What Graphic Designers Need to Know


Each year my students and I study real job postings (want ads) to learn what employers want graphic designers to know when they hire them. It is important research and has been helpful in recognizing trends and changes in our field. It also helps direct what I teach in my classroom.

As graphic designers working in a rapidly changing and evolving industry, we must keep our knowledge and skills up-to-date and marketable. I encourage my students to continue this research throughout their careers. It helps each of us maintain a level of professional competence and confidence knowing that we are in-step with our peers and valid in our career field.

Research Results

Students search for "Graphic Designer" jobs only. Each student searches one state in the US. Job search web sites include Indeed.com, CareerJet.com, and SimplyHired.com. Some searches may slightly overlap, as employers may advertise their job in multiple states.

Employers Want Graphic Designers to Design

  • Brand Identity
  • Brand Campaigns
  • UX / UI (User Experiences / User Interfaces)
  • Advertisements
  • Extend brand identity to Marketing Material
  • Sales & Marketing presentations
  • Catalogs
  • Brochures
  • Packaging
  • Posters
  • Print collateral
  • Signage
  • Direct mail
  • Web banner ads
  • POP, POS (sales displays)
  • Post cards
  • Wayfinding systems
  • Newsletters
  • Books
  • Banners
  • E-mail marketing blasts
  • T-Shirts
  • Invites
  • Logos
  • Trade show booths
  • Press kits
  • Social Media/Networking
  • Training Materials
  • eBooks
  • Photography
  • Calendars
  • Website / CMS
  • Update and maintain websites
  • Mobile design

Software Knowledge

  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Illustrator
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Dreamweaver / HTML / CSS
  • CMS (Wordpress, Web Flow, Concrete 5, Joomla)
  • PowerPoint (MS Office)
  • Raster image editors
  • After Effects
  • Animation
  • JQuery
  • Social Media

Other Things Employers Want Designers to do

  • Design products that reinforce our brand image
  • Launch campaigns in print and on Web
  • Develop marketing strategies
  • Strong typography skills
  • Direct photo shoots of products
  • Copy writing
  • Write taglines
  • Update Web pages with copy and images
  • Photo manipulation, retouching and color correcting
  • ADA compliant Web sites
  • Understand online usability
  • Illustration ability

Soft Skills Employers Want in Designers

  • Give and take criticism
  • Marketing knowledge
  • Prepress/production knowledge
  • Communicate effectively with internal and external sales and marketing team
  • Strong communication skills
  • Able to present art and ideas
  • Self-directed
  • Understand generational design trends
  • Creative, strong ability to conceptualize
  • Team-player, cooperative
  • Able to collaborate with sales
  • Meet tight deadlines
  • Flexible
  • Positive attitude
  • Accurate and detail-oriented
  • Project management ability
  • Strong customer focus
  • Drug-free
  • Pass a background check


Most employers request an associate degree, bachelor's degree, or "equivalent work experience" in graphic design. I suggest that students with an associate degree apply for a job that requests a bachelor's degree. The main factor during an interview is your ability to communicate that you are the best designer for the job, and that you show an outstanding portfolio of design work.


Here are some general guidelines to follow when considering how much experience an employer wants

  • No Experience Necessary - Anyone can apply. An interest in the field helps here.
  • 1–2 Years Experience - I suggest college grads apply. Most college grads have some freelance experience, and a few design contests under their belt. Also, most have a portfolio full of real-life projects and samples (that you did in class) to impress a potential employer with.
  • 3–5 Years Experience - Only designers with 3–5 years experience should apply. These employers are looking for someone to take over and hit the ground running with little or no training or supervision.
  • 5–10, or 7–15, etc., Years Experience - Again, only designers with 5–10, 7–15, etc. years experience should apply. These employers are looking for a seasoned designer.

Benefits You Should Look For

  • Health Insurance
  • Dental Insurance
  • Retirement (IRA, 401K, pension plan)
  • Paid Holidays
  • Paid Vacation
  • Sick Leave
  • Bereavement Leave
  • Personal Leave
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Education/Tuition assistance or reimbursement
  • Ongoing employee training
  • Vision Insurance
  • Profit sharing
  • Employee stock plans

Application Materials Requested

Most employers expect applicants to apply online. This means that applicants should have a portfolio web site and application materials in PDF format, and a resume in .doc, .rtf, or .txt format.

  • Resume
  • Cover Letter
  • Color Samples / Leave-behind / Self-promo
  • Online Portfolio (Behance)



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