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Design 101: What Is Graphic Design?


Learn about Graphic Design including the elements of graphic design, best free graphic design software, and types of graphic design.

Design 101 - What Is Graphic Design

Learning to draw is easy (at least for some people) but designs! You need more than just drawing skills. If you are new to the design world, it can feel like an overwhelming territory. Truth be told, to learn designs, even at their basics, you need to sacrifice time, effort, and be observant. 

A good design class varies from free to a few hundred dollars. The good news is you do not need to have an art degree to become a competent graphic designer. You can learn more than just the basics by finding the right resources and judiciously creating time to study and practice what you learned. 

What does this mean for your business? Instead of hiring freelance designers to help you design basic images, you can create them yourself in little time and at zero cost. You can put together quality images for your blog and social media posts, without having to spend hundreds of hours learning designs.

In this article, you will learn the meaning of graphic designs, the elements and principles of graphic design, and the best graphic design software tools for building compelling arts. You will also learn the types of a graphics designer, and what exactly does a graphic designer do.

Ready to boost your design skills and knowledge? Let’s get started.

What is Graphic Design?

When you think about graphic designs, different designs start flashing in your head. You start seeing logos, billboards, flyers, brochures, posters, shirt designs, magazines, book covers, and so much more. For many, graphic design is a medium for expressing one’s aesthetic skills.

Graphic design is the art of conveying information to an audience through the use of visuals and images. It is a visual form of communication designed to communicate messages and produce a specific effect on its viewers. 

According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), graphic design is “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.” It is the skill of combining images and text, deployed by professionals, to boost the user experience and engagement.

Graphic design is also known as communication design, commercial design, and visual design. What we know as graphic design started in the early 20th country with the signage created for the London Underground in 1936. Germany’s minimalist mid-century Bauhaus school of design laid a strong foundation for modern graphic design. 

Today, graphic design is all-encompassing across industries. It plays a crucial role in pop culture, E-commerce, advertising, and many other aspects of human life.

Remember the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? Graphic design helps businesses to connect quickly in shorter spaces with their consumers. E-commerce businesses use it to promote and sell their products. 

Although graphic design is mainly utilized for commercial or promotional purposes, you can deploy it for personal and purely artistic purposes. 

Graphic designing
Source: Stoodnt

Elements of Graphic Design

You cannot grasp the concept of graphic design without first understanding the elements that make up a design. If you do not know or pay attention to these elements when making a graphic design, you are almost certain to produce a poor design.

Elements of graphic design refer to the basic units that form the design structure of any visual design. There are seven basic elements of a graphic design: line, shape, color, typography, texture, size, and space.

1. Line

The most basic elements of graphic design in the line. A line is an element defined by a point moving in space. It is the starting point of any design. There are different forms of lines, it can be straight, curved, thin, thick, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, or whatever shape you want to give it.

Lines go beyond just points joined together. Depending on the length, weight, and form, lines serve several purposes in a design. They help define shapes, organize information, convey emotions, and imply movement.

Graphic designers use two main types of lines when designing: the invisible lines and the visible lines. Invisible lines serve as guides and offer more structure and direction to design projects. Visible lines with weight and form are useful for passing across a variety of moods and messages in the final design. 

Different forms of lines convey different messages. Heavier dark lines communicate stability or a threat, zig-zagged lines suggest anger or electricity, and scribbled lines show confusion, excitement, and messiness. Wavy lines communicate elegance and beauty or uncertainty and fragility. 

2. Shape

A shape is simply a two-dimensional figure created by a combination of lines. It is the quality of a distinct body or objects to have an external surface or specific figure or form. You can achieve this delineation of shape using line, color, or texture.

Take a look at your environment, we are surrounded by so many shapes. A typical human sees trees, flowers, offices, cats, and dogs and sees objects and animals, but for a graphic designer, they are more than just that. Shapes are the root of graphic design. 

There are different types of shapes, they include abstract, geometric, and organic shapes. Shapes add interest in any design and help organize other elements of graphic design. They can have symbolic meaning, are used to draw the eyes into the most important information in a design, and invoke feelings.

Different types of shapes
Source: Zeka Design

3. Color

Color is a graphic design element used to draw attention to a design. When used in the right manner, color can invoke feelings. People process color in an artwork subconsciously. 

Apart from generating emotions, color has other uses in a design. It helps define significance, spark interest in the design, and unify branding. Graphic designers use color to build appeal, establish mood, create interest, and pass a message across. 

Color is arguably the most powerful element of graphic design. Every color has three characteristics: hue, value, and saturation. Hue refers to the color family, value refers to how dark or light the color is, and saturation refers to the purity of the color.

