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Graphic Designer

How to Become a Graphic Designer: 5 Soft Skills to Develop to Succeed

Successful brands are instantly recognizable. Think Nike’s swoosh, Versace’s Medusa, or Macdonald’s golden arches. These logos were created by a graphic designer. Graphic design is one of the most important elements in marketing. A unique design can lead to boosted sales, a unique brand identity, and can instantly build customer trust15. If you have a keen creative eye and a passion for storytelling, this job might be for you. Graphic designers weave imagery into a visual message that ensures brand recognition. They help inform, inspire, and communicate important information and ideas to consumers. Their work blends communication, art, design, and technology4. Graphic designers play an important role as visual storytellers within organizations7. This means you’ll need crucial soft, or human, skills to be successful in this sought-after role. Keep reading to learn more about the exciting opportunities in this field and how you can kickstart your career with help from Fingerprint for Success.

Illustration of how to become a graphic designer working on creating a visual message that ensures brand recognition

What do graphic designers do?

Graphic designers create visual imagery such as logos (and even anti-branding which is growing17), as well as typography, advertising, websites, mobile apps and AI designs. The purpose is to communicate ideas and information about products, services, and brands so that consumers are informed and inspired to make a purchase or use a service. Brands constantly need new designs for their websites and collateral to stay fresh and relevant in their markets. In fact, brands redesign their websites every two to three years on average9.

As a graphic designer, you can choose to work across a wide range of design formats. These include designs for more traditional print formats, as well as digital. With new technology, graphic designers also work in motion, AR, VR, mixed reality, the metaverse and more16. Common types of graphic design projects include advertising campaign collateral, branding, product and packaging design. Others include website design, email newsletters, motion graphics, and mobile apps.

When starting out, it’s a good idea to try a variety of different types of graphic design formats to help build out your design portfolio. This shows prospective employers, agencies or clients that you have a wide range to your experience. This will help you to establish yourself in the industry. 

Graphic designers are employed in many different industries and by different organizational types. These include private companies, non-profits, and government departments. Some large companies have in-house graphic designers. Others prefer to outsource design work to agencies. The largest employers of in-house graphic designers include large companies such as Microsoft, Airbnb, Adobe Systems, IKEA, Apple, Home Depot, and Amazon19. When you become a graphic designer, you will have the option to work as an in-house graphic designer or in an agency.

What are the soft (human) skills needed to become a graphic designer?

Graphic designers require expertise in the principles of design, topography and colour theory. For exceptional visual communication, designers must also master various graphic design programs. There are well known applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, and there are some new tools such as Affinity Photo18, Canva and Figma. But graphic designers also need to develop soft (or human) skills to improve their performance and stand out from the crowd. Some of the most common soft skills a graphic designer needs in this field are:

Communications skills

Graphic designers need to have great communication skills. You will be interacting with a range of people in this role, including co-workers and potential clients. When given a new project brief, you will need to be able to communicate with the client so you can better understand their needs. This will involve giving and receiving feedback, which you will have to interpret so you can revise your designs effectively. Many projects will involve working in creative teams. You will need excellent verbal and written communication skills to ensure you can be a valuable member of the team.


To excel at creative thinking, graphic designers need to be great at creating something from nothing. We call it divergent thinking. You may have the technical design skills such as a strong understanding of design theories, typography, scale, color, balance, and proportion, however divergent thinking allows you to create truly pioneering designs through creative problem-solving. Developing your creative thinking will allow you to create truly unique designs that grab the attention of your target audience. 

Collaboration and interpersonal skills

Graphic designers have to collaborate with others throughout the design process. This will include co-workers, potential clients, and end-users. To be successful, you will need good interpersonal skills so you can work well as part of a team. This involves being able to listen and take feedback from other people and then improve your work. Some graphic designers struggle with collaboration. This is especially true if they have strong views on how something should be done. Thankfully, these skills can be learned and improved through coaching.

Emotional intelligence

Good graphic designers have great emotional intelligence (EI) which includes having a great sense of empathy and understanding the motivations of other people. This allows you to design great user experiences. It requires the ability to combine good aesthetics with functionality. When done correctly, this can create impactful designs. If designing a website you need to make sure the end-user can easily navigate the information on the website. At the same time, it needs to look amazing to showcase the brand. Some designers find it difficult to get the balance right. Improving your emotional intelligence is one way to become a more successful graphic designer.


Graphic design involves a lot of problem-solving. For example, you may be asked to design a website so that the user experience is maximized. To do this project well, you will have to work out how best to explain complex information in graphic and written form. This will involve thinking through and weighing all the solutions.

