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10 Aug

15 Essential Graphic Design Skills to Help You Get Hired as a Freelancer
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(Last Updated On: August 25, 2022)

Graphic design jobs are not only exciting and fun, but they also have a major potential for career growth and higher revenue streams. Currently, graphic designers are among the industry’s most important and sought-after professionals. They’re responsible for the visual design of major businesses’ branding and marketing campaigns and get hired quickly by advertising, media, and design agencies.

In a world that thrives on visual communication and imagery, graphic designers will always be in demand. Since they’re the key players behind digital advertising and contributors to the success of any marketing campaign, graphic designers’ gross annual income is much higher than those of other professionals.

Although people choose a design curriculum in college to get a formal education in graphic design, you can still enter the field at any point in your life. You can also become a graphic designer with the right theory, foundation, and design skills. And the best news yet? By mastering these skills, you can start earning good money as a freelance graphic designer. 

Graphic design skills combine technical or hard skills and soft skills like creativity and project management that enable you to excel in any field. 

So get acquainted with these 15 essential skills to pursue your passion for graphic design and start getting great projects today. Before that, let’s specify what a freelance graphic designer’s set of tasks is. 

What Does a Freelance Graphic Designer Do?

A freelance graphic designer works with multiple clients to help them in their marketing or branding campaigns. They create illustrations and visuals through design software to give a visual form to the client’s advertising objectives. 

Graphic designers are essential players that help a company establish its brand identity by developing its digital assets like logos, website content, social media pages, and more. 

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What Skills Do You Need to be a Freelance Graphic Designer?

Graphic design is not merely about creating aesthetically pleasing visuals but about your design’s functionality and your capacity to tell your story through it. It’s about putting together a piece that presents a solution to a problem and provides easy use for your clients.

You need to fine-tune a set of hard and soft skills that work on your technical knowledge of design and basic job skills that help you thrive in your career.

Senior designer Milton Glaser once said about the quality of the design one creates:

“There are three responses to a piece of design; yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for”

Ready to go through the list and check out what you need to bring that WOW factor in your work?

  1. Typography

Digital typography is essentially the knowledge of fonts, i.e., how fonts are made and which fonts are used for what purpose. It’s about learning how to use digital fonts in a visually appealing and balanced way so that they fulfill the requirements of the design strategy and goals. 

Good typography can make or break a design project. Understanding elements like spacing, font size, and typeface add all the magic to your design. 

Never underestimate the importance of the right typography in the success of a marketing campaign. It majorly affects sales and conversions as it helps communicate your marketing message more effectively. 

  1. Technical Design Software

Alas, all your ideas are visualized and executed in some sort of software. It’s your medium, tool, and platform for all your design work. So one of the fundamental skills you need is a good understanding of such design software.

Graphic design relies heavily on technology, and technological know-how is necessary for all your work. Adobe’s Creative Apps like Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign are the leading design software in the industry today. Learning these is an essential requirement for all aspiring designers. 

Once you understand the basics, you can move on to more advanced and diverse design programs and tools, as each software offers unique features. Plus, your future clients will have their specific design tool requirements. So it’s only natural that you should have a thorough understanding of various technical software.

  1. Colour Theory

Not just graphic design, but design of all types requires a brilliant conceptual knowledge of colour theory and how to create the best possible colour combinations and palettes to suit specific client requirements. 

A marketing campaign or design project heavily depends on the colour schemes used to convey a message. The right colours help the designer execute their ideas more accurately and strengthen the branding of a product. 

Thus a foundation course in colour theory, coupled with the best tools to create the perfect colour combinations as per the client brief, will spell the success of your projects. 

  1. Branding

Before commencing your design work, you must know your client’s brand philosophy and guidelines. All design work must be integrated and in sync with the branding of a project. These two are inseparable – one cannot exist without the other.

Branding is a skill all graphic designers need. Nowadays, it’s all about social media branding, as more and more businesses run their advertising campaigns on social media platforms. Graphic designers work in tandem with the entire marketing team and must have essential branding knowledge of their clients. 

Logos and other digital assets like visuals, content pieces, social media posts, and newsletters all have the company’s branding running across them. It’s up to the graphic designer how and where to place visuals that will enable customers to notice the brand and take action. 

So a graphic designer’s work doesn’t stop at creating designs and using colour but extends to consumer psyche and branding knowledge.

  1. Basic Coding

Before you break out in sweat reading the word ‘coding,’ let us tell you, you don’t need to be an expert coder or developer to become a graphic designer. But a basic working knowledge of coding may be necessary for those who choose to become visual designers creating website design. 