Color is a graphic design element used to draw attention to a design
Source: HubSpot Blog

4. Typography

Typography refers to the art of arranging different elements in a design. It is a critically important element of design as it can affect the message of the design. Get it wrong and you end up passing the wrong or no message to your audience. Get it right and you have successfully communicated with your design.

You can use different weights combined with a variety of colors, sizes, and spacing to powerfully express the message you want to communicate with your audience.

Typography refers to the art of arranging different elements in a design
Source: SitePoint

5. Texture

Texture refers to the feel of a surface when touched. In graphic design, the element of texture is used in designs to create a perception of how things would feel if they were touched. There are different forms of texture, they include rough, smooth, hard, soft, glossy, furry, gooey, and more. 

Graphic designers use texture to draw attention to their design. They primarily use illusion to visually convey texture in their work. You can add texture to other elements such as colors and shapes. Mastering texture is crucial if you want to make your designs professional and polished. 

Graphic designers use texture to draw attention to their design
Source: LifeWire

6. Size

Size refers to how big or small an object is. In design, the functionality of your artwork rests heavily on this element. Size is used to show the importance and create visual interests in a design by contrasting different sizes.

You can use size to attract attention to the most essential parts of your design. Smaller-sized objects or forms attract lesser attention compared to larger-sized objects. If you want to draw attention to the most important parts of your design, use larger-sized objects.

Size refers to how big or small an object is
Source: Piccianeri

7. Space

Space refers to the empty parts of a design. It is the least obvious of the elements of a graphic design but not the least important. Blank areas between, below, above, and around other design elements are called spaces.

Graphic designers intentionally leave out these spaces in certain strategic areas in the design to add emphasis to the area. Space is instrumental in turning two-dimensional spaces into a three-dimensional illusion.

Principles of Graphic Design

The principles of graphic designs refer to the basic rules and guidelines that designers follow to ensure that the elements of the design are connected effectively. It is the way design elements are used in an artwork.

There are five principles of graphic design, they include balance, alignment, proximity, repetition, and contract.

Principles of Graphic Design Elements
Source: Visme

The use of graphic design principles can either hurt or enhance your piece. Choosing the design elements to use is just as important as how you combine the design elements in the artwork.

1. Balance

Balance refers to the distribution of the visual weight of elements in the design such as colors, space, and texture. It is the principle of graphic design that makes the design feel stable. 

Achieving visual balance for your design is achieved by balancing the design in weight. All lines, shapes, and other elements in the design have to be distributed evenly to achieve a balance. Even if the two sides of the design are not similar, they use similar elements.

Balance is key for providing stability and structure to a design. A good graphic designer considers balance when making layout and composition decisions. The principle of balance is all about the even but not necessarily the equal distribution of design elements.

There are two types of balance in design: symmetrical or asymmetrical. All elements of balance have visual weight. 

Symmetrical balance refers to the arrangement of elements on either side of the center of a composition in an evenly weighted manner. Asymmetrical balance refers to the use of unequal visual weight on each side of the composition, arranged so that there is still a sense of balance.

An unbalanced design makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. It is difficult to pass your intended image through an unbalanced design. Balance is not just limited to the visual weight of an object and its size, you can also use shape, color, texture, value position, and eye direction.

2. Alignment

Alignment is a principle of graphic design that keeps the design organized. It is the foundation on which your design appears to your viewers. Alignment refers to the arrangement of different design elements in various positions to create a visual connection between them. The positions include the top, bottom, center, or sides.

The purpose of this graphic design principle is to declutter the design and prevent it from turning into a disorderly mess. If you have seen a design that has scattered text and no alignment, that design lacks alignment. Nobody likes a design that does not have order. 

Graphic designers rightfully pay close attention to this principle. Let’s assume you want to draw a triangle. If you misalign any of the lines that make up a triangle, there is no way anybody can tell it is a triangle you drew! 

Alignment is a principle of graphic design that keeps the design organized
Source: Envatotuts+

3. Proximity

Proximity is one of the most powerful principles of graphic design. It can make or mar your design. The principle of proximity is simply the act of ensuring that related elements are placed together visually. Unrelated elements should be placed apart.

Placing them close to one another creates a visual relationship between these design elements, helping to enhance the overall design.

Proximity indicates that the elements or objects have a relationship with each other, creating a visual unit in the design. Visual units are essential for providing structure and organization to a layout.

Proximity helps minimize clutter, creates a focal point, and increases viewer comprehension of the design. 

One mistake many rookie designers make is assuming that the principle of proximity means putting similar elements right next to each other. It is more than that. The principle of proximity means that similar elements should connect visually in a design.

