What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a graphic designer: Convey message in a visually pleasing manner, proficient in Adobe's Create Suite, meet with clients to understand their vision

The Balance / Maritsa Patrinos

Graphic designers incorporate images and text into everything from company logos to promotional materials and more. Their skills can be valuable to a lot of different industries but getting a foot in the door typically requires that entry-level designers have a strong portfolio they've developed through coursework or internships.

Approximately 281,500 graphic designers were working in the U.S. in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

Graphic Designer Duties & Responsibilities

Graphic designers create visual communications to convey messages in an effective and aesthetically pleasing manner. This incorporates several tasks and responsibilities.

  • Design web pages, brochures, logos, signs, books, magazine covers, annual reports, advertisements, and other communication materials.
  • Create these materials by hand or by using technology, including computer software programs. Adobe's Creative Suite—including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more—is the standard in the industry, and most employers expect designers to be proficient with its programs.
  • Meet with clients to gain an understanding of what they want their proposed communications to look like. Create or incorporate illustrations, pictures, and designs to reflect the desired theme and tone of the communications.
  • Select type size and style to enhance the readability of text and image.
  • Produce drafts for review by clients and make revisions based on the feedback received.
  • Review final productions for errors and ensure that final prints reflect client specifications.

Graphic Designer Salary

As of 2020, graphic designers earn the following pay:

  • Median Annual Salary: $53,380
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $93,440
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $31,720

The highest paid graphic designers work in advertising and public relations. They earn a median annual salary of $55,800, per BLS data.

Education, Training, & Certification

This field puts a great deal of emphasis on experience, even if that experience is simply developing your own work as an example. A few graphic designers don't go through any sort of formal training and are completely self-taught. These people typically have an advanced aptitude for computer-aided design.

  • Education: Many graphic designers complete a bachelor's degree with a major or concentration in graphic design, either at a traditional college or an art institute.
  • Training: People with bachelor’s degrees in unrelated fields often can gain the training they need through technical programs such as software training courses. They might also take specialized courses in graphic design and complete internships, or do freelance work.

Graphic Designer Skills & Competencies

Employers seek certain skills in graphic designers. These include both soft skills, which can be difficult to quantify and reflect how you interact with others and your environment, and hard skills.

  • Communication skills: You must be able to confer advice and suggestions from clients, as well as understand what they want.
  • Time management skills: You'll often find that you're juggling several projects almost simultaneously.
  • Teamwork skills: Designers must be able to collaborate and get along with others when they work as part of a design team.
  • Technical skills: A knowledge of both typography and color theory is critical.

Job Outlook

The BLS expects jobs in graphic design to decline 4% from 2019 through 2029.

This can vary by industry, however. Graphic designers working for or with print publications can expect a 22.8% decline, whereas those working with computer systems should thrive, realizing about a 25% gain in job growth.

Work Environment

Graphic designers work in a variety of environments. Some work for graphic design, public relations, or advertising firms, completing projects for various clients. Others work in communications departments within businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit groups, or other organizations. Some work in publishing houses, producing designs for specific newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and more.

Many graphic designers are self-employed. They have clients they work for independently.

Much of a graphic designer's time is spent in a studio, surrounded by design equipment. Those who work with firms typically work in teams.

Work Schedule

This can be a deadline-intensive career, which can demand overtime and hours in addition to or other than the average business day. Self-employed freelancers will often find themselves meeting with existing and potential clients at all hours.

Whether they work for a company or they're self-employed, there might be times when they're busy working on many projects and other times when they're waiting for a new project.

How to Get the Job

DEVELOP A PORTFOLIO Graphic design is a "show-me" field. Hiring managers want to see evidence of your successful work from the past, so graphic designers must develop portfolios of their work to show to prospective employers.

ADD SOME FREELANCE EXPERIENCE Graphic design students develop their portfolios through hands-on classroom projects and graphic design internships, but they also build their portfolios through freelance work, even if it doesn't pay very well...or pay at all, at least for now.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Several other employment prospects are available in this field.