What Is a Graphic Designer? (With Required Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 28, 2023

Published August 17, 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.

If you're creative and enjoy making art, either print or digital, becoming a graphic designer could be a great option. You can use your creativity to create content for various companies or clients. Knowing more about the role can help you determine whether it's the right career path for you. In this article, we define graphic designers, explore their salaries, and describe the skills they need.

Related: How To Choose a Career Path in 10 Easy Steps

What is a graphic designer?

A graphic designer creates visual content in print and digital form. Companies may use this visual content in a variety of ways, such as advertisements, newsletters, web or app design, product packaging, or film. Companies communicate their needs and graphic designers translate them into an art form using images, words, or graphics.

Here are some of a graphic designer's primary responsibilities:

  • Meet with clients or art directors to discuss projects

  • Offer advice on the best way for clients to get their audience's attention

  • Develop a design that meets the client's needs

  • Produce a draft for the client's review and adjust content according to their feedback

  • Create art by hand or use specific computer software to create digital art

  • Input text by client request it and select the right size and type to enhance readability

  • Review the final product for errors or inconsistencies before submitting

Average salary

Graphic designers' salaries vary a lot since they can be freelance or contract workers. Freelance graphic designers may make more because they can set their own hourly wage, but contract workers typically receive benefits from their company. Similarly, those with more experience compared to entry-level graphic designers may also make more. The average national salary for a graphic designer is $21.55 per hour. This can also vary depending on location and education level.

Here are the highest paying cities in Canada for graphic designers according to Indeed Salaries:

  • Vancouver, British Columbia: $30.31 per hour

  • Edmonton, Alberta: $21.70 per hour

  • Calgary, Alberta: $21.68 per hour

  • Markham, Ontario: $20.20 per hour

  • Toronto, Ontario: $19.36 per hour

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Working conditions

A graphic designer's working conditions vary depending on whether they're a freelance or contract worker. Freelance graphic designers can work anywhere, such as a home office or studio, a cafe, or a coworking space. They have to find their own clients and may travel to meet them in an office or have meetings over the phone or video calls. Freelance graphic designers can make their own schedule, but many work typical business hours of 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, to keep in contact with their clients.

Contract graphic designers typically have their own office or working space and meet with the company's art director or marketing team in a meeting room. Their work and deadlines are more consistent, but both types of graphic designers may have to work overtime to meet deadlines. Both types of graphic designers spend most of their time talking to clients or their team and creating art.

How to become a graphic designer

If you're considering becoming a graphic designer, here are the steps you can follow:

1. Earn a degree

Employers and clients often prefer to judge your skills based on your portfolio rather than strict educational requirements, but having a relevant bachelor's degree or college diploma can help set you apart from other candidates and teach you fundamental art skills. Most universities and colleges offer art programs, such as graphic design or commercial art, or you can consider a specialized art school. Going to an art school is also a great way to meet people in your industry.

2. Complete an internship

While you're still in school or soon after you graduate, you can get an internship position. There are many design companies or departments willing to hire paid or unpaid interns, which is a great way for you to gain experience. You learn more about the industry and have an easier time finding graphic designer positions. You may even build a strong enough relationship with the manager of your internship, encouraging them to hire you as a full-time employee.

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3. Build your portfolio

Another way to prepare for graphic designer positions is to build your portfolio. Your portfolio is a digital or physical collection of your best work. Employers typically ask candidates for a portfolio to see their art style and determine if it suits the project's needs. Start creating a portfolio as soon as you have work to show. It can be work you created for school, personal use, or even any clients you've had.

Try to pick a range and mix of work. For example, don't just include posters or website designs. This shows employers you are versatile and able to take on different projects. Your portfolio can contain around 10 to 15 pieces of work. It can be a physical or digital collection, depending on the type of work you do. Just remember to bring a copy with you to interviews or provide access to prospective employers beforehand.

4. Consider an advanced degree

While a master's degree is rarely necessary, having one can make you a more attractive candidate to employers. Consider different Master of Arts or Fine Arts programs to enhance your skills and knowledge. They typically only take two to three years to complete. Having a master's degree is also a great way to negotiate a higher salary.

5. Improve your skills

If you don't want to pursue a master's degree, there are many other ways to improve your skills and knowledge. Consider attending conferences, individualized classes, or webinars to learn more about the latest industry trends. This ensures you're up-to-date and shows employers you're passionate about your work.

Related: How to Become a Graphic Designer

6. Find your specialty

To help you stand out even more over other candidates, consider pursuing a specialty. For example, some graphic designers focus solely on motion graphics or website design. Becoming an expert in a certain field makes it more likely that employers hire you for specific projects. Since you'll be an expert, you can also charge more.

Related: 11 Graphic Design Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

Frequently asked questions about graphic designers

To help you decide if becoming a graphic designer is the right career path for you, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

What skills do you need to become a graphic designer?

To be a successful graphic designer, you need the following skills and attributes:

  • Creativity: graphic designers must be creative to think of the best way to communicate a client's needs through their art. Creativity helps graphic designers create art forms that stand out from other artists' work and helps to ensure the message the client is trying to convey is clear.

  • Communication skills: excellent written and verbal communication skills are necessary for graphic designers to talk to their team members and clients. Communication skills ensure graphic designers understand exactly what clients are looking for in each project.

  • Time management skills: time management skills can help graphic designers work on multiple projects at once while still meeting strict deadlines. These skills can also help graphic designers know which tasks to prioritize over others.

  • Teamwork skills: graphic designers often work on a team or work closely with their clients. Strong teamwork skills can help them work effectively and build strong professional relationships.

  • Analytical skills: graphic designers need strong analytical skills to analyze what the client is looking for and determine the best way to portray it. These skills help them take complex ideas and determine which visual representation may appeal to the target audience the best.

  • Computer skills: while some graphic designers draw by hand, many use graphic design software to work efficiently. Having computer skills can help them learn how to use new software to edit photos, layouts, or create digital drawings.

Related: How To Improve Your Skill Set and Keep Skills Current

Where can graphic designers work?

Graphic designers can either be freelancers, meaning they work for themselves and find clients that require their services, or employees that work for a company. There are a variety of companies graphic designers can work for, such as:

  • Advertising agencies

  • Print houses

  • Brand agencies

  • Publishing companies (books, magazines, or newspapers)

  • Television companies

  • Public relations companies

  • Companies that need packaging

  • Graphic design agencies

Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.

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