Proximity is one of the most powerful principles of graphic design
Source: NGroup

4. Repetition

Repetition refers to the act of repeating elements or several design pieces through a design to give it a unified look. It is the process of reusing the same or similar elements throughout the design.

After deciding how you want to use elements in your design, the next step is to repeat those patterns to establish consistency in the design. 

Repetition strengthens the design, ties together individual elements, creates a sense of unity, and a feeling of organized movement. It creates cohesiveness, emphasis, style, and hierarchy structure. Good design practice utilizes the principle of repetition for both complex or simple design works. 

Repetition refers to the act of repeating elements or several design pieces through a design to give it a unified look
Source: Graphics Zoo

5. Contrast

Contrast is a design principle used to draw the viewer’s attention to certain aspects of the design. It emphasizes certain aspects of the design. In contrast, graphic designers stress the differences between elements by placing two different design elements with opposing qualities side by side.

People are naturally attracted to contrasting objects. Using contrast in your design is a fantastic way to make your audience pay more attention to specific aspects of your design. There are different types of contrast: contrast of color, the contrast of size, the contrast of shape, and contrast of typography.

Contrast is a design principle used to draw the viewer’s attention to certain aspects of the design
Source: PluralSight

Best Graphic Design Software Tools

1. Adobe Photoshop

Best Graphic Design Software for Image Editing

Adobe Photoshop is the Best Graphic Design Software for Image Editing

Adobe Photoshop is the most popular software used for creating graphic designs. Millions of graphic designers, business owners, and other individuals around the world use the software. It is one of the best photo editing software for new photographers. You can also use it as video editing software.

The image editing software is useful for different designs. Whether it is to create banners, logos, websites, posters, or flyers, the graphic design software can do it all. Adobe Photoshop has tools that can do small edits and create sophisticated designs. It is suitable for drawing, painting, retouching photography, and other designs. 

You can use the software to create naturalistic artwork, isolate elements from your designs, work in 3D, and lots more. It is available on both Windows and Mac operating software.

Adobe Photoshop features a range of incredibly powerful AI features such as sky replacement and content-aware fill. It is the industry’s standard bitmap editor.

2. Sketch

Best Vector Editor Designed Purely for Mac Users

Sketch is the Best Vector Editor Designed Purely for Mac Users

Sketch is a graphic design software exclusively available for the Apple Mac that focuses on creating digital designs. You can use the software to create apps, interfaces, and websites. The graphic design software is not the best fit for print work or photo editing. It rather focuses on on-screen design, creating digital icons and interface elements for applications and websites. 

The software has a smart layout feature that automatically resizes its components based on what you want to work on. There are tons of plugins in Sketch that support vector editing and other design work. It is easy to use. 

Sketch is a vector-based graphic design tool best suited for creating interactive prototypes for UI/UX purposes. The software requires a low learning curve and makes it easy for designers to share and collaborate through the cloud. It automatically saves all changes you do on it to prevent you from losing your design.

3. Adobe Illustrator

Best Vector-based Graphic Design Software

Adobe Illustrator is the Best Vector based Graphic Design Software

Adobe Illustrator is more than graphic design software. It is one of the best design software for creating vector designs. You can create posters, icons, artworks, page layouts, website mockups, corporate logs, and almost anything else.

The designs created with this design tool can be used in billboards or business cards. You can use Adobe Illustrator to draw, mix, and refine designs. There is a mobile version of the application called Adobe Illustrator Draw.

Beginners can take advantage of Adobe’s extensive library of professionally designed templates, videos, graphics, and images to make their design faster and easier. Although the user interface is top-notch, it has a steep learning curve. The platform is available for Windows and Mac operating software.

Adobe Illustrator shares many common tools and functions with Photoshop, another graphic design software by Adobe. It is considered the vector version of Adobe Photoshop. The software integrates seamlessly with other Adobe products.

4. Adobe InDesign

Best Graphic Design Software for the Publishing Industry

Adobe InDesign is the Best Graphic Design Software for the Publishing Industry

Adobe InDesign is an essential software used primarily in publishing software. It is a useful design tool for designing magazines, books, brochures, posters, info sheets, interactive PDFs, and more.

The ‘adjust layout’ feature allows users to change the text of their document and have their graphic adjust accordingly. Thanks to the Sensei technology used by InDesign, the software automatically arranges and resizes images. 

AdobeInDesign is suitable for non-graphic designers because of its low learning curve. The software supports collaboration between designers and team members through its Adobe InCopy feature. You can easily export the designs created on Adobe InDesign to PDF or HTML. It is the industry standard for desktop publishing.

5. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

Best Graphic Design Software for Vector Designs

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite is the Best Graphic Design Software for Vector Designs

CorelDRAW is the graphic design software used for creating professional vector illustrations. The software packs powerful design tools that make your work smarter and faster. It has a highly accessible interface that is easy to use.

