What is Graphic Design? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Your Career

What is Graphic Design? Over the last few years this discipline has branched out into many subcategories, from logo design to User Interface Design. Here we understand better what Graphic Design is really about.
what is graphic design?

This is certainly a question that many newbie and aspiring designers have asked themselves at least once in their lives: what is Graphic Design? 


Is Graphic Design the Logo Design? Is Graphic Design the branding study of a company or the creation of the graphics of a magazine? Is Graphic Design the graphic development of a website?


Actually, all these categories are part of this great subject, which is itself a part of Design. Let’s discover together in this article what is the definition of Graphic Design and how we can learn more about this fantastic subject.

Let's get started!

Table of Contents

What is Graphic Designer?

Now that we have a closer look at the definition of “what is Graphic Design”, we can clarify the role of the Graphic Designer.


The Graphic Designer works with graphic elements, images and typography. Its peculiarity is the attitude to the development of the visual part of a Brand or a promotional campaign for a new product. 


The Graphic Designer can try his hand at many different projects, including many different sectors and market types. Let’s see some of them together below:


  • Graphic development of a company’s Brand Identity
  • Logo Design
  • Production of typefaces
  • Graphic design of magazines and books (editorial graphics)
  • Graphical realization of user interfaces (in web design)
  • Study and design of the User Experience
  • Graphics for clothing
  • Multimedia graphics
  • Motion graphics, i.e. Motion Design
  • and more…


The Graphic Designer, therefore, is the figure who works in the visual sector, who communicates through drawing, colours, typefaces and has an innate sense for the beauty and harmony of shapes and colours.


Do you feel this passion for the visual harmony of things inside you? Then you have a good chance that your career will be just that!


A very interesting statistic if you are willing to pursue this career as a Freelance Graphic Designer is that on UpWork Graphic Designers earn $20-150 per hour!


If you don’t know UpWork, I suggest you visit their website. This is an expert platform for connecting professionals with agencies and clients for the realization of projects. A strong point of this platform is that as a freelancer you can sign up and be hired for projects and paid per hour.

upwork freelance design jobs and clients
Upwork freelance jobs platform

But let’s go one step further and find out together what the basics of Graphic Design are.

Graphic Design Basics

To explain and learn more about Graphic Design it is essential to have a clear definition of what are the main elements that make up a graphic design and how they can be used to create successful graphic design projects.


Graphic Design elements include:


  • Line
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Form
  • Space
  • Size
  • Texture
  • Image
  • Text


With these basic graphic elements, you can create any type of graphics and, therefore, communicate any message through their composition.


In addition to defining these basic elements, Graphic Design also needs to adhere to certain principles in order to achieve effective composition, which serve as essential guidelines for every graphic designer.


These basic principles can help you to create harmony and balance in your designs and have an effective and high quality result.


These principles of Graphic Design include:


  • Contrast
  • Balance
  • Movement
  • White Space
  • Negative Space
  • Visual Hierarchy
  • Repetition
  • Emphasis
  • Proportion
  • Rhythm
  • Proximity
  • Rules
  • Typography


We have prepared a series of video content for you to study all these principles in more depth in our “Let’s Talk Design! Show”.


Even if you may think that graphic art is creative and, therefore, has no strict rules in its basis, in reality Graphic Design is based on these main golden rules.


Creativity is an important element for all designers, as well as following rules that allow to have an absolutely harmonious result in all our designs.

How to use Graphic Design elements

As you can see, the graphic designer really has a lot of elements to work with and create great projects.


For example, if you want to create the graphic interface of a website, you will first have to think about all the graphic elements and principles of graphic design that come into play for a successful project.


You will have to balance elements such as shapes, images and colors in a harmonious way, choose the fonts that best fit, choose the size of these elements and give the right “air” to the design through a proper use of White Space


In this case, further parameters to be evaluated, such as the readability of the text and the usability of the design, can also enter the field. All these parameters are defined in the Graphic Design disciplines dedicated to the creation of websites and products:


  • User Experience Design
  • User Interface Design
  • Interaction Design
  • and others…
what is graphic design element
Color and Balance by Eddie Lobanovskiy for Unfold on Dribbble

Most Popular Graphic Designers

Do you have any interest in going deeper into this topic? Then you will like to know who the best graphic designers are and how you can learn graphic design from them! 


If you are at the first steps of this fantastic journey into the world of Graphic Design and you want to learn from the best, you are in the right place!


