance or Dribble, to host your portfolio.


Popular platforms for job searching within the graphic design industry are Media Bistro, the Association for Professional Design (AIGA) job board, and Creative Hotlist.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in graphic design may also pursue the following careers, which are listed along with their median salaries:

  • Multimedia artists and animators: $72,520
  • Art directors: $92,780
  • Set and Exhibit Designers: $54,270

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018