There are tons of customization options available for users irrespective of the type of design project they are working on (web design, logos, or prints). CorelDRAW uses AI technology to make the LiveSketch feature available. The LiveSketch feature instantly converts your sketches into precise vector curves.

The graphic design software uses Photo Paint for photo editing and Corel Font Manager for font management. You can use its web graphics tools to develop and create web content that you can publish directly to your website builders such as WordPress, Bluehost, and Bluehost alternatives.

CorelDRAW has one of the largest file compatibility ranges, supporting over 100 file formats. Registered users have access to Corel’s online digital library, Content Exchange, through which they can get access to thousands of high-resolution digital images and photographs.

6. GIMP

Best Free Graphic Design Software and Alternative to Photoshop 

GIMP is the Best Free Graphic Design Software and Alternative to Photoshop

GIMP is a free graphic design software that works on the Windows, Mac OS, and Linux platforms. The open-source software allows users to change their source code. There are lots of customization applications and third-party plugins that you can use with GIMP to create better designs.

You can use the software to retouch images and make creative composites. Print designs such as logos and icons, along with mockups, and interface components can be designed in the software. The full meaning of GIMP is GNU Image Manipulation Program.

GIMP is more than a photo editor. Most of the features of Photoshop are available to users for free. The free graphic design software has an active community of developers always adding new features and updates to the software.

Beginners can take advantage of GIMP comprehensive tutorials. There are tutorials for every GIMP feature to help ease the learning curve. GIMP uses lower computing resources compared to other graphic design software, leading to a fast performance on most computer systems.

7. Canva

Best Graphic Design Software for Business Owners and Amateurs

Canva is the Best Graphic Design Software for Business Owners and Amateurs

Canva is a graphic design software used by both seasoned designers and amateurs. The software has tons of ready-made templates, fonts, and images that businesses can use to create social media designs, posters, flyers, logos, print products, and others.

If you have zero or little experience in designing, Canva is an easy solution that allows you to create designs easily and quickly. You can pick a template and edit it, or start your design from scratch. Canva is a drag-and-drop software that allows you to drag different elements into your work. It does not support drawing and sketching.

The graphic design software does not have the advanced features of Photoshop. However, it solves the design needs of beginners and businesses. It is the perfect alternative to Photoshop for beginners or non-designers who do not want to go into the steep learning curve of more advanced design software.

8. Design Wizard

Best Online Graphic Design Software for Creating and Editing Images

Design Wizard is the Best Online Graphic Design Software for Creating and Editing Images

Design Wizard is an online graphic design software that provides users with over a million curated images and 15,000+ templates. 

The graphic design software integrates with third-party applications such as Marketo, Buffer, Hubspot, and other Hubspot alternatives. It makes it easy for users to create, share, and download images.

Design Wizard offers users custom color palettes, font uploader, canvas resize, and other valuable features for creating and editing images. It is best for beginners and business owners who do not have much graphic design skills to handle the advanced customization of other design software.

9. Colorcinch

Best Photo Editing and Graphic Design Software for Designers and Non-Designers

Colorcinch is a simple and intuitive photo editing and graphic design software for marketers, professionals, and hobbyists.

With Colorcinch, you can create stunning social media posts, logos, banners, cover arts and any visual content with just a few clicks. You don’t need to spend hours with tutorials to start exploring its features. You can upload your photo or choose from its incredible collection of stock photos then add special elements to it. You can create and organize your projects with a user-friendly layers panel.

Colorcinch houses a vast array of premium vector graphics and icons as well as templated masks, overlays, and frames. It has a text editor and freehand drawing tool that you can use to customize your designs.

It also features essential editing tools (like crop, resize, rotate, detail) and hundreds of specialty effects (like cartoonizer, sketcher, paint, etc.) to give your artwork a different look.

Colorcinch helps you achieve professional and stunning designs with less time and virtually no experience.

Types of Graphic Design

Graphic design refers to the use of visual compositions to communicate ideas through form, color, typography, and imagery. There is more than one way to do a graphic design, hence the various types of graphic design available. Graphic design can be split into several specialization areas.

Although the various types of graphic designs overlap, they are different from each other. Each type requires a different set of skills and design techniques.

These graphic design types are a huge career opportunity. Many graphic designers specialize in a single type of graphic design. Some designers are experts in several graphic design types. 

The graphic design industry is constantly changing. To succeed as a designer, you need to understand the types of graphic design. Even if you are a business owner seeking design services for your business, knowledge of the types of graphic designs will help you pick the right designer. The knowledge of the types of graphic design is vital if you want to do the design yourself.