Develop these important graphic designer soft skills

Developing skills such as communication and problem-solving are critical to your success. Soft skills are just as important as hard skills. When you master the right balance, you will boost your career prospects.

At Fingerprint for Success, we have more than 20 years of experience researching the motivational skills of the most successful people. We help you develop new skills to get ahead in your career, by using our crazy accurate analytics tool. This will help you to gain self-awareness of the skills you have, and the ones you need to develop.

Once you've taken the free assessment, you'll be able to get personalized insights related to your goals.


You value verbal comms - in person meetings, phone calls, audio recordings, voice memos, podcasts etc.

100% Match
Pioneering new things

Bias and energy for being involved in revolutionary change from starting new projects and products to pioneering new industries, businesses and initiatives.

100% Match
Collaboration & interpersonal skills

Collaboration involves a willingness to work and learn as a team, achieve common goals, and form meaningful bonds.

100% Match
Assessment Tile

Placeholder (Do not edit) You value verbal comms - in person meetings, phone calls, audio recordings, voice memos, podcasts etc.

100% Match
Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

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How long does it take to become a graphic designer?

There are many pathways to becoming a graphic designer. Your pathway depends on many important factors. These include your level of formal education and real-world experience. Potential employers may also be looking for other skills, such as digital design.

What higher education is required to become a graphic designer?

Most employers expect graphic designers to have graphic design degrees or degrees in a related field. Such a qualification will give you a strong foundation in design theories and technical skills. This will help you create practical designs, receive feedback, and establish a portfolio. Master’s degrees are also available. At the master's level, you will learn advanced design theory and project management. You'll also gain more practical experience.

Another option is to attend a specialty graphic design school. When you attend a graphic design school, you will learn everything from graphic design history to computerized design. At graduation, you should have an excellent understanding of design principles. Having a strong portfolio of your personal projects that have been assessed by expert instructors will make finding a job easier.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design provides over 350 colleges with accreditation in the United States. This also includes universities and other institutions8. Their accreditation ensures each educational institution offers a high-quality level of design education. Graduating from one of these schools will boost your job prospects.

In the U.K., The Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) offers accreditation to graphic designers10 while in Australia, you can also gain accreditation from the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA)11. Gaining accreditation and joining these organizations will help you secure employment opportunities.

There are also online graphic design courses that you can take. This could be a good option if you already have a degree in a related field but want to gain some practical graphic design knowledge. A small number of graphic designers are self-taught. They learn design theory through online programs and books. This gives you a solid understanding of the types of design, design trends, design concepts, visual design, and elements of design. Once you have the skills, you can look for paid work in the creative industry.

What licenses, certifications, and registrations are needed?

A graphic designer does not require any licenses. However, many employers will expect candidates to have a degree in graphic design or a related field. When it comes to certifications, there are companies that issue certificates for people who show competence.

The most common is the Adobe Certified Associate program. This is a recognized industry certificate. This validates you have at least entry-level graphic design skills.

As a graphic designer, you can register with The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). This is an industry association for graphic designers that offers courses and provides industry news to members. The U.K. also has The Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) which you can join for the same benefits. Australian graphic designers can join the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) too.

What on-job internships or work experience is typically undertaken?

Graphic designers can secure an internship at many organizations. An internship will give you great practical experience. Organizations that offer internships include private companies, universities, government departments, and non-profits. Most internships will require the candidate to have a degree. Internships typically last between 6 and 12 months and may be paid or unpaid.

Doing an internship will allow you to learn new knowledge about the design industry and put your skills to the test. Depending on your internship, you will learn about user experience design, print design, and packaging design. You will be able to build an online portfolio of published work. This will help you find a full-time graphic design position after your internship.

What advancement or specialization opportunities are there?

When starting out in graphic design, it’s a good idea to gain experience in a wide variety of specialist areas of graphic design. This will help you to work out what type of design you are interested in. 

For example, you could specialize in brand identity design, web and user interface design, marketing and advertising design, print and publication design or packaging design20. This will help you gain a foothold in the industry and make a name for yourself. Once you start completing projects, you can build your graphic design portfolio. This will help you get in-house graphic designer roles or work as a freelancer.