We have created for you this list of the top 10 graphic designers and their great quotes to get a good dose of inspiration to start this beautiful career, in detail:


  • Stefan Sagmeister
  • Jessica Walsh
  • Bob Gill 
  • Paula Scher
  • Michael Bierut
  • Chip Kidd
  • Paul Rand
  • David Carson
  • Massimo Vignelli
  • Milton Glaser


Each of them is a beacon in the world of Graphic Design. They have become true icons in this field and you can learn a lot from them. 


Pro tip: some of them have also done online courses, for example Paula Scher, and you can easily follow her “Dynamic Brand Identity” course on Skillshare!

1. Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister is the founder of Sagmeister & Walsh, a design agency in New York. He is one of the most recognized designers especially in the field of music, thanks to his work for brands like the Rolling Stones!

“You can have an art experience in front of a Rembrandt… or in front of a piece of graphic design.”

what is graphic design
Stefan Sagmeister Cover Design. Photo credit: HuffPost

2. Jessica Walsh

Jessica Walsh is, of course, the “Walsh” of the Sagmeister & Walsh agency mentioned above and is a very famous designer who has worked with great brands, of absolute level, including Pentagram, under the wing of Paula Scher.

“If no one hates it, no one really loves it.”

most popular graphic designer
Jessica Walsh. Photo credit: Rolling Stones

3. Bob Gill

Bob Gill is a well-known illustrator who has become the focal point of all the design of the famous Pentagram. He is also the co-founder of F/F/G and has worked for Glamour and Fortune cutting magazines.

“I’ve never had a problem with a dumb client. There is no such thing as a bad client. Part of our job is to do good work and get the client to accept it.”

Bob Gill. Photo credit: Adc Global

4. Paula Scher

Paula Scher is one of the world’s greatest graphic designers and partner of Pentagram. Recently she also made a video course on Skillshare and even more famous is her partnership for the Netflix documentary “Abstract: the art of design”.

“It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get bad in order to get good.”

most famous graphic design
Paula Scher. Photo credit: Forward Festival

5. Michael Beirut

Michael Bierut is another partner of the famous Pentagram agency and is one of the leading exponents of graphic design, who has worked with great brands and can boast great clients including Disney and Hillary Clinton.

“If you do good work for good clients, it will lead to other good work for other good clients. If you do bad work for bad clients, it will lead to other bad work for other bad clients.”

what is graphic design
Michael Beirut. Photo credit: This is Design School

6. Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd, also a well-known graphic designer, is currently Associate Art Director at Knopf and is best known for his dedication to Cover Design. He has worked on important projects such as Jurassic Park.

“If you can properly define the problem, then you’ve already defined the solution as well.”

what is graphic designer
Chip Kidd. Photo credit: Wired

7. Paul Rand

Paul Rand is a great designer who has contributed to projects of great depth such as, for example, some of the biggest brands: among these are noteworthy IBM and UPS. You can see his fantastic work on the Paul Rand Design website.

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”

what is graphic designer explained
Paul Rand. Photo credit: Paul Rand Website

8. David Carson

David Carson is a very successful graphic designer and very famous especially in the field of Print Design and has been very successful in the design of alternative music magazines. You can learn more about him by reading his biography on David Carson Designer.

“Graphic design will save the world right after rock and roll does.”

what is graphic design - david carson
David Carson. Photo credit: 99 Designs

9. Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli is one of the greatest exponents of Italian graphic design. Famous is above all his work for American Airlines and, even more so, the creation of the maps and signs of the New York Subway.

“The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.”

what is graphic design - massimo vignelli
Massimo Vignelli. Photo credit: Domus Web

10. Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser is another great graphic designer who cannot miss this spectacular list, co-founder of New York Magazine. Very famous and recognized is his logo I ♥︎ NY, and the poster “Hope” of Obama campaign.

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

what is graphic design - milton glaser
Milton Glaser. Photo credit: Arte Rivista

Types of Graphic Design

As previously reported in this Graphic Design guide, this discipline breaks down into many other “sub-niches” that deal with different graphic design fields.


If we had to go back 30 years, we could probably define graphic design as a discipline that deals with the visual aspect in paper, therefore mainly related to printed graphics.


But nowadays, with the advent of technology, Graphic Design has also expanded into various other areas, taking shape in different categories.


Here we come to your aid with a list of categories that are now covered by a graphic designer, who can then specialize in more defined sub-niches


Among those most known and at the same time more developed, we find: 


  • branding design
  • editorial design
  • web design
  • user experience design
  • motion design
  • illustration 


Of course, these can be interpreted as the main ones, which in turn are divided into smaller and more defined (for example, branding includes the logo design category).


If you want to take this path, we can give you some advice: a good start can be to opt for logo design, which is definitely one of the most popular (and also very popular with customers) categories.