Running know-how of HTML, Java, and C++ will suffice to help you understand how websites are made. It will make your design work for websites much more efficient and well proportioned. 

  1. Editing

As a designer, you’ll constantly work with various visuals. Images and videos are the two types of visuals you will encounter frequently. Often you’ll use these in your design work by treating the raw versions and fitting them into your design. 

Sometimes you may have to edit, cut, or treat a picture. At other times, you’ll need to superimpose layers on it for the required results.

Similarly, videos require chopping, superimposing, and colour treatments. To enable all of this, it’s a good idea to learn some photo/video editing skills. It’ll save you time and money if you know you possess these skills and can independently handle things without outsourcing. 

  1. Design Principles

Design principles comprise a set of elements like hierarchy, composition, white space and colour, balance, contrast, alignment, and more. These elements are part of all design work – a designer must know what these are and how to use them. 

Balanced well-integrated use of all design principles helps the successful execution of the design. Consider them your go-to design fundamentals and a significant chunk of design theory on which you will need to educate yourself. 

A good grasp of design principles sets a successful and talented designer apart from the rest. A great design is not only about aesthetics but also about properly organizing and arranging the different elements. With these in sync, you will have balanced and well-proportioned results.

  1. Ideating and Storytelling

All design projects start with ideas. The starting point for any design work is brainstorming for ideas and relevant concepts that can spark inspiration and themes for the design. This process is called ideating.

A graphic designer must know how to collate and align their ideas through mood boards. During the ideation phase, designers generate ideas and then develop and hone these to reach a strategy. The results of the ideation process are reflected in mood boards and thumbnails which form an essential component of a design brief.

To kick off ideation, designers must be proficient in research skills and the capacity to adapt and mould concepts to fit their requirements. 

Storytelling, meanwhile, is crucial for the designer to convey their message to the target audience. While working on marketing campaigns, a designer is meant to create designs that help a brand sell its products and services. For this, the branding design has to appeal to the people. This will be possible if a designer is a good storyteller and can communicate their message well to potential customers, pushing them indirectly to do a favourable action. 

  1. UX/UI

A successful graphic designer cannot operate without a good grasp of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). Visual and website graphic designers’ work relies heavily on UI and UX design. This means that their design has to be user-friendly and be able to enhance a user’s experience on the website or app.

Statistics show that a website uses around 90% of its users if it has a poor UI/UX. Thus, the designer must incorporate the users’ requirements and think like them when creating their designs. 

  1. Interactive Media

Graphic design involves working with various media like videos, animations, still images, and more. You must not only be familiar and comfortable using all types of media tools but be experienced at navigating their features and options to aid your design work. 

As a starting point, start using a variety of media and keep experimenting with their many options and tools. Later, you can watch tutorials on how to use these for professional purposes. Alternatively, many design courses teach students how to work with different media. 

  1. Creativity

Being the top most essential soft skill, you’ll need an abundance of creativity to bring that WOW factor to your work, impress your clients, and inspire yourself to work harder.

Sometimes the greatest minds experience a creative block. That’s okay, as long as you keep a keen eye on inspirations around you and learn to tap into your imagination. Open your mind, let ideas flow, and think of new possibilities and approaches. This brain exercise will help activate your creativity and help you generate innovative ideas. 

  1. Communication Skills

A graphic designer is the middle man between the client and the customer. They must have excellent communication skills to understand what their clients want from them and how to convey the campaign’s message clearly and effectively to the audience. 

Good communication skills will enable you to communicate well with all team members, collaborators, and stakeholders. It’ll help you explain your design components to the client and process their feedback.

The strength of your work depends on how well you understand your client’s requirements and how apt you are at sharing the project’s goals with the people. 

  1. Time Management

Organizing your work schedule and managing your time will help you accomplish your daily tasks on schedule. Working overtime and fatiguing yourself to meet deadlines will only negatively impact your productivity.

You may be overloaded with many tasks in the day or the week with strict deadlines. The good news is that you can finish them all right on schedule if you learn to manage your time well. You can do this by allocating a fixed number of hours to specific tasks and crossing out all distractions. 

Success in your graphic design career depends on your ability to meet deadlines and the amount of output you give. Efficient and systematic workflows account for better performance and satisfied clients. 

  1. Project Management

Are you weighed down by the enormity of a task or overwhelmed by having to work on more than one project simultaneously? If so, you need to hone your project management skills. 

Freelance graphic designers often work on multiple projects and must be adept at multitasking. Seeing all phases and details of each project, taking feedback, and remembering other details can be challenging. Meanwhile, it’s also integral to manage your project well in its entirety from start to finish. 