There are 8 types of graphic designs. They include visual identity graphic design, marketing, and advertising graphic design, user interface graphic design, publication graphic design, packaging graphic design, motion graphic design, environmental graphic design, and graphic design art and illustration.

1. Visual Identity Graphic Design

A brand connects a business to its audience. Businesses and organizations use brand identity to communicate their essence, personality, tone, and experiences. Visual identity graphic design is a type of graphic design that deals with the visual elements of brand identity. This graphic design type uses images, colors, and shapes to communicate the brand identity through designs. 

Designers that specialize in visual identity graphic design work closely with stakeholders in the business to create designs that represent the brand’s personality.

Examples of visual identity graphic designs include: 

  • Color Palettes
  • Logos
  • Typography

These designers are responsible for the designs you see on a company’s business cards and corporate stationery. Another role played by these designers is the development of style guides that provide visual branding guidelines and best practices for various media. The style guides help maintain brand consistency across media and for future use.

Visual identity design is arguably the most common type of design for businesses. Since they design or create style guides used by a business across all visual media, visual identity graphic designs need to be knowledgeable about the other types of graphic designs.

2. Marketing & Advertising Graphic Design

Marketing and advertising graphic design is a popular type of graphic design. Most people when thinking of graphic design immediately associate it with the marketing and advertising designs they see on billboards and other locations.

Companies use marketing and advertising graphic design to pass their message to their target audience and influence their decision-making process. Since people engage more with visual content, companies use graphic design to promote and communicate their products effectively to their target audience.

Marketing and advertising designers collaborate with company owners, managers, directors, and marketing professionals to create visual marketing content. Companies can either hire graphic design freelancers or have an in-house designer or creative team to handle their marketing and advertising graphic design.

Marketing and advertising graphic design is a broad niche for designers. Designers can specialize in sub-niches such as vehicle wraps designs, magazine ads design, and many more. This type of graphic design was once print-centered but has now expanded for use in digital advertising and content marketing.

Examples of marketing graphic design include:

  • Banner and Retargeting Ads
  • Brochures (print and digital)
  • Email Marketing Templates
  • Images for Websites and Blogs
  • Infographics
  • Magazine and Newspaper Ads
  • Menus
  • Postcards and Flyers
  • Posters, Banners, and Billboards
  • PowerPoint Presentations
  • Signage and Trade Show Displays
  • Social Media Ads, Banners, and Graphics
  • Vehicle Wraps

Marketing designers need to have problem-solving, excellent communication, and time management skills. They also have to be proficient in using several graphic design software.

3. User Interface (UI) Graphic Design

User Interface (UI) refers to the way a user interacts with an application or design. It encompasses all the things that a user interacts with. However, the graphic design focuses on the user’s visual experience. UI graphic design is the process of designing a user-friendly interface.

A designer who specializes in user interface designs is a UI designer. The job of the UI designer is to balance the aesthetic appeal of a product with its technical functionality. 

UI designers specialize in creating designs for mobile, web, and desktop apps, and games. They collaborate with UX (user experience) designers and UI developers. 

This type of graphic design requires a firm understanding of the UI/UX principles. UI designers must be team players with the ability to make responsive designs and have web development skills. They need to know programming languages like CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

UI Graphic Design User Interface
Source: UXPlanet

4. Publication Graphic Design

Publication refers to long-form content that a company uses to communicate with its audience. Traditionally publications are print mediums distributed to the public. This type of graphic design refers to the design of books, magazines, newspapers, and catalogs, including digital publishing.

Graphic designers that specialize in publication designs are called publication designers. They work with publishers and editors to create layouts, typography, photography, illustrations, and other designs. Publication designers can work in-house as an employee with a publishing company or as freelancers on job sites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Guru.

Examples of publication graphic design include:

  • Annual Reports
  • Books
  • Catalogs
  • Directories
  • Magazines
  • Newsletters
  • Newspaper
Publication Graphic Design sample
Source: 99Designs

5. Packaging Graphic Design

If you sell products, you likely use some form of packaging when delivering the product to your customer. Apart from concealing the product to prevent it from damage, packaging design can also pass a message to the customer.

Many businesses use their packages as a marketing tool. Every package you use for your product, no matter the material or shape, is an opportunity to tell the story of your brand. People who specialize in packaging graphic design are called packaging designers.

Packaging designers create concepts, the print-ready files for a product, and develop mockups. To do this type of design, you need extensive knowledge of the print processes, industrial designs, and manufacturing. 

6. Motion Graphic Design

Motion graphics refers to moving graphics such as animation, typography, audio, video, imagery, and other design effects. They are common in films, online media, and on the TV screen. 

