What Do Graphic Designers Do? A Closer Look at this Creative Career

What Do Graphic Designers Do

From billboards and product labels to laptops and smartphones, graphics are everywhere. Brands big and small use both printed and digital designs—like logos, websites or advertisements—in an effort to attract the eye of their audience and promote their product or service. And no matter what they’re selling, behind every brand’s visual campaign is a graphic designer.

But what do graphic designers do exactly? Simply put, they create visual concepts, physically or digitally, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform and captivate consumers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Though all graphic designers have a few things in common, their job duties, work environment and skillsets can vary greatly. But to give you a better understanding, let’s take a closer look at what they do and how they do it.

What is graphic design, anyway?

Involving aspects of marketing, art, technology and customer service, graphic design can seem like a complicated concept. To simplify their function, think of graphic designers like visual storytellers.

“A good designer’s job is to visually tell a story in a way that supports the [brand’s] message and creates emotion,” says Jennifer Carole, Vice President of Marketing at software company, Bromium.

A graphic designer’s ultimate goal is to blend form and function, according to graphic designer Pablo Solomon. “As in any good design, you want to accomplish your practical goal in the most visually pleasing and impacting way,” he explains. “Where musicians use music, poets use words and dancers use their movements to communicate feelings, designers use their images.”

At the end of the day, a designer’s aim should be to fulfill their client’s desire to communicate an idea in an artistic way.

What skills do graphic designers need?

Since their jobs consist of several unique aspects, graphic designers must possess a unique blend of artistic and technical skills. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 38,000 graphic designer job postings from the past year.* The data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking in candidates.

Top skills employers are seeking in candidates

Top technical skills Top transferrable skills
Adobe Creative Suite Creativity
Typesetting Communication
Website design Attention to detail
Packaging Collaboration
Social media Deadline-driven

Intuition is also important on the job, according to Mark Churchill, Digital Marketing Manager at Wealth Club. He says one of the most important skills a graphic designer can have is the instinctive ability to translate a verbal idea into a powerful visual presentation.

“It helps if you're a mind reader, of course,” he jokes. “It also helps to have a broad visual repertoire rather than a core style.” He goes on to explain that colleagues or clients will often expect you to take their vague verbal idea and transform it into a visual idea for them to react to.

Though art and design skills are crucial, bringing a message from basic concept to finished visual presentation also takes communication and efficiency, Solomon points out. “On a practical daily level, you must connect with clients, understand their needs and then work as efficiently as possible to meet those needs,” he adds.

What are some graphic designer job duties?

A graphic designer’s daily tasks can vary depending on where they work and what they specialize in. But as a rule of thumb, designers work with clients or art directors to determine a project’s scope, conceptualize a design, create visual elements to support a brand and edit their concepts until all parties are satisfied.

“My job consists of meeting with clients, discussing and planning projects with my team, scoping documents, drawing out ideas, composing wireframes, creating designs and testing and chasing and tweaking websites,” says Robyn Strafford, UX Designer and Project Manager at digital marketing agency BowlerHat. “I basically take an idea from start to finish with a little help from my team.”

Where do graphic designers work?

There are three main settings that most graphic designers will find themselves working in: In-house, agency or freelance. An in-house designer is employed by a company to produce creative materials for them specifically. An agency designer will work on a project-by-project basis for a company who provides creative services for a variety of clients. A freelance designer is self-employed and manages their own workload and clientele.

Each work environment comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, and there are certain qualities and characteristics that are ideal in each setting. It’s important for graphic designers to weigh their options and decide which employment situation suits their needs best.

“The first graphic designer I hired was a freelancer,” Churchill says. “She designed new illustrated character graphics for a cartoon-character line up. To do this, she had to adapt to an existing visual style, but nevertheless enjoyed putting a lot of personality into the work. She did most of it in-between other jobs—in the cafe, at home, wherever. It’s a good way to boost income and build up a client base.”

Agency and in-house jobs might be a little more traditional, but they offer the stability and predictability that some designers desire. Both environments will likely involve more collaboration, as they are often part of a group supervised by an art director or account manager who serves as a liaison between the project owner and the design team.

Agency graphic designers have the ability to dabble in different creative styles and types of projects. They tend to specialize in a particular design niche, such as logo design, digital illustration or user experience design. In-house designers focus all their energy on fostering one brand and work within the existing creative standards. These designers typically possess more of a broad skillset, with the ability to execute a variety of work for the company.

Are you destined to be a designer?

So what does a graphic designer do? It turns out there is no standard job description. The specific duties are highly dependent upon the work environment and area of specialization.

This is good news for those interested in pursuing the profession, because you can essentially design your own career path—one that aligns with your own preferences and priorities. If that appeals to you, you might want to consider a career as a graphic designer.

Find out if you are a good fit for the field in our article, You Might Make a Good Graphic Designer If …


*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 38,221 graphic designer job postings, March 01, 2016–February 28, 2017).

Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She also works as a copywriter for a creative agency and edits an online magazine where she enjoys connecting with others through the written word.

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