Graphic Designer Salary: Skills and Tips for Taking It Higher

Of all the disciplines in tech, graphic designer may be the most overlooked and underrated. Developers tend to think of designers as pixel-pushers who tinker in Figma all day long, but the job is far more than digital design—you must craft things that customers love at first glance, all while selling internal stakeholders on your vision. How high can a graphic designer salary go? Let’s take a look!

Are graphic designers in demand?

According to Emsi Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the United States, there were some 55,206 open job postings for graphic designers over the past 12 months, indicating an average level of demand; the average time to fill a position was 43 days. 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed over a quarter-million graphic designer positions open in 2020—but only three percent job growth. Doing the math, BLS estimates there will be roughly 260,000 graphic designer jobs available in the United States by 2030. 

What’s the average graphic designer salary?

Emsi Burning Glass 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, keep in mind that larger companies and/or those in larger tech hubs (such as New York City and San Francisco) may pay their graphic designers far more than the Emsi Burning Glass median salary.

What are the most valuable skills for a graphic designer?

In all those job postings for graphic designers, the top specialized skills included:

  • Graphic design
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Social media
  • Typesetting
  • Website design

Sensing a theme here? Extensive knowledge of Adobe products seems like a must. In addition, job postings tended to call out “soft skills” such as creativity, teamwork, communication, organizational skills, and good with deadlines as essential. Graphic designers lay the groundwork for what developers need to build, and they keep to keep an eye on changing design principles and trends; it’s also essential to give the customers what they want. 

Is having a portfolio important for a graphic designer job?

In such a competitive market, it can be difficult to stand apart from other graphic designers. We spoke to several hiring managers and experts to find out what graphic designers can do to ensure they land interviews and get great job offers.

Sam Orchard, Managing Director at Edge of the Web, tells Dice: “The role of a graphic designer is incredibly visual, so of course it’s super-important for applicants to have a strong portfolio of design work that they can share even prior to the interview stage.”

Alicia Mula Buitrago, Head of Content Product at Freepik Company, adds: “An eye-catching portfolio that proves an accurate application of design skills” work can be handy. Don’t be afraid to include relevant personal work. 

“We value that designers don’t overlook developing personal projects to improve their portfolios,” Buitrago added. “These kinds of projects can best show their interests, styles, and skills. A great way for artists to learn is to experiment graphically, and client projects don’t always let designers do that. But completing a portfolio with designs or illustrations of personal interest contributes a lot to develop a more defined style and skills.”

Is teamwork important for graphic designers?

Ouriel Lemmel, CEO and founder of WinIt, tells Dice: “When I am hiring a graphic designer, I want to know that they have worked with a team and they have good communication skills. Collaboration is key, and since there will always be lots of input from various departments, I need to ensure that are able to deal with feedback in a collaborative way.

Orchard says: “One thing that I think is sometimes overlooked is communication skills, in particular the ability to interpret a brief and understand negative feedback. We work predominantly in digital design, so a lot of our designers’ work is on websites. And, for that, we need to carefully consider what the audience wants and create something that not only looks great but is functional and provides the best possible user experience too.” 

The best graphic designers can think beyond their own tastes and needs, and understand how the designs will impact the target audience on an emotional and intellectual level. “That’s what I look out for when employing new graphic designers – an understanding of the functionality and strategy of their designs can make a candidate really stand out,” Orchard added.

What software platforms should graphic designers master?

Lemmel says: “When I am looking at a resume, I want to see that they have the ability to work with many software programs.  This demonstrates that the candidate is proficient in multiple ways of working and will be able to accommodate more projects.”

Companies invest in certain design platforms and programs, and it’s often critical that candidates not only have experience but a high level of proficiency with those platforms. Typically, the job description for graphic designers will be transparent about which platforms are used at the company. Be sure to read through the job descriptions carefully before applying.

Buitrago adds: “As a product designer, a background in industrial design or engineering plus CAD software is desirable. On the other side, UX designers with knowledge in wireframing, prototyping, visual communication, and user testing skills would be in an advantageous position.” Knowing how to do the job in a specific platformwill usually matter.

Will certifications impact a graphic designer salary?

Su Roberts, Company Director at Beliebis UK, says: “Companies like Adobe have their own certification, apart from the certification available from other graphic design companies. These certifications not only teach the skills, but also introduces the candidates to a practical environment by debuting them in one of their projects. This will help in standing out on a resume.”

Buitrago disagrees: “Graphic design is not a profession for which certifications are required,” she says, adding: “As design can be studied in many ways, it should be shown with a good portfolio.”

However, Buitrago continued, “We greatly appreciate that the designer shows an interest in learning and improving their skills. This shows that the designer has a passion for what they do. We would also value positively that the designer indicates that they have followed online courses or shows interest in participating in conferences or events.”

Via Emsi Burning Glass, here are a few of the graphic designer certifications that have popped up in job postings over the past few years:

  • Certified in Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)
  • Adobe Illustrator Certification
  • Graphic Design Certification
  • Certified Graphic Designer
  • Adobe Certified Associate (ACA)
  • Adobe Captivate Certification
  • Autodesk 3ds Max Certified
  • Omg Certified Uml Professional
  • Adobe Certified Instructor (ACI)
  • Advertising Design Certification
  • Adobe InDesign (Certified)

Certifications are a great way to display your skills. We advise leaning into certifications from the companies owning and operating the platform you’re getting certified in. If you’re looking for “generalized” certifications, keep in mind a prospective employer may want to verify the certification is legitimate; even if it’s simply a Udemy certificate of completion for a course, your next employer may quiz you about what you’ve learned and how you’d apply those skills.