The popularity of motion graphic design is bigger now than it has ever been thanks to improved technology. It was formerly reserved for TV and film because of its cost and time-consuming production. Now it is more affordable and easier to produce with the right graphic design software. 

People who specialize in motion graphic designs are called motion graphic design. The field of motion graphic design is a novel one in the graphic design industry. It is however one of the fastest moving types of graphic design. You can find it across all digital platforms.

Examples of motion graphic design include:

  • Advertisements
  • Animated Logos
  • Apps
  • Banners
  • GIFs
  • Presentations
  • Promotional Videos
  • Title Sequences and End Credits
  • Trailers
  • Tutorial Videos
  • Websites
  • Video Games

Motion graphics designers need to know coding and 3D modeling to bring their concepts to life with animation and video arts.

7. Environmental Graphic Design

Environmental graphic design refers to the use of graphic elements such as color, typography, imagery, and textures to improve the experience people have within a space. It combines graphic design, architecture, interior design, landscape design, and industrial design elements.

This type of graphic design connects people visually to places to make the space more informative, easier to navigate, and more memorable. It is a broad type of design that covers all the graphic elements included in environmental design.

Examples of environmental graphic design include:

  • Event and Conference Spaces
  • Museum Exhibitions
  • Office Branding
  • Public Transportation Navigation
  • Retail Store Interiors
  • Stadium Branding
  • Signage
  • Wall Murals

The environmental graphic design merges graphic, architectural, landscape, interior, and design components. Designers that specialize in this area have to collaborate with several experts from other fields to plan and implement their designs. Working knowledge of architecture is necessary to succeed as an environmental graphic designer.

Environmental Graphic Design
Source: TheSignBros

8. Graphic Design Art and Illustration

Graphic design art and illustration are not the same as graphic design. Graphic artists and illustrators create original designs, while graphic designers create compositions to communicate and solve problems. 

Although graphic design art and illustration are different from the other types of graphic design, and technically not part of it, it is impossible to separate one from the other. 

Examples of art and illustration for graphic design include

  • Album Art
  • Book Covers
  • Comic Books
  • Concept Art
  • Graphic Novels
  • Graphic Patterns for Textiles
  • Infographics
  • Motion Graphics
  • Picture Books
  • Stock Images
  • Technical Illustration
  • T-shirt Design
  • Video Games
  • Websites

Graphic artists collaborate with editors, writers, marketers, managers, and art directors to create their works. They also work with graphic designers thanks to overlapping skills and apps. 

What is a Graphic Designer?

A graphic designer is a visual communicator and problem solver that creates visual concepts by hand or by the use of graphic design software. Graphic designs communicate ideas through physical and virtual art forms such as words, images, or graphics. 

The end goal of graphic designers is to produce designs that pass across their message effectively. Organizations hire graphic designs to make their brand more recognizable and prominent among their target audience.

Graphic designers use various media such as fonts, colors, shapes, images, photography, logos, print designs, animations, and billboards to communicate a particular idea or identity. They often collaborate with artists, animators, and other creatives on projects. 

A skilled graphic designer combines art and technology to communicate ideas through the layout of web screens, images, and printed pages. Every graphic designer is by the nature of the job a visual-thinking problem solver and communication. The designs they create have to solve specific communication challenges and achieve specific creative outcomes.

Roles Played By Graphic Designers

Depending on the role played, a graphic designer can assume the following titles.

  • An Art Director manages and coordinates the activities of production artists and illustrators to ensure the timely completion of projects and their quality.
  • An Art Production Manager manages every aspect of art production intending to lower costs and improve efficiency.
  • A Brand Identity Developer develops brand identities for various organizations.
  • A Broadcast Designer creates visual designs to be used in electronic media productions.
  • A Content Developer creates written, graphical, video, sound, or other multimedia content for clients.
  • A Creative Director manages and coordinates the activities of a creative team for the end goal of creating visuals for product branding, advertising campaigns, and others.
  • An Interface Designer develops graphical user interfaces (GUI) for web development needs.
  • A Logo Designer creates the visual expression of the organization’s value and key message. 
  • A Multimedia Developer creates animation and other motion arts.
  • A Package Designer creates and designs packages for marketing and products.
  • A Visual Image Developer creates images and designs through image editing, 3D modeling, and photography.
  • A Visual Journalist creates informational graphics known as infographics. 
  • A Web Designer creates graphics, layouts, and pages for websites.

Types of Graphics Designers

Graphic designers can either work with any company, consult for a company, or work remotely on their own. There are three types of graphic designers, agency graphic designer, in-house graphic designer, and freelance graphic designer. 

