Graphic design has become a vital aspect of modern communication. And as technology continues to evolve, the demand for skilled graphic designers has grown exponentially. Interested in becoming a graphic designer yourself? You can take multiple paths to do just that. 

What Is a Graphic Designer?

A man sits at a desk in front of a desktop computer. On the computer screen is a black and white logo that reads ‘Draplin family, Detroit, Mich.’
In the Skillshare class “Logo Design with Draplin: Secrets of Shape, Type and Color,” teacher Aaron Draplin edits a logo on his computer. 

A graphic designer is a professional who uses their artistic and technical skills to create visual content that communicates a message to a target audience. They use their expertise in color theory, typography, composition and other graphic design principles to create appealing and effective designs. 

Before graphic design software became readily available, graphic designers physically cut, pasted and arranged pieces of paper to create the desired design. Today, graphic designers primarily use digital software to get the job done. 

Top Graphic Design Software

With many types of graphic design software available, it’s important to know which are the most prevalent. 

  • Canva: Perfect for beginners looking to create beautiful graphic designs with a minimal learning curve, Canva is a free, cloud-based online tool. If you want to start experimenting with graphic design today, learn to use Canva and you can. 
  • Procreate: This iPad app is beloved by novice and professional designers alike. With just an iPad, stylus and Procreate, you can create digital illustrations, stylized characters, fun animations and more.
  • Adobe Illustrator: Arguably the industry-standard graphic design software, Illustrator is incredibly powerful. So if you learn the fundamentals of Adobe Illustrator, you’ll be one big step closer to creating professional-grade designs. 
  • Adobe Photoshop: With its seemingly endless array of photo editing tools, learning Adobe Photoshop will enable you to create, edit and merge your designs with unparalleled freedom. 
  • Figma: Specifically tailored to UX and UI design, Figma is ideal for creating gorgeous user interfaces in an intuitive way. 
  • Affinity Designer: Though it’s not quite as advanced as Illustrator, Affinity Designer is an affordable alternative you can use to create surface designs, geometric illustrations, digital stickers and just about anything else you can imagine.

So which software should you learn? That depends on the goal you’re looking to achieve. If you want to create art on your iPad, for instance, you can’t go wrong with Procreate. But if you aim to become a professional graphic designer, it may be best to learn Illustrator first. 

What Do Graphic Designers Do?

A two-page magazine spread open in graphic design software. Both pages have a blue background, and the right page shows an image of a young girl wearing a silk dress and headpiece. The left page displays a headline that reads ‘Beijing.’
In the Skillshare class “Graphic Design Basics: Core Principles for Visual Design,” teacher Ellen Lupton shows how graphic design principles can be applied to a magazine spread. 

A graphic designer’s job involves working with clients or companies to understand their needs and create designs that effectively communicate the desired message. 

That could mean creating logos, brochures, websites, packaging, advertisements and a range of other marketing materials. Graphic designers can further narrow down the scope of their work by specializing in certain types of design such as web design, print design, or motion graphics.

The daily work of a graphic designer involves several tasks, including brainstorming ideas, creating sketches, selecting fonts and colors, designing layouts and editing designs to ensure they meet the desired specifications. They may also collaborate with other designers, marketing professionals and clients to ensure the final product meets the desired goals.

In addition to creating designs, graphic designers must also stay up-to-date with the latest design trends, software and tools to ensure they can efficiently produce high-quality designs that meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

How to Become a Graphic Designer

A woman’s hand holding an Apple Pencil over an iPad. On the iPad screen is a pink, white and green floral pattern open in the Affinity Designer app. 
In the Skillshare class “Surface Pattern Design: Efficiency Hacks in Affinity Designer & Photo,” teacher Tracey Capone creates a repeating floral pattern using Affinity Designer and an iPad. 

You can take several approaches to reach your goal of becoming a graphic designer, whether you choose to obtain a degree or not. 

Degree and Education Requirements

Some graphic designers have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field, such as fine arts or visual communications. Such a degree can provide a strong foundation in design principles and technical skills, as well as personalized guidance from experienced instructors. 

