Main image of article Graphic Design Certifications: Are They Worth Earning?

Depending on the company, graphic designers might be tasked with developing and producing graphic design for a variety of mediums, from digital mobile apps to websites to printed materials. It’s a complicated (and fun) job, and competition for roles can be fierce. Will earning a graphic design certification give you an advantage in the job hunt? In this article, we’ll break that down!

Industry Standard Graphic Design Skills 

Let’s take a moment to delve into graphic design skills and why they’re often certified. According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes data from millions of job postings across the country, the following are “defining skills,” which are the day-to-day skills that graphic designers need to fulfill their tasks to the best of their ability:

  • Graphic Design
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Social Media
  • Typesetting
  • Website Design
  • Adobe Aftereffects
  • Visual Design

In addition, there are “distinguishing skills,” which are defined as the advanced skills that graphic designers can use to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace:

  • Art Direction
  • Video Editing
  • Creative Design
  • Fine Arts
  • Brand Identity
  • Adobe Premiere
  • Photo Editing
  • Motion Graphics
  • Adobe Dreamweaver
  • Color Theory

These skills are “industry standard” by virtue of the fact that organizations of all sizes and missions utilize them for graphic design work; you’ll need to know a number of them in order to become a competitive candidate and land the job. Organizations will ultimately want to see how you can use these skills in effective visual communication—and many view certifications as the ideal way of proving you have the skills, aside from your portfolio and previous work experience.


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The Importance of graphic design certifications

It’s important to note that, while a certification will make you stand out amidst a crowded field of job applicants, you don’t necessarily need any certs to establish yourself as a graphic designer. Many organizations simply want a graphic designer who can do the work; if you can prove that you have what it takes, chances are good that a hiring manager will consider you for the role.

Certifications can become more important if you’re applying for a highly specialized graphic designer job. For example, a small gaming startup might hire a graphic designer to help design mobile ads, which would require design, typography, layout, scheduling and deadline monitoring, some programming, and an awareness of best practices for ads. In that case, having certifications that demonstrate your proficiency with the tools needed to build these ads will give you an advantage.

A huge tech giant, on the other hand, might hire a graphic designer to focus solely on internal materials, including presentations to senior management—which might require everything from data visualization to research. An entirely different set of certifications might come into play.

Over and above any certifications, though, it’s just as important that graphic designers have a strong portfolio of previous work. A portfolio is especially critical for graphic designers targeting agencies, where they might produce projects for multiple clients. It’s a similar story for freelance designers, who must attract and retain clients on the strength of their past projects. 

How many graphic designer certifications are there?  

Here’s the good news: According to Lightcast, there are relatively few graphic design certifications—and thus fewer decisions you need to make. That’s a nice contrast from technologist and management positions with massive, complicated certification ecosystems. 

This is the Lightcast list of the most prominent ones, based on job posting data (i.e., employers requesting specific certifications):

As you can see from the list, Adobe features prominently, which should come as no surprise—after all, the substantial majority of graphic designers rely on Adobe’s suite of tools to get stuff done. Fortunately, Adobe has a page that breaks down its certifications (including ones other than those listed above) along with documentation about how to earn them.

What certifications do you need for graphic design?

This is where things get interesting. According to Lightcast, only a small subset of jobs actually demand graphic design certifications: 

While a certification might give you an advantage in the job hunt, in other words, even the vast majority of graphic designer roles don’t demand one. That’s good news if you’re hoping to land a job on the strength of your skills, experience, and previous work. 

Which certifications are in demand?  

While it seems there’s a limited market among employers for graphic design certifications (although as you can see from the above chart, demand for some of those certifications is expected to grow), Lightcast makes it clear that some certifications are more in demand than others; specifically, anything that certifies your skills in Adobe Photoshop:

What is/are the benefits of graphic design certification(s)?  

If you’re locked in tough competition for a prized graphic designer job, having certifications could give you a slight edge with a hiring manager or interviewer, especially  if they’re the type who prizes certifications; for example, an HR manager who’s used to interviewing technologists (and thus comfortable when they see an application with a lot of certifications in it) may gravitate toward a graphic designer with a lot of certified knowledge of design platforms. 

As with so many professions, though, landing a graphic design job hinges heavily on your skillset, which means having an extensive portfolio. Companies want to know that you’ve tackled (and excelled at) similar work in the past. If you’re applying to design graphics and layout for an e-commerce site, for instance, they’ll be most interested in whether your portfolio features similar sites and projects (especially if you’ve demonstrated a solid grasp of UI/UX). 

Soft skills such as communication are also key. Graphic designers not only need to listen in order to figure out the organization’s requirements for a particular project, but they must also communicate frequently with stakeholders to make sure everyone’s onboard with the direction of their creations. 

Can certifications help you land a job at one organization over another? Not necessarily—and besides, a good graphic designer is flexible about where they want to work, provided an organization’s mission and projects excite them.

“One work environment isn’t better than the other—agencies, in-house departments and freelancing have their advantages and disadvantages, and it depends on the designer where they want to take their career,” Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, told Dice last year. “It’s less of a career path and more of a career journey, with twists and turns along the way that are specific to the individual and their interests and passions.”

It’s also a career path that hinges on the designer’s portfolio—which is a key reason why experts advise that anyone breaking into graphic design put a heavy emphasis on independent projects that will show off a range of skills. And a good portfolio, possibly coupled with a range of in-demand certifications, can open all kinds of doors.

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