Skills & Expertise

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Work your visual sense and deliver what the client wants to get ahead in this design role

You’ve got a thing for fonts, drool over drop caps and go crazy for color, and you’re all about visual storytelling. You would rock as a graphic designer. Check out what a couple of pros say about the job.

What exactly does a graphic designer do?

A graphic designer creates visual concepts to convey information through photos and art.

A graphic designer creates posters, bus wraps, billboards, packaging, logos and marketing materials, depending on the industry—graphic designers work at magazines, advertising and marketing agencies, and more. Selecting photos and typefaces, and developing layouts for advertisements, annual reports, brochures, magazines and other projects are also part of the gig.

“A graphic designer does a range of things, depending on the type of company [she works] for,” says Kaitlin Mendoza, a graphic designer for Stampington & Company in Laguna Hills, California. Mendoza has her hands full editing photos, laying out copy and choosing fonts for title treatments for the various magazines she works on. But she loves every minute of it. “I’m never bored at my job,” she says.  

What skills are required?

The ability to design eye-catching visuals that are easily understood without a lot of thinking is essential, says multimedia designer Alan Tabish, who designs and produces training materials as a graphic designer for management and technology consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. Experience with typography, color theory and Web design are also helpful, he says.

Flexibility is important too, adds Mendoza. If the client’s vision doesn’t align with yours, you have to make the necessary adjustments. And you have to be able to take criticism: Clients are vocal and sometimes indecisive. (Don’t take it personally.)

And you should be familiar with design software, especially Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Are graphic designers’ skills and job responsibilities the same across the board, or do they vary according to industry?

In general, the same basic skills are required—staying on top of design trends, knowing how to take direction—but there are variations, says Mendoza.

As a magazine designer, Mendoza doesn’t have to come up with logos and branding as a graphic designer at an ad agency likely would.

Tabish, whose clients are federal agencies, says there are some differences in the way you approach clients and deliverables. “Government folks tend to like simple graphics that clearly explain a process,” he says. A lot of the designs are similar to infographics, he explains, whereas design firms often let you take more risks.

Who is a graphic designer’s boss?

It depends where you work. Mendoza reports to an art director, while Tabish reports to a project manager, who checks in with the client.

Are there other titles with similar responsibilities?

Graphic artists, production designers and some web designers have similar responsibilities.

What do I need to get ahead in this position?

Keep your design skills sharp by regularly using different techniques. Earning certifications can also increase your on-the-job awesomeness.

How can I get my foot in the door?

Earning a BA in graphic design may make it easier to land your first job, but a degree isn’t required if you’re a talented designer skilled in Adobe Creative Suite.

But Tabish notes, “Without a college education, you’ll have better luck working at a design firm [because] government positions tend to require a degree.” Whichever route you choose, make sure you have a strong portfolio.

Check out open graphic designer positions and other digital media jobs on Mediabistro’s job board.

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