Main image of article Graphic Designer Skills: Which Do You Need to Build a Career?

A graphic designer’s work can make or break a project. Inviting graphics attract (and keep) customers; bad visuals will drive them away. If you’re considering a career in graphic design, you might wonder about the skills that employers want you to have—and how those skills can impact your future earnings and employment prospects.

For a breakdown of graphic designer skills that matter to employers, we can turn to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country; we use it to examine the skills that employers want for a variety of jobs. The platform also subdivides skills into three categories: necessary, defining, and distinguishing. 

Lightcast defines necessary skills as “specialized skills required for that job and relevant across other similar jobs.” Necessary skills are the foundation; once mastered, graphic designers can use them to land a job:

  • Project Management
  • Packaging
  • Marketing Materials
  • Budgeting
  • Scheduling
  • Customer Service
  • Project Design
  • Design Software

As you might expect, these skills are very “top level”: it stands to reason that anyone applying for a graphic design job will need to know the fundamentals of project design and management. Knowledge of design software is also a must (more on this in a bit). Whether you need to know the fundamentals of packaging depends on the job, of course; if a potential employer produces a physical product of some sort, it’ll come in useful.

The next tier is what Lightcast calls “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

Bottom line: when it comes to graphic designer skills, knowledge of Adobe is an absolute must. Mastery of the principles of visual design, typesetting, and website design is likewise important, whether you’re working on printed materials or something web-based.

After that come Lightcast’s “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

Here’s where things get a little bit more advanced. Many companies need graphic designers who can edit video and create animations—and they’re likely willing to pay a premium for those skills. Knowledge of editing and animation can definitely make you stand out in a crowded field of applicants.

Graphic Designer Skills and Resume Writing

When working on your resume for a graphic designer position, always make sure to list any skills from the original job posting that you’ve mastered. Many companies rely on automated resume-scanning software to filter incoming resumes, and listing those skills (as well as other keywords from the job posting) will help ensure your application is viewed by an actual human being.  

However, don’t list any skills you don’t actually know; hiring managers and recruiters will ask you about your previous experience during job interviews, and they’ll quickly ascertain whether you really have working knowledge of certain tools and techniques.

How Do Graphic Designer Skills Impact Salary?

Lightcast estimates the median salary for graphic designers at $49,784, rising to $75,000 and above for those with more than eight years of experience. According to Dice’s most recent Tech Salary Report, that’s well below the average technologist salary of $104,566 (up 6.9 percent between 2020 and 2021).

However, graphic designers can expect to see their salaries rise if they have the right combination of experience and skills. An extensive portfolio, coupled with mastery of key tools and techniques (such as animation and video editing) will only make you more valuable.


Related Graphic Designer Jobs Resources:

Graphic Design Certification

Graphic Designer Interview Questions

Graphic Designer Resume Template

Graphic Designer Salary

How to Become a Graphic Designer