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What is a Graphic Designer?

Understanding Roles, Job Outlook, and Education

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


June 29, 2023

8 min read

Graphic design is a critical component of marketing materials, packaging design, publishing, website and interface design and many other visual elements that we see with every day. Graphic designers play an important role in the creation of consumer and business-targeted communications that engage consumers and reinforce brand recognition. In this article, we will examine the graphic designer’s role as we answer the question: What is a graphic designer? We’ll also take an in-depth look at the skills required to pursue a career in this field and how graphic design and web design are interrelated.

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

In the simplest terms, a graphic designer develops visual concepts to engage and inform audiences. Using art and technology, graphic designers are the professionals who create the concepts and finished artwork for everything from logos and brand graphics to brochure and magazine layouts, web pages, corporate communications, advertising, outdoor media, vehicle graphics and more. 

The graphic designer’s duties will vary widely depending on the type of organization they work for and their position within that organization. Graphic designers can work as part of an in-house corporate marketing department, as a member of an advertising or design agency’s team or they can work as independent contractors with their own practice. The range of their assignments could include designing for anything from a simple website to a thorough brand identity. 

Graphic designers may also specialize in a particular design area, such as packaging or website design, or experiential design for museums or retail environments. So, what does a graphic designer do? A basic list of their duties includes, but is certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Collaborating with creative and project management team members, clients and other stakeholders to gather input and gain an understanding of project requirements.

  • Using software tools to create visually appealing designs that correspond with project requirements and specifications.

  • Collaborating with other creative professionals, such as writers, photographers, art directors and illustrators, or UI (user interface) or UX (user experience) specialists.

  • Making edits and revisions based on client feedback, changes in design requirements or scope of work.

  • Designing brand identity graphics, which may include logo design and contributing to the development of visual brand standards to protect the integrity of a brand and ensure proper use of color, typography and other elements of the brand design.

  • Preparing final artwork in a digital format to be sent to a printer, publisher or vendor once it has been approved. 

Skills Needed to Become a Graphic Designer

To prepare to pursue a career as a graphic designer, you will need to be comfortable with a medley of creative and technical skills the occupation utilizes. Even though nearly all of today’s graphic design is done using digital design tools, technical skills alone are not enough to excel in this career. An ability to conceptualize visual ideas based on project requirements is critical. The end result should be work that enables brands to convey their benefits, advantages, personality and promise in a way that engages and informs the consumer, helping the client to meet goals in awareness, perception management and sales and revenue growth.

Soft skills required include:

  • Creativity and inventive thinking: An ability to bring together design elements like images and text in a way that is not only pleasing and engaging but helps the product and unique selling point (USP) stand out.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: These essential skills help graphic designers communicate effectively with project stakeholders and partners, and to develop new and existing relationships with clients.

  • Time management and multitasking: An ability to handle tight deadlines and multiple projects with varying specifications and timelines is also crucial in this job. 

It’s important for graphic designers to adopt a lifelong learning mentality to keep up with industry trends and technical advancements. Basic technical skills required include:

  • Proficiency in graphic design software: The tools of the graphic design trade generally include, among others, Adobe’s Illustrator®, InDesign® and Photoshop®. Graphic designers may also need to familiarize themselves with industry-specific applications. Website designers may use Figma®, Adobe’s Dreamweaver® or other web design-specific tools.

  • Knowledge of color theory and typography: Graphic designers need to know their way around the color wheel to create visually appealing layouts and to be well-versed in the use of typography. They need to know which colors work well together, and which typefaces or font make the biggest impact on the particular project they’re working on.

  • Knowledge of user experience design: An understanding of the basics of user experience design is instrumental to the overall user experience and particularly useful for aspiring web designers.

Education to Pursue a Career in Graphic Design

If you’re interested in pursuing a graphic design career, there are many different pathways you can follow. Many colleges, universities and independent institutions offer degree programs in art and design with coursework in commercial graphics production, computerized design, animation, website design and other disciplines. 