Agency Graphic Designer

Graphic designers can work with or run their graphic design agencies. Many companies and individuals hire graphic design agencies to handle their designs on their behalf. If you are working for a graphic design agency, you will receive creative briefs from different brands. 

Designers who work with a graphic design agency are usually experts and specialized in one or more types of graphic designs.

In-house Graphic Designer

In-house graphic designers are employed by a company and responsible for handling the design needs of that company alone. Unlike agency graphic designers that receive briefs for different companies, the in-house graphic designer work revolves around a single brand.

Companies expect their in-house graphic designers to be graphic design generalists (someone who can do all kinds of designs the company needs).

Freelance Graphic Designer

A freelance graphic designer is a designer that does not work for a particular agency or a company. They pitch their services to several clients. Freelance graphic designers can either be generalists or specialists, depending on the services they offer.

The perks enjoyed by freelance graphic designers include more freedom of space and time. A major disadvantage is that they have to handle their business especially taxes, unlike organizations. Tax burden is heavier for freelancers who do not enjoy the perk of splitting their payroll tax burden with their company.

Freelance graphic designers work for freelance job websites such as Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, FlexJobs, SolidGigs, and PeoplePerHour.

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

A graphic designer’s primary role is to create visuals that communicate ideas and solutions that inform, inspire, and captivate the intended audience. To achieve this effect, graphic designers use both art and technology to produce designs that are attractive and memorable to consumers.

Graphic designers perform the following roles.

1. Brand Identity

The graphic designer that works with an organization creates designs that make the organization recognizable to its target audience. Graphic designers help boost the company’s brand identity through the use of visually pleasing content.

2. Boost Sales

Businesses are recognizing the importance of graphic designs in boosting the marketing and sales of their products or services. In large organizations, graphic designers work closely with the creative director, public relations departments, and marketing professionals.

3. Business Designs

Graphic designers use a variety of design elements to create design end products for businesses. They develop the layout and production design for advertisements. Some of the business designs that graphic designers create include brochures, magazines, business cards, and corporate reports.

4. Work Closely With Writers

A good piece of graphics, especially for businesses, combine both elements of text and images. Graphic designs are experts at creating fantastic designs but are not the best for creating text that will capture the attention of your target audience. It is the job of the copywriter to produce such text.

Graphic designers work closely with writers whether in-house or freelance writers to choose the right words and decide the placement of the text in the design. Designers choose the type, font, color, size, and length of headlines, headings, and text with the support of a copywriter.

5. Create Variety of Designs or Specializes in One

A graphic designer is not a one-size-fits-all profession. While there are graphic designers that are generalists and work for any kind of client, they are those who specialize in a particular type of graphic design. For example, some graphic designers specialize in creating motion pictures, while some specialize in creating print media.

6. Use Graphic Design Software

Graphic designers use graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop, CorelDRAW, and GIMP to create designs that appeal to their clients. They regularly update themselves with the latest software and updates in computer graphics and design software.

7. Communicate with Clients

Graphic designers communicate with their clients and customers to get an understanding of the kind of designs they want. In addition to requesting creative briefs, graphic designers may ask other questions to fully understand the deliverable clients want. They may ask for samples of the design the client wants if they find it hard to understand the client’s explanations.

Communication with clients is essential if they are to deliver accurately the message, information, and designs that will please clients.

8. Collaborate with Designers and Other Stakeholders

Graphic designers are not the only ones that work on the design project. They often have to collaborate with other designers, artists, marketers, writers, business analysts, directors, managers, and programmers. In the case of small businesses, they can collaborate directly with the business owner. The list is endless. 

Collaboration is essential for the successful execution of the project. The creation of unique websites even with the best website builders for small businesses such as Weebly and Wix needs collaboration between graphic designers and programmers.

9. Teach Designs

Knowledge of graphic design does not limit graphics designers to just creating different types of designs, they can also teach the skills in schools. They can set up their design schools and teach it, teach it in colleges and universities.

Many graphic designers are learning how to create and sell online courses on online course platforms such as Udemy and Coursera. 

You can also create a website or landing page with a landing page builder, set up a sales funnel to drive traffic to your webinars where you teach graphic designs. Another option is to write books on Amazon and other self-publishing platforms.

10. Consultation Services

Graphic designers can serve as design consultants for businesses, organizations, non-profits, and small businesses. They can set up their design agencies and leverage their expertise.

Graphic Design FAQ

Do Graphic Designers Get Paid Well?

Yes, professional graphic designers get paid well for the jobs they do for clients and businesses. The fee a graphic designer can command and gets paid depends on their experience, skill, the demand level for that skill.

According to 99Designs, the average graphic designer in the United States makes $50,000 per year, while experienced graphic designers make approximately $80,000 a year. If you are just starting, you earn an average of $30,000 per annum.

