13 Skills You Need As A Freelance Graphic Designer

Are you thinking about a career change and are interested in exploring the world of design? If that’s the case, you’ve made an excellent choice. 

Not only is graphic design an exciting field to work in, but it also provides ample job opportunities for those prepared to roll up their sleeves.

With the average annual income being between $40,000 and $58,000, this career offers earnings above the national average. And it promises even better compensation for those who make it to the top of their field.

But here’s the best thing about making this your field of work: by developing the right skills, you can actively influence your career trajectory.

You don’t have to have a formal education to be good at graphic design, so you can start learning from the comfort of your home and even start making money right away by signing up for entry-level jobs.

But what are the exact skills a freelance graphic designer needs to have in their arsenal? 

To truly make it in the field, you first need to understand that freelancing doesn’t just require industry-specific expertise. You will also need to know how to: 

  • Manage your time
  • Network
  • Support clients
  • Navigate the revision process (which can be streamlined by using a nifty tool such as ReviewStudio).
  • keep the operations of your entire business running smooth.

So, without further ado, here are the top 13 skills you need to make it as a freelance graphic designer.

Hard Skills

When it comes to the technical knowledge required to become a professional graphic designer, you need to understand that there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. In addition to practical know-how, you’ll need a fair amount of theory so that you can make the right design choices. 

Great graphic design isn’t only about aesthetics. It’s just as much about ease of use, the ability to compel and persuade, and, of course, memorability. So, it’s a good idea to invest in a beginner’s course that teaches the required theoretical knowledge. 

On the whole, there’s a variety of affordable e-learning options online. With thousands of courses designed for all knowledge levels, you could improve your craft by dedicating a few hours per day to studying and practice. 

Nonetheless, it’s good to remember that everyone learns differently. Make sure to pick the right platform for your learning preferences.

Here’s what you can work on:

1. Digital Typography

This is a great place to start. 

As one of the foundations of aesthetic appearance, typography can hugely contribute to or detract from the overall product. Using the right typeface, size, and spacing, graphic artists can impact more than just visual experience. 

These elements also determine the effectiveness of the entire marketing message. Ultimately, they can impact sales, conversions, and other measurable KPIs. 

Moreover, typography in web design can also influence the way users consume content. 

For example, research shows most people skim articles and read according to the F-pattern. A graphic designer with a solid understanding of digital typography can make the right choices in placing and presenting each page element in a way that yields the best results.

Finally, it’s not a bad idea to remember that people retain visual information more successfully than what they read or hear. With this in mind, it becomes clear that typography in the service of branding makes for a powerful tool.

Still not convinced? Just think of the most famous logs out there, and you’ll see that a significant number of them contain a typographical element.

2. Color Theory

Another domain of theoretical knowledge to dedicate attention to is going to be color theory. 

In simple terms, this is a set of rules and guidelines that direct designers on the best ways to communicate intention with consumers, ensuring that they create appealing color schemes.

Relying on philosophical, cultural, and scientific knowledge, color theory can help shape products, communicate messages, or grab attention. 

Correctly applying color theory is a step towards achieving a cohesive whole, ensuring that the designer’s intention has the highest chance of success.

If you decide to take a graphic design course, it shouldn’t just teach you the basic rules of color theory.

More importantly, it should direct you towards the best tools you can use to make the most of your artistic instincts, ensuring that the color palettes you come up with make beautiful and usable products.

3. Design Software

Once you’re familiar with the elementary theory that goes into creating high-quality designs, it’s time to start getting acquainted with the software you’re going to be using.

Generally speaking, the Adobe Creative Suite is a popular choice among students and professionals alike. If you’re enrolling in an online course, then definitely look for one that covers the basics of work in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. 

Additionally, you may want to choose a program that’s a bit more versatile. As an example, the Visual Design course by SkillCrush includes Figma training in addition to the standard Adobe package.

There are several reasons to master more than a single type of design software. The obvious one is that various types of programs serve different purposes. However, it’s also good to keep in mind that your future clients are likely to have requirements regarding format or compatibility. 

Remember that not all software solutions are capable of doing everything, so it’s best to keep your options always open.

4. Image Editing

As a graphic designer, you’ll be working with various visuals. But, the type you can count on encountering for the entirety of your career is images. 

Whether you need to clean up a photo or add a layer to achieve the desired effect, you need to know how to make the most of a shot. And of course, it’s quite beneficial to know how to do it yourself, so you don’t have to outsource such a significant portion of your business.

With this in mind, it’s not a bad idea to start honing your image editing skills. Try starting with software such as Adobe Lightroom

Once you’re proficient with the program, it can help you create a small but significant passive income by creating and selling presets. These go for anywhere between $5 per preset to $150+ for a pack.

5. Branding

One of the most impactful roles a graphic designer can play in a company’s future is contributing to its branding.

From a visual standpoint, design aims to build and present the desired identity of an organization.

A company’s logo, digital assets, and consistent visual guidelines across all channels help consumers remember and recognize the organization. 