If you are passionate about the world of the web, then there are several categories that you can dedicate yourself to and learn more about, which you can surely be very passionate about. Among the main ones are User Interface Design and User Experience Design (also called UI and UX).

what is graphic design - russian drama
Russian Drama Graphic Project by Nadi on Dribbble

Given the many categories into which graphic design is divided, you will certainly be curious to know the various work outlets that there may be. 


Sit back and let’s talk about the jobs you can find as a graphic designer!

Graphic Design Jobs

As explained in the previous point, the technology has modified many aspects of Graphic Design, also creating new figures and professional opportunities. 


In my experience, I started my career in this field as Art Director of a Graphic Design studio, and then gradually specialized in User Interface Design, that is the development of web platform graphics.


This change of direction was an effective and at the same time necessary change for me, especially given the great demand to develop websites and e-commerce, which until a few years ago were not so affordable for everyone.


Driven by the passion to innovate and reinvent myself, I have pursued this new career until today, which I consider one of the most fascinating branches of design and at the same time in line with the new technology.


Here I will summarize what are the new work opportunities for a graphic designer:


  • user experience designer
  • user interface designer
  • information architecture designer
  • interaction designer
  • motion designer
  • and more…


As you can see, most of the “new” professional opportunities are all linked to the web and digital graphics. Most of the graphic designers now use only softwares for digital graphics (like the Adobe CC suite).


If I managed to arouse your interest enough to convince you that this world of graphics is really fascinating, then I would like to talk a little bit more about the evolution in graphic design.

The evolution of Graphic Design

A lot has changed since the beginning of graphic design. I don’t want to bore you with the full story of graphic design but I would like to focus your attention on a few points.


In the last century we saw the advertising boom that radically changed graphic design. Advertising, which used to be a prerogative of “posters”, now found a new frontier: television.


 This has also led graphic design to revolve around the concept of “advertising sales”, until it became one of the main disciplines of advertising.  


The graphic designers of the last century were responsible for creating graphics for advertising campaigns, working mainly with slogans, storytelling texts, images and graphic elements to promote products and get into people’s homes and hearts.

what is graphic design - advertising
Graphic Design Adv

Years go by and a new boom begins: the digital age, the one in which we currently live.


Now graphic design has a new flavor and runs on tracks that are completely different, like social media and e-commerce.


We have arrived, therefore, at a new concept of Graphic Design that has defined new parameters and new “golden rules” such as, for example, Material Design.


This new design concept is identified in its “usability” and in the fact that it uses elements to create designs with which to interact easily, with an elegant and minimalist charm. 


From here, the new sectors we talked about before, which deal with User Experience and Usability, are born.

what is graphic design - material design
Material Design by Google

The tools that allow you to work are now many and affordable for everyone, directly online. Here below I’ll tell you about some of the best graphic design tools available (and that I think the best according to my experience).

Best Graphic Design Tools

Now that we have seen all the previous points well, we have defined in an exhaustive way what graphic design is and how we can specialize in one or more categories, we are ready to know the best graphic design tools!


Tip: a real graphic designer always has its sketchbook on hand. Thanks to it you can draw all your sketches in pen (and this also applies to the graphic design of web platforms – called Wireframe).


Sketchbook aside, the graphic designer uses a series of online softwares and tools to produce graphic designs.


According to my personal experience, when it comes to software for graphic design, the first one is definitely Adobe, which offers a real family of apps for every need:


  • Adobe Illustrator (for illustration, logo design, vector graphics)
  • Adobe Photoshop (for photo manipulation)
  • Adobe Lightroom (for photo editing)
  • Adobe Premiere (for video editing) 
  • Adobe Indesign (for the layout of magazines and books)
  • Adobe After Effect (for Motion Design)
  • Adobe XD (for User Interface Design)
  • and more…


But there are really many tools available that can also be considered “competitors” of Adobe. 


Among them, especially noteworthy are the apps that in the new decade have found an important place in User Interface Design:


  • Figma
  • Sketch
  • Invision App
  • Webflow


I suggest you visit the websites mentioned above and try out the apps (many offer free trial) to find out which ones you’ll be better off working with!

what is graphic design - adobe software
Adobe Website


And here we are! We’ve reached the end of this exciting article on What is Graphic Design? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to this creative job. Now it’s your turn!


Study in depth which are the categories of graphic design to which you feel more predisposed and visit the other articles of our blog to go deeper into this incredible subject! 

I hope this article helped you! If you want to get in touch with our staff, write us a DM and follow us on Instagram.

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Alessio Marchetti

Alessio Marchetti

Founder of Desircle Co. I'm a passionate marketer and CrossFit addict. I founded this brand in 2016 to get out of the 9-5 job trap and started sharing what I learn on the way in this blog and through social media.

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