SimplyHired gives an annual salary estimate of 10 different categories of graphic designers. The highest earner is the senior visual designer who earns $106,517, followed by the senior designer that earns $81,044.

A designer earns $73,357, a visual designer earns $69,524, while a senior graphic designer earns $57,060. The average earning for a freelance design is $55,664 while that of a production designer is $39,546. Junior graphic designers earn $35,226, graphic artists earn $29,258, and graphic design interns earn $27,935.

Is Graphic Designing a Good Career?

Graphic designing is a good career path for people who are creative thinkers, enjoy designing, technology, and skilled communicators. It is not a good career path for those who are not passionate about designs of any sort.

If you are creative, love to draw, sketch, design, and interested in graphic design software, graphic designing can be a fulfilling career path for you. It offers lots of opportunities to work on exciting projects. 

Graphic designing allows you the opportunity to be creative, solve problems, and help clients develop their brands. It is a great opportunity to turn your passion for graphic designs into a rewarding income stream.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Graphic Designer?

The time it takes to become a graphic designer depends on how you decide to learn and your current skill level. A rookie with no idea of what graphic design is will take more time to learn (all things being equal) than someone who has some knowledge about it.

There are three ways to learn graphic designs. They are university, self-learning, and Bootcamp courses or design schools. If you want to learn graphic design from the university it can take you three to four years to finish learning it.

The second option is self-learning. You can teach yourself how to design thanks to Youtube videos and even download a Youtube video for free. Online courses and the many free and paid resources on the internet are readily available for your consumption. However, it is hard to determine how long it will take you to self-learn. It depends on how much time you want to schedule for it.

Finally, a Bootcamp course or design school. These courses are designed by graphic design experts to teach participants the skill of graphic design in the shortest time possible. Bootcamp courses remove all the redundancies that litter the university curriculum and the repetitions in self-learning. You get only the essentials you need to become a graphic designer.

How Do I Start a Graphic Design Career?

There are several ways you can apply to start your graphic design career. The most popular is getting a bachelor’s degree in design or a similar course. Another option is to take an internship while in school or out of school to get valuable experience and build your portfolio. An internship can give you the experience you need and help you land your first job.

You can start by becoming a freelance graphic designer, work for charity, join design organizations, nurture an active online presence as a graphic designer, and start a side project. 

What Is the Career Path of a Graphic Designer?

The typical graphic designer career path starts from the bottom to the top of the pyramid. Graphic designers start as interns or junior graphic designers working for a company as part of an in-house design or at a design agency. They rise from there to higher positions such as senior graphic designers, art directors, creative directors, and others. 

If you want to have more control over your career progression and start from a higher bargaining position, you can go the freelance route. There is no rule over career progression here, you simply gain experience, get better, and increase your charges according to your growth.

Whether you are a freelancer or an in-house graphic designer, there are third career path options. Usually, graphic designers start as generalists, which means they can do a variety of designs. However, in-demand graphic design specialists earn higher.

The third route is specializing in a type or area of graphic design. You can single-handedly increase your earnings and attract more premium clients, agencies, or companies by specializing in an in-demand area of graphic designs. 

You can become a packaging designer, digital designer, book cover designer, web designer, motion designer, UI designer, 3D designer, mural artist, email marketing designer, game designer, sign painter, product designer, VR designer, and more. The list of areas you can specialize in is endless.
Other career paths graphic designers may follow include education and work as a digital marketing manager.

Graphic Designing is a Must-Have Skill

Graphic design is an evergreen field. There is always a demand for graphic designers. With the internet being the prominent communication tool used by businesses and individuals across the world, graphic designing skills are more important now than they ever were.

As a small business owner, you need to acquire graphic design skills if you cannot afford to hire graphic designers for your design project. Visual elements have a greater image on people compared to text. 

Even if you are going to hire graphic designs, getting graphic design skills will help you better identify the right graphic designer you need for the job. It helps you better communicate your design needs and identify design errors. 

Business owners can use graphic design software to create their designs faster and easier. Canva, Adobe InDesign, and Design Wizard are the best graphic design software for business owners and individuals with zero or little design experience.

Canva is the best graphic design software for business owners and amateurs. Design Wizard is the best online graphic design software for creating and editing images. AdobeInDesign is the best graphic design software for designs relating to publishing.

If you want to perform more complex graphic design tasks, you need more robust graphic design software than Canva and Design Wizard. They include Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, and CorelDRAW Graphic Suite.

Adobe Photoshop is the best graphic design software for image editing. Sketch is the best vector editor designed purely for mac users. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite is the best graphic design software for vector designs.

Written by
Anastasia Belyh
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