However, great visual branding has an effect that goes much further.

An expert designer can know how and where to place trust signals that will compel people to buy from a company.

Moreover, a well-made website can determine whether a brand’s potential buyers even give it a chance, seeing how a first impression impacts opinions.

A freelance graphic designer should have a strong understanding of branding and consumer psychology, so don’t skip learning about them. In the end, knowing how to appeal to consumers is going to make you much better at your job and more likely to get recommended by satisfied clients.

6. Illustration

Finally, the last hard skill you should develop if you want to become a freelance graphic designer is UX/UI design. 

There’s no secret about the importance of UX on the success of a website or app.

Statistical data shows that as many as 90% of consumers will stop using an app because of poor UX, while 88% won’t return to a website due to the same reason.

Knowing how impactful UX is to the success of a business, a great graphic designer must know how to predict and meet consumer needs.

Learning about user experience and interface is a surefire way to do just that.

7. UX/UI

Finally, the last hard skill you should develop if you want to become a freelance graphic designer is UX/UI design. 

There’s no secret about the importance of UX on the success of a website or app.

Statistical data shows that as many as 90% of consumers will stop using an app because of poor UX, while 88% won’t return to a website due to the same reason.

Knowing how impactful UX is to the success of a business, a great graphic designer must know how to predict and meet consumer needs. And learning about user experience and interface is a surefire way to do just that.

Soft Skills

In addition to the design-specific set of skills you will need to become an expert in this field, you must also work on other aspects of your professional growth. 

After all, being a freelancer comes with freedom and flexibility, but a great deal of responsibility as well. Not only do you have to know how to allocate your time, but you also have to be a great negotiator, salesperson, marketer, and manager.

With that in mind, there are a few soft skills you should start developing as early as possible if you want to avoid common freelancer setbacks.

8. Time Management

Time is money. And there’s no better proof of that fact than being paid based on output rather than input. 

A survey of over 1,000 employed Americans showed that 47% of people don’t have enough time in their day to finish all tasks. Moreover, 51% of people feel like they need to sacrifice sleep to get everything done. 

But the thing is, productivity is an area of work that’s relatively easy to hack. How, you may ask? 

For one, proper time management and planning skills can help freelancers finish everything right on schedule. Secondly, getting enough rest allows workers to perform better, boosting work speed and cognitive ability. 

So start being more diligent about how you manage your time. Track how long it takes to complete tasks, and always prepare a schedule for your workday.

In the end, having a plan is always a more efficient way to get things done than jumping from task to task.

9. Project Management

As a freelancer, you can expect to work on more than a single project at a time.

And while you may be great at multitasking, it’s not realistic to expect that you can remember every single detail about various clients at all times. 

So, instead of having to search your email inbox and client chats every time you need to find a piece of information, it might be a better idea to set up a project management system.

Whether you decide to use Notion, Trello, or a Frankensteined version of iCal, make sure that your setup allows you quick access to feedback, files, progress updates, and the ability to share with clients.

Even if you go with a paid software solution, the ultimate cost will come down to being much less than doing a poor job due to disorganization.

10. Sales

The one thing freelancers don’t excel at is charging for their services. Beginners tend to either undercharge or overcharge. And even veterans sometimes feel uncomfortable about asking for the realistic price of their work.

To avoid this common pitfall, it’s best to start doing your research about the price of graphic design work in your area of expertise. Browse popular freelancing platforms. Ask experienced colleagues and teachers. Do your calculations about how much you need to charge for a gig to be profitable.

Ultimately, the sooner you become comfortable with valuing your work, the sooner you’ll be on your way to making a comfortable living with graphic design.

11. Communication Skills

As with any other line of work, there will come a time in your career when things don’t go as smoothly as you’d like.

In these cases, knowing how to communicate is going to be crucial in ensuring the satisfaction of your clients.

To avoid misunderstandings, make sure to always listen closely to what your clients are asking for. Have all your communication in writing and be careful about presenting your services.

Your job as a designer is to add a creative dimension to your client’s needs. But here’s the thing: you don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver.

Instead, learn how to manage expectations and collaborate with people from all walks of life to ensure you always end up with a superior final product.

12. Digital Marketing

Finally, don’t forget about marketing skills.

While some of your jobs may include contributing to client’s digital campaigns, what you can do for your own brand is much more important.

By keeping your portfolio website updated, having an active social media presence, and producing engaging content, you can positively influence the number of jobs that come your way. 

And here’s the best part: if you’re able to show the world how great you are at what you do, you won’t have to go chasing after clients. They’ll come looking for you.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, becoming a freelance graphic designer entails mastering all kinds of skills. However, know that the effort pays off.

Not only is graphic design a creative, exciting line of work, but with time, you will build up your reputation and gain a great deal of freedom.

That means having the ability to choose projects that you’re passionate about and that offer the type of compensation you’re after.

Travis Jamison

Travis Jamison

Travis Jamison is the Founding Director of Smash.vc, investing in bootstrapped online businesses.