At DeVry, we offer an online Undergraduate Certificate in Web Design program that can help you to build an understanding of web design, coding languages and best practices in site design as you prepare to pursue career opportunities in areas like graphic design, web interface design and website editing. Hands-on coursework includes key software applications, graphic design, web animation and web design.

Another essential tool for anyone in pursuit of a graphic design career is an online portfolio. The importance of a strong portfolio can’t be overestimated, as it will show prospective employers and creative partners what skills you’ve learned, the work you’ve done and how you approach various design challenges.

Career Paths in Graphic Design

Both veteran and new graphic design career seekers can benefit from the broad variety of career paths in the field. While some graphic designers are generalists, others might prefer to pursue various specialties. Here are just a few examples of some specialized career paths:

  • Brand identity design: Brand identity designers craft the visual identity of companies and their brands. Their work typically involves assessing brand strategy might inform their decisions on typography, color and icon systems and logo design. They are often required to develop the brand style and usage guidelines for others to follow, thereby protecting the integrity of the brand’s visual identity across all assets.

  • Packaging design: Regardless of how products are distributed, they need to be packaged and that packaging needs to be designed by someone. Graphic designers apply their creativity and understanding of branding and consumer behavior to develop package designs that are both attractive and functional. When designing packaging for consumer goods sold at retail, designers may also need to be familiar with laws and regulations governing the consumer information that needs to be included on packaging, like nutritional information.

  • Data visualization and infographics: Publishers, news organizations and marketers alike will often use infographics as a way to clearly convey technical, scientific, demographic or financial information to non-technical audiences. Here’s where graphic designers use their talents to translate data sets into graphics that are visually attractive and easy to understand at a glance.

  • Web and user interface design: Graphic designers specializing in web design or user interfaces work on projects like landing pages, app designs, game interfaces and marketing websites. They need to have a solid understanding of design and basic coding principles as well as user experience design.

  • Print and publication design: Even in this age of digital media, many graphic designers work in print, with projects ranging from book cover and menu designs, to album covers, brochures and magazines. In this work, the designer needs to be proficient in color theory and typography, knowledgeable about the types of images that work well in print vs. digital environments and the technical requirements for preparing print-ready files.

Web Design Career Path

To pursue a career in this graphic design specialty, you’ll need a combination of technical skills like coding and programming along with a knowledge of publishing and design software. Knowledge of multimedia integration is also helpful as web designers might use multimedia authoring tools to create interactive websites and web applications by integrating images, video, audio and animations. An understanding of web programming languages, such as HTML5 and CSS3 is key, as is knowledge of industry-specific software such as Adobe® Photoshop®, Illustrator®, and InDesign®.

The coursework in DeVry’s online Web Design Certificate can help you understand many of the current technologies used in web and interface design and covers topics like web technology, software and programming languages, website design and management, and multimedia integration.

Job Outlook for Graphic and Web Designers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for graphic designers to grow by 3% on a national level between 2022 and 2032.1 Despite this small change in growth, the BLS still projects about 22,800 job openings for graphic designers each year during this timeframe. For web developers and digital designers, growth is projected to be about 16% during this same time period, resulting in about 19,000 job openings each year on average.2 It should be noted however that this growth is projected on a national level and local growth will vary by location. This projection is not specific to DeVry graduates and may include earners at all stages of their careers and not just entry level.

The BLS further attributes the growth for web developers and digital designers to the continuing expansion of e-commerce and the need for websites and interfaces that both look attractive and function well on a wide range of mobile devices. As a result, graphic designers will be needed to create visually appealing and functional layouts for these websites and interfaces, as well as social media. 

Prepare to Pursue Your Career in Graphic Design with DeVry

Our online Undergraduate Certificate in Web Design can help you develop skills to help you build beautiful and functional websites, user interfaces and other elements of the digital experience that inform and engage consumers. After graduation, you may consider pursuing roles like web interface designer, multimedia artist animator, graphic designer, website editor and more.

Online learning with DeVry helps you balance your commitment to education with work, family and other commitments that are part of your busy life. Let’s talk about getting you started in our next session.

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