From Novice to Expert: Essential Graphic Design Skills for 2024

Graphic design is a form of visual communication using image, shape, color, line, texture and words to represent a brand or idea. It’s been used in art and advertising for centuries and became expansive with the rise of the internet and digital spaces.    

As creative professionals, graphic designers need a wide variety of skills to succeed. This post discusses the essential graphic design skills, commonly used software and how to jumpstart your career.     

Fundamental Skills for Graphic Designers

Succeeding in graphic design takes more than a good eye for color and composition. Because the work generally represents something that already exists, you must understand the process from beginning to end. 

7 Elements of Design

These graphic design elements are essential to know, along with the basics of color theory and composition. You can use white space, proportion, symmetry and tension to bring harmony to the final product.  

  1. Alignment promotes order and unity.
  2. Repetition creates association between separate elements.
  3. Movement leads the eye and suggests activity.
  4. Contrast emphasizes important aspects. 
  5. Scale gives more weight to the most important elements. 
  6. Hierarchy organizes information and drives the main message. 
  7. Balance: Distributes 

Idea Generation

Also called ideation, this process involves:

  • Researching the brand and market
  • Brainstorming concepts
  • Evaluating which concepts are best
  • Applying chosen concepts to a cohesive idea presentation

Idea generation culminates with mood boards or thumbnails to present and use as guides going forward. 


Graphic design is major for branding–how a business, organization or idea brings itself to life in words and images. Understand what makes the employer or client unique and how to present that through the principles of graphic design.  


What words say is important, but how they look is also vital to branding. Using typography–font, typesetting and kerning–are how graphic designers use visual design to marry those words with branded imagery and send an effective message. 

Designing for Print

Few companies and organizations exist only in the digital space. Know the fundamentals of print design, such as crop, bleeds, fold marks, ink limits, transparency, slug and dot gains to ensure your work does its job in every format.    

Technical Graphic Design & Software Skills

The hard skills of graphic design center on technology; you’ll design both digital and print materials with graphic design software. 

Adobe Creative Cloud design software (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) is a leader among design programs:

Other important tools and mediums to support excellent graphic design are web coding languages like HTLM and CSS. It’s also worth understanding user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) software, such as Sketch.  

Skillshare offers classes for developing these skills, including:

Soft Skills for Graphic Designers

Hard skills are industry-specific and involve particular tools, while soft skills are more general and about human interaction. 

Graphic design hard skills include proficiency in Adobe apps, and soft skills include communication and problem-solving. Although technical skills are essential, creativity, time management, strategy, and brainstorming allow you to better use technology and collaborate with team members when executing design projects. 

Expand your soft skill set by enhancing communication skills, practicing brainstorming and improving your time management.          

Specialized Skills Within Graphic Design

Graphic design career path options exist in a range of industries. Some jobs focus on branding aesthetics, while others concentrate on user experience. 

Visual Designer

Visual designers blend graphic and web design skills to create website layouts and mobile apps. From big-picture layout to logo design to tweaking colors, you’ll set the tone for an organization’s branding.    

UX Design

User experience (UX) design work is about directing the look and function of a product, website or application. You’ll balance the goals of the business with the needs of users and potential customers.  

Art Director  

As an art director, you’ll oversee the visual style of a client or employer. This could include anything from directing typography inspiration to researching color palettes to set design for screen productions. 

Design Portfolio & Presentation Skills

Your design portfolio is more than a collection of completed graphic design projects. It shows stakeholders and potential clients how you combine elements to create an effective, attractive presentation. 

As you build your portfolio, think about how to develop your personal branding identity:

  • Feature a diverse selection of projects to demonstrate a wide range of skills.
  • Discuss pricing rubrics and costs for à la carte client needs.
  • Leverage platforms like LinkedIn to demonstrate industry involvement.  
  • Practice presentation skills to share the portfolio and design ideas with confidence and a clear narrative.      

Entrepreneurial Skills for Graphic Designers

Graphic designers will likely need basic business knowledge to thrive, especially as many are freelancers. 

Full-Time versus Freelance

Many companies and nonprofits employ full-time graphic designers. However, the graphic design industry is in every field, and you might prefer to keep your own clients to directly control work hours and whom you work with. Freelancing requires excellent time management and organization, especially if you have multiple clients.    

Finding Clients

Keep your professional online presence up-to-date–it’s the first thing potential clients see. See a freelance job description you like? Reach out with how you can meet their client needs and go beyond industry-standard expectations.   


Connect with other graphic designers on LinkedIn and other networks you’ll actually use. Often, you can land graphic design jobs simply by building relationships with others like you, whether their clients need more help or they know of freelance opportunities.   

Learn Graphic Design Skills with Skillshare

As with all creative skills, continuous learning and adaptability are the lifeblood of your graphic design career. Whether you’re a beginner, learning graphic design essential skills, or a seasoned professional exploring the latest design trends, educational opportunities are always a good idea.    

Look to a few different learning mediums to improve graphic design skills, like online design courses, tutorials and social media. These updated platforms will guide you through the wide variety of in-demand skills you need, so make a habit of challenging yourself to regular brush-ups. 

Skillshare is your perfect resource for experimentation, trying new things and learning graphic design at your own page–without investing in an expensive education. 

Written By
Katie Mitchell

Katie Mitchell

Katie lives in Michigan with her husband, kids and pets. She enjoys cooking, travel and live music.

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