So important is project management as a job requirement that books and resources are available to help people foster this skill. Nowadays, we have fantastic project management tools like Trello and Jira to help you organize your workflow and track each phase of the process. You can monitor feedback, updates, and other important details through these to enhance your work speed and efficiently complete projects.

  1. Problem Solving

Problem solving is a life skill that your graphic design career can also benefit from. Graphic design is all about solving a problem through a visual solution. Your client brief holds within it a problem or a situation that needs to be solved or addressed. 

The resolution of the problem helps your client achieve their business goals in the form of increased sales and conversions, more traffic to their pages, and more. To be skilled at your job, you need to put on a problem solver’s cap and think along the lines of creating solutions to challenges. 

While creation and aesthetics are exciting graphic design elements, these cannot work in an abstract and isolated manner. Your creativity and innovation must be structured around providing users with ease of use and functionality.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Learn Design Skills?

Many resources are available for those who want to make a career change or pursue their lifelong dream of becoming a graphic designer. It’s never too late to start. Fancy design education and a college degree are not the end-all for aspiring designers. 

You can make a head start towards your dream career by following a couple of steps. For starters, read up as many resources as possible on the profession, its history, and current trends in graphic design. 

Step two is to read up on graphic design theory, which includes understanding fundamental design principles, colour theory, and design terminology. After this, learn about typography. If you feel overwhelmed with the newness of all this new information, you can enroll in online classes or tutorials to help you comprehend it better. But the best bet would be to stock up on graphic design books and devour everything in them thoroughly. 

Once through with theory, learn how to use basic design software like Adobe Creative Suite. This includes Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. As an extra step, get familiar with digital design software like Sketch. 

As you learn design skills, gain practical experience by creating your own designs. Use your imagination and the world around you for inspiration. There are also many design books, blogs, and magazines that you can consult. 

Another great idea is to check out the work of other graphic designers and observe their design elements to brush up and hone your own skills. This way, you’ll stay updated on current trends and find inspiration for your work.

After you’ve created a couple of designs, start building your portfolio and publish your work on design platforms like Dribble and Behance. This will promote your work to the world and help you connect with other designers. 

Now you’re ready for your first few gigs. To get clients, build yourself a website, and create your social media channels where you can display your work. Also, look for work on freelance websites like Upwork and Fiverr.

How Can You Improve Your Graphic Design Skills?

The best way to keep improving your existing skills is to stay abreast of changing trends and requirements in graphic design. Stay current by regularly visiting design websites, consulting books, subscribing to design blogs, and observing other designers’ work. 

Take the feedback on your work seriously and constantly strive to learn from mistakes and improve on previous design practices. You can change your design software and experiment with your design approach and tools. 

How Do You Build a Graphic Design Portfolio?

Your portfolio is a collection of your design work. However, keep a few considerations in mind to make an impressive portfolio.

Select your best pieces to put in the folio and include a professional case study or client feedback. Add a few side or personal projects besides your professional work to bring some diversity and life to the collection.

Remember that your portfolio should reflect your personality and approach as a designer. So it should have a cohesive element running through it. It’s also a great idea to describe the creative process for your designs. 

Lastly, choose the right platform to showcase your work. 

Start Freelancing on Different Platforms 

It’s never too late to pursue your dream career. With the right skills and practice, you can become a graphic designer at any point in your life. Getting clients initially is a no-brainer. But stick it out by networking with other designers and keeping abreast of industry trends and practices. Showcase your work on different design platforms, and maintain an active social media presence and an efficient website.

Let HostPapa help you set up your online presence by helping you build and operate a fully equipped website that showcases your work beautifully to your audience. Through HostPapa’s many hosting plans, you can focus on displaying your designs and engaging with clients without worrying about website technicalities like security, backups, and storage space. Don’t know how to build a website? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with our  Website Builder tool and Do-It-For-Me feature.

As a new or amateur designer, your focus shouldn’t be on earning huge amounts of money. Instead, it should be to gain more clients and do maximum projects. The more work you do, the more practical experience you’ll get. It’ll give you time to identify your mistakes, learn from feedback, and create an impressive portfolio. So volunteer to work for free if you have to. Just grab each opportunity that comes your way. 

With a portfolio in hand to show potential clients, you are ready to freelance on freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. This will give you access to bigger clients and better opportunities. Once you get into the motion of things, projects will start flowing your way. Then only the sky’s the limit to what you can achieve. 

Mehreen Hassan

Mehreen is a content writer with an added experience in proofreading and editing. She is a history buff who loves her book collection, especially South Asian history titles. While she is a good swimmer and a fitness freak, she also finds her zen painting and embroidering.

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