Some related roles you could later go on to specialize in are:

It’s also important to keep up to date with industry trends. This will help keep your approach to graphic design fresh and innovative. Finally, make sure you learn and use the latest software programs such as Figma, Canva, and Adobe Creative Cloud. They can help you take your graphic design skills to the next level.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for graphic designers?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics1, there will be a 3% growth in demand between 2021 to 2031 for graphic designers. This equates to 24,800 new jobs. Although slower than average, one area with a growth of 16.3% over the same period is digital designers8

It’s worth being aware, there has been an introduction of sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) tools in design. This is a great opportunity to experiment with weaving these new tools into your workflow to achieve greater efficiencies. Graphic designers that are comfortable with these new technologies will be better placed in the future. The best way you can future-proof your graphic design career is to learn how to use the latest tools.

Most graphic designers begin their careers as an intern. There are many internships available as part of an in-house team of designers or at a graphic design agency. Once you gain experience and build a portfolio, you can apply for full-time positions. Over your career, you will have the opportunity to advance to more senior positions. These include senior designer, art director, creative director or head of design roles.

Where can graphic designers work?

Graphic designers are employed by many organizations. The largest employers are Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Home Depot, and Amazon12. Some organizations have in-house graphic designers that work full-time. There are also specialized design firms where graphic designers can find employment. One of the largest is AKQA agency. When working for a design firm, you will contribute to a wide range of client accounts. This will give you a more varied workload and exposure to lots of different industries. Once you build up your experience, you will be able to apply for more senior design roles and maybe even go into management.

Another option is to be self-employed. This can be done when you start your graphic design career or after you have some industry experience. When you become a freelance designer, you will have to acquire your own clients and manage all of the business functions. You may even decide to set up your own agency in the future and hire graphic designers to work for you.

How much can graphic designers earn?

The average annual salary for a graphic designer in the United States is US$54,6782 per year. In the U.K. the average salary is US$33,40013 while in Australia you can expect to earn US$52,00014 on average. Like every other industry, your salary depends a lot on your level of experience. Recent graduates can expect to earn about US$49,501 per year. Graphic designers with 10 or more years of experience can expect to make about US$70,379 per year. Graphic designers in cities such as Los Angeles and New York make above-average salaries. This is due to the large entertainment and technology industries in these locations.

Graphic designers can earn higher salaries if they take on management roles with a team. Most companies with an in-house design team will require a manager or may even employ a chief graphic designer or art director. This will allow you to take on a management role and oversee the whole design department.

If you run your own design studio, you can also make more money. You will have to sign up clients, hire and manage employees, and handle all other aspects of running a business. If you have these skills, you will be able to start signing up a variety of clients to work with. To help you succeed, you can also sign up for a coaching service that will help you plan and achieve your goals. Coaching helps you stay motivated and provides you with support on your journey to success.

Freelance graphic designers can charge anywhere from US$15-353 on platforms such as Upwork to gain experience. Once you’re experienced, you can expect to make US$100 per hour or more. For graphic designers outside of the United States, working as a freelancer is a great way to access international clients.

Frequently asked questions

How can you become a graphic designer for free?

If you want to become a graphic designer for free, start by doing online courses. This will help you understand the basics of good design. You can then use your knowledge to create your own designs, using programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Canva or Figma. Having knowledge of popular graphic design software is crucial. Once you have a portfolio, you can apply for paid graphic design jobs.

How can you become a graphic designer for video games?

The best way to become a graphic designer for video games is to do a multimedia design degree or a degree in a related field. You will learn all about programming languages, 2D and 3D animation, and motion graphic design. Once you graduate, you will be able to apply for video game design jobs.

How can you become an online graphic designer?

Learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript will help you become a graphic designer for online projects. It would be best if you also learned how to use tools such as Adobe Photoshop and Canva. Having these skills will allow you to design websites and other online graphics. Start building a portfolio of your work so you can apply for paid graphic design jobs.

How can you become a graphic designer without a degree?

If you don’t have a college degree, you can take online courses. Some courses are free, while others charge a small fee. Online courses will give you knowledge of design theory. Once you know the theory, start making graphic designs to build a portfolio. A good online presence is crucial for exposure. You can then use your portfolio to help you apply for paid graphic design jobs.

How can you become a freelance graphic designer?

Start by building a portfolio of your work. You can then join platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr. These platforms will allow you to showcase your skills and offer your services. Once you start to gain experience, you will be able to increase the fee you charge. You can also offer your services to agencies within the graphic design industry.

Improving team performance

Trevor Folsom

All entrepreneurs love data for running their business, but fall short on having any data on themselves. Since 2011, I’ve found F4S to be an invaluable asset as an angel investor in backing founders.
Trevor Folsom, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor, Investible

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