Formal education may also be valuable in that it can provide opportunities for networking and internships, which can in turn lead to job opportunities after graduation. So if you choose to become a graphic designer without a degree, you’ll need to form those connections and relationships through other means. 

Experience in Place of a Degree

If you can’t or don’t want to pursue a degree in graphic design, you can instead gain experience through internships or entry-level positions in the industry. 

Even without taking such positions, you can still build an eye-catching portfolio of your work by taking on freelance projects, creating designs for your own personal projects and taking standalone graphic design courses. 

Graphic Designer Salary

In 2022, graphic designers made a median annual salary of $59,990. The lowest-paid graphic designers made $35,430 or less, while the highest-paid made $100,920 or more. If you choose to be a freelance graphic designer, though, your earnings will largely depend on the types and quantity of design gigs you’re able to find. 

Graphic Designer Jobs

In general, graphic design jobs can be divided into two major categories: freelance and in-house. 


If you become a freelance graphic designer, you’ll be a self-employed creative who works on a contract basis for clients. You might prefer to only work on one or two projects at once, or you could juggle 20 clients simultaneously if you’re up for the challenge. 

You could find clients through the connections you built while going to school or receiving training, or you can advertise your work and services on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. 


As an in-house graphic designer, you’ll be employed by an organization that expects you to remain on their team on a long-term basis. 

For example, you might find a position as a graphic designer for a marketing agency. In that case, your daily work would involve creating designs for the agency’s clients rather than your own. 

Skillshare Top Teacher Dylan Mierzwinski

A woman wearing an orange dress and glasses sits at a wooden table with an open journal in front of her. 
In the Skillshare class “Bullet Journaling: Life Management for Creatives,” teacher Dylan Mierzwinski completes a bullet journal prompt in her home studio. 

Professional graphic designer and Skillshare Top Teacher Dylan Mierzwinski is a prime example of someone who achieved a successful creative career without a degree. 

Dylan started a traditional education path at a university, but after bouncing from major to major, she realized that college wasn’t right for her. Her love for art had always been a constant in her life, so she opted to enter a one-year certificate program that focused on the basics of web design, graphic design, and video production. The certificate program redefined how Dylan viewed education, inspiring her to pursue her creative interests independent of school.

“If I learned anything there,” she said, “it was simply that I could learn something new, and I enjoyed it! After that year I spent countless hours on Skillshare, YouTube and in art books and the Adobe programs trying to learn and understand more.”

As she sharpened her skills through online classes and continual practice, she went on to teach what she knew in person and then eventually became a published Skillshare teacher. Despite feelings of self-doubt, Dylan didn’t allow her lack of formal education hinder her pursuit of design and illustration.

“I used to feel really ashamed that I never finished my degree; that it was a dark secret that would keep me from being a real designer.”

But “I know what I’ve taught on Skillshare is valuable, and that what I’ve learned on Skillshare is valuable, so who cares where I learned it or in what order? The education is what counts, not the schooling.”

Teaching (and learning) on Skillshare has given Dylan the ability to practice what she calls the cycle of art: learn, do, share. By sharing her self-taught skills, she hopes to empower students to take risks and try new things. Income earned through Skillshare has also allowed her to focus on projects that she’s most passionate about.

“Financially, Skillshare has made it possible for me to move toward my real dream life as an artist. I mean… did you read that? I get to make my dreams a reality. (Cue cheesy 80s family sitcom music). I no longer have a 9-to-5 traditional design job that drains my creative energy with no payoff.”

Dylan’s tips for launching a creative career or side hustle? “Just start—my tried and true motto that gets me going on the regular. Just start somewhere, and follow the path it leads you down. Maybe you’ll start with a specific tool in a program, or maybe with color theory, or a designer whose work you like. It’s all connected, so just get going. And don’t use Papyrus or Comic Sans if you can help it.”

Follow Your Graphic Design Dreams, Degree or No Degree

A successful career in graphic design doesn’t have to start with a degree. As Dylan proves every day, you don’t need formal education to learn the ins and outs of design. With the right resources, plenty of creativity and passion for your craft, you can start mastering the art of graphic design today. And if you do choose to get a degree down the road, you’ll already have a solid foundation of knowledge to help you excel. 

Written By

Carrie Buchholz-Powers

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