10 Essential Skills Every Graphic Designer Should Have

October 15, 2009 • By

In order to become a well rounded Graphic Designer, there are a variety of skills that are essential to handling a clients or employers tasks proficiently. Below you’ll find some of the most essential skills that a Graphic Designer will need to have as he/she advances in their career and reaches new height.

In several cases a designer may have excellent artistic abilities and many years of experience, however what separates the “must re-hire” from the rest is the following acquired skills. The following skills will not only make you a more valuable member of a team, but they will also make you much more feasible hire, ergo allowing you to raise your rates in exchange for quality.

Style Compared to No Style

Style can be acknowledged as a designer’s signature. When your design needs to reach a targeted audience, whichever styles the audience has been familiarized with can be a valuable addition to the design tools at hand. It’s key that every designer should be comfortable and drawn to their own style. As every project you approach is unique, your style has to leave an imprint on the minds of the audience.

Most designers, (especially the novice) tend to adopt a wide range of contemporary styles for the sake of being well rounded or familiarized. However, style can be whatever the designer desires as long as it’s unique and brings structure to design. If you wish to fully master a style, designer’s should carry out reasearch on its history.

Project Management


A lot of designers consider being organized sufficient, but on larger projects it really helps to have a grasp of project management fundamentals. A designer that can actually project manage the design part of a project has an edge over another designer who needs to be told what to do and when to do it and sits there waiting for input.

Leadership is one of the designers strongest points when it comes to managing a project. Taking on a new project/responsibility, means managing the extent of authority you need in order to effectively execute your project. Make sure you have the proper authority at hand before you begin hammering away at a project.

As a leader it’s also important that you are flexible enough to realize when plans need to be changed be or accommodated. Planning shouldn’t stop the moment you think you’ve figured out the direction you wish to steer a project, it should be an ongoing process. Depending on the succession of your plan’s implementation, you would take into account the strategic planning and documentation that placed everything in motion. Bad planning translates to bad implementation and chaotic results.



One  of the more underrated design skills today is typography, however in truth, typography is one of the key things top advertising firms review in a design portfolio. It is usually the difference between a good and excellent designer. Typography requires a firm understanding of font families, appropriate use of line-height,  kerning and tracking. The advertising industry is primarily about communication and therefore needs clean, readable, well designed type.

Seasoned designers can tell you that it’s almost impossible to know the names of all the typefaces available. However, if you can can learn to identify a portion of the main fonts utilized for clarity in readable content, then you should feel confident. Typography is readily classified as the official language of graphic design. If typography seized to exist, most designs would become irrelevant or obsolete.

Fact is letters come in many different shapes, colors, and forms, and this is what gives graphic design its unique and favorable personality. While knowing technology is essential, if a graphic designer does not learn the difference between families and styles of type, or how and when to best use them, they will not be fluent enough to communicate.

Creative Thinking

An important asset skilled to a graphic design artist is their ability to take something that is deficient or incomplete and turn it into something remarkable. A graphic designer should be lucid about discovering and producing the picture that other people are trying to express with words and desire. The picture may not always be clear at first, but this is where creativity stands out.

Skydiving over a sea of wild thoughts, improbable, and unthinkable ideas is just fine. In fact, with every project, it is expected. By permitting yourself to think outside the boundaries of ordinary, normal thought, brilliant new ideas can arise. In creative thinking, a variation of ideas are used for their suggestive qualities, to see what new ones they can break loose. If you can manage to search for several points of similarity between different ideas and your project at hand, new aspects of your design will begin to reveal themselves.

Print Design and Layout

One of the most sought after skills employers seek in designers is an understanding of digital print production. The ability to use a page layout program also sometimes called a desktop publishing program (Adobe®, InDesign®, or Quark®) is vital as well. Print design also requires an understanding of concepts like color separations, grid layout, and master pages.

Every professional graphic designer should possess thorough knowledge of the printing process. One shouldn’t take it as far as knowing how to operated a printing press, however being familiar with the process is key. The most basic printing knowledge involves an understanding of color space.

Quite simply, color space is the combination of types of color and how those colors interact to create other colors. There are two types of color space, light and pigment. Light color space is made up of red, green and blue, or RGB. Pigment color space is made up of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or CMYK.

Web Design


Having a clear understanding of web development is more essential than ever in an age where online advertising, and web presence are essential to every marketing campaign. Graphic Designers are usually expected to have some basic understanding of HTML and CSS, as well as web design standards. This skill can become a very lucrative one. Web designers work on anything from complete websites to user-interfaces, to designing blogs. Now graphic designers can take part in this process.

For graphic designers, web design is probably the most valuable skill to have aquired. Countless doors will open up a large new client base for you, allow you to create and update your portfolio site as often as you’d like and much more. Being fluent in web design and multiple coding languages will not only make it easier to keep steady work from home, but will make you much more attractive to potential employers who are looking to cut costs by finding multi-talented designers.


If you wish to be perceived as a well-rounded graphic designer, sooner or later you will need to take a picture. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company which supplies you with a camera, utilize it. What sort of camera could meet the standards of a designer? A camera that can provide enough light to adequately illuminate the subject. This can be done with a built-in flash or with an add-on flash.

Also, it’s a good idea to use a digital camera that provides enough pixel resolution. A good rule of thumb is anything below 6 megapixel’s probably won’t produce quality shots and will need to be worked on by an image editing software such as Photoshop®.



To be successful in any career the guidance and support of others is vital. This is especially true of designers who need to spend most of their time in their offices or studios. Building a network of individuals who have a common interest in your career, through: other Designers, Marketing Experts, Web Designers, Design Blogs, Design Magazines, Photographers, SEO’s, Magazines, and Publishers is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your network.

Since the beginning of the web 2.0 movement many designers have launched their careers by starting a blog. They’ve used this as a way to market their skills and increase awareness to their portfolio. Having sufficient understanding about web design, online marketing and search engine optimization, which we mentioned above will help you turn your blog into a powerful and useful tool as opposed to a waste of time.

You need to research blogging before hand, optimize your blog, post regularly and promote your blog posts in order to achieve maximum results. The more visitors reach your blog, the more chances you have of landing a prospective client.


Realistically speaking this maybe the most important skill a designer will utilize throughout their career. The ability to communicate is fundamental to everything a designer does (Refer to the Typography section above), but this task does not begin or end with visual communication. Designers have to be able to articulate their ideas and concepts to employers and clients with ease and fluently. In addition graphic designers need to be able to write well organized briefs, proposals and instructions.

90 percent of the time, in order to land a project, this will require good communication skills. Once you have the project, it really helps when you can easily communicate with your clients or other team members. A lot of design requires good communication, from extracting accurate requirements, discussing changes and options, explaining how to utilize a tool or why something just simply won’t work.

Succesful designers in today’s day and age will likely have to write clear emails, hold skype conversations crossing numerous timezones and cultures, and countless other communication tasks, and display effective communicative skills through their art.

Social Media Marketing


This skill is essential to any individual needing to promote or brand themselves, their products or services in today’s marketplace. A firm understand of the value of social media applications such as: Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Digg; and how to properly use them to build relationships with an audience as well as brand recognition, will only become more important and valuable in the future.

If you become fluent in marketing you will get more work or a start, but knowing some of the art and science of marketing will help your designs work for what they are intended. Consider that many of a web designers deliverable will ultimately exist to get attention, build brand, sell products, and bring repetitive business.