What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman sitting at a desk in front of a computer monitor, one hand typing on the keyboard and the other using an illustration tool. There is also a sketchbook and a houseplant next to her. Text reads: "A day in the life of a graphic designer: create visual elements; logos, images, and illustrations. Comfort with technology. Present possible design concepts to clients. Creativity and artistic ability. Median annual salary: $50,370"

Image by Maritsa Patrinos © The Balance 2019

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 266,300 graphic designers were working in the U.S. in 2016.

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

The highest paid graphic designers worked in advertising and public relations in 2017.

  • 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

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. internships.

Job Outlook

Jobs in graphic design are expected to grow at about 4% from 2016 through 2026, which is less than the national average for the decade. The national average for all jobs is 7%.

This can vary by industry, however. Graphic designers working for or with print publications can expect a 22% decline, whereas those working with computer systems should thrive, realizing about a 20% 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 necessary 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


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.


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.

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