how to become a graphic designer (2024 Guide)

What Skills Do Graphic Designers Need?

BrainStation’s Graphic Designer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a career in graphic design. Read on for top technical skills and soft skills needed for a career in graphic design.

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Graphic Designers bring together art and technology, so they need a knowledge of design principles combined with a mastery of design software. Because they often work with clients and colleagues on various projects, they also need important soft skills like communication and problem solving.

Technical Skills

Design principles

A strong understanding of design principles is essential for any Graphic Designer. Throughout their work, they will strategically use different elements to convey intended messages. Graphic Designers need to know how to bring together lines, color, shape, space, texture, typography, scale, dominance and emphasis, and harmony to create visually appealing and well-structured designs.


Also known as idea generation, ideation is the creative process of generating, developing and communicating new ideas. This is the first thing that a Graphic Designer will need to do when beginning a new project. Ideation involves a few steps: research, development, evaluation, and application.

There are many techniques and skills that Graphic Designers use for the ideation process. Two examples are mood boards and thumbnails. Mood boards are a collection of visuals used to explore new ideas and communicate the tone or direction of a project. Thumbnails are quick, rough sketches that approximate the layout of a design, including key elements like images, headlines, and copy.


Graphic Designers often build or maintain branding for their client or employer. When working with a brand, they need an in-depth understanding of what makes that brand unique. Then, they need to bring that brand to life through logos, colors, typography, illustration, photography, graphic elements, and more. Graphic Designers should be able to create work that is consistent across platforms and that speaks to the right audience.


Typography is one of the most important elements of graphic design. The right typography can create meaning and invoke feeling, while the wrong typography can be distracting or repel customers. Graphic Designers need to be skilled in everything from selecting the right font for a project to typesetting, kerning, tracking, and leading.

Designing for print

While digital design is rapidly growing, designing for print is still a useful skill to know. Graphic Designers should be familiar with bleeds, slug, crop, and fold marks, as well as with ink limits, dot gains, and transparency. They also need a thorough understanding of different file formats and color systems, as well as paper sizes, weights, and stocks.

UX and UI design

UX and UI skills can help Graphic Designers improve their work and stay competitive in the field. By understanding UX and UI, Graphic Designers can create designs that are both visually appealing and functional. Graphic Designers may sometimes work closely with UX and UI Designers, so understanding the fundamentals will allow them to better collaborate and communicate with team members.


Graphic Designers work with a variety of tools as part of their day-to-day, so they will need to master certain graphic design software. Some of the technology that Graphic Designers should be familiar with include: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Sketch. Graphic Designers who design for the web would also benefit from learning to code and knowing programming languages, such as HTML and CSS, as well as content management systems like WordPress.

Soft Skills for Graphic Designers


Graphic Designers are constantly tasked with developing new and unique ideas. The designs they create need to capture people’s attention while also communicating an intended message, which requires a lot of creative thinking.


Graphic design is visual communication, so communication skills are at the heart of a Graphic Designer’s work. Not only do they need to communicate ideas through their designs, but Graphic Designers also need to communicate with colleagues and clients. At times, designers may need to explain a design decision or rationale to people without a design background. In addition, they will need both written and verbal communication skills for proposals and presentations.


Graphic Designers are strategic thinkers – they have to consider how certain design elements work together and how to best convey meaning while adhering to design standards. This involves conducting market research, brainstorming, thumbnailing, developing ideas, and evaluating designs.

Problem solving

Think of a design brief as a problem: a client needs something to be communicated, and the right design will solve their problem. Graphic Designers use problem solving skills throughout the design process. This may involve troubleshooting design issues or revising designs to meet client needs.

Time management

Graphic Designers often work on multiple projects at once, and may be dealing with deadlines from several different clients. Graphic Designers need to be able to balance workloads and prioritize projects.

Can I Be a Graphic Designer If I Can’t Draw?

Drawing skills are not required for the majority of graphic design jobs. Most of the time, Graphic Designers use design software, so mastering the software is more important than improving your drawing skills.

While you can certainly plan out concepts through drawings, it is not essential. Some Designers use simple sketches as a first step in their design process, but you opt to create mockups in design software instead. In most cases, the final design product will not involve any drawing.