Becoming a Digital Designer: What You Need to Know

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

For creative, lifelong learners who are interested in technology and design, a career in digital design can be rewarding and lucrative. Let's take a look at the skills and steps needed to land a job as a digital designer.

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Digital designers combine technology and imagination to create media meant to be viewed on a screen or digital interface. This could include web design, animation, interactive elements, or 2D or 3D models. Several different roles fall under the umbrella of digital design, including:

Digital design can be considered the next evolution of graphic design. This career takes the same skills and understanding of print design and brings those visions to life with interactivity, three-dimensional modeling, and animation. Whether you’re creating banner ads, movies, or other interactive elements of a webpage or app, you’ll be sharing messages with an audience using modern methods that rely on data to measure your success.

While this modern career can overlap with many different industries, its appeal to professionals is easy to see. For the most part, digital designers can complete engaging, interesting work remotely from almost anywhere in the world.

An in-demand career

The demand for digital designers is growing faster than for most careers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employers will add 34,700 web developer and digital interface designer jobs over the next decade, a 16 percent increase in the field by 2032 [1].


Some digital designers land full-time jobs with companies in industries like computer systems, advertising, and management consulting. Others prefer to explore freelance opportunities, which offer increased flexibility coupled with the added responsibilities of searching for new clients and juggling multiple assignments. To embark on this career path, you'll use your skills to build a portfolio that will impress your future clients and employers.

Read more: Working as a Freelancer in 2024: Your Guide

Digital designer skills

Employers or clients seeking digital designers want professionals who are comfortable and prepared with a wide range of technical skills. To land a job as a digital designer, you must be able to demonstrate a mastery of both client relations and today’s most used tools.

Technical skills and common tools

Set yourself apart as a professional digital designer with demonstrable mastery of specific technical skills and digital tools used to create interactive designs. These technical skills require both training and application. You can present a portfolio of your work experience to potential clients and employers to demonstrate your skills in areas such as:

  • Layout and navigation

  • Color and typography

  • Visual design principles

  • Mobile-first design

  • App design

  • Design software

  • 3D design

  • HTML, CSS, or JQuery

Read more: Figma vs. Sketch vs. Adobe XD: Which Design Tool Is Better?

Learn Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud ranks among the most popular digital design software programs. Whether you're just getting started or are a seasoned designer, it's always a good idea to brush up on your Adobe design skills. This suite of programs includes:

- Adobe Photoshop

- Adobe InDesign

- Adobe Illustrator

- Adobe Acrobat Pro

- Adobe Animate

Read more: Adobe Creative Cloud: What Is It and Is It Right for You?


Workplace skills

A strong portfolio can demonstrate an ability to complete tasks and create beautiful designs, but employers and clients also require other skills that you can include in your resumes. These workplace skills are more difficult to measure but can make the difference in an effort to secure more work:


  • Communication: Digital designers often collaborate with larger teams. Learning to ask direct questions, listen actively, and present your designs to others can make for a better workplace environment.

  • Customer service: The most effective digital designers listen carefully to client requests and requirements, deliver professional advice, and accept constructive criticism, all in an effort to delight the client with the finished product.  

  • Flexibility and creativity: Digital design is innovative by its very nature. You’ll always be learning new tools, software systems, and new technologies. Learn to see yourself as a lifelong learner, and plan on discovering new ways of working whenever possible.

Digital designer education 

On your path to landing a job as a digital designer, you can benefit from programs that help you further your education. These include individual courses as well as degree programs and certifications.

Degree programs

Qualifying for digital design jobs often demands a strong portfolio of work that demonstrates success, and you could gain such experience through the right degree program. While a degree isn't always necessary to become a digital designer, earning a bachelor's degree in a design-related field could open up new job opportunities.

Many post-secondary degrees include training in the necessary technical skills and tools and provide opportunities to collaborate with others under deadline pressures. Plus, earning a degree shows future employers that you can persevere and complete educational programs.  

Employers may prefer you have a bachelor's degree in graphic arts, web design, or digital design.

Learn more: How to Get a Bachelor's Degree

When you pursue a degree in digital design, you can choose to take specialized courses in topics that interest you, such as information technology management, data science, mobile application design, 3D digital design, and user interface animation. 

Some degrees also offer the ability to hone in on a specialty that you are interested in pursuing as a career. A few examples of these degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Game Design

  • Bachelor of Interaction Design

  • Bachelor of Science in Design: Digital Animation

  • Bachelor in UX/UI Design

  • Bachelor of Arts in Digital Experiences

Certification programs

Many digital designers stay up to date with the latest technology and remain competitive in the job market by earning additional certificates or certifications. Pursuing these credentials can also help you keep up to date with evolving tools and technologies.  

You may find certifications or certificates available for topics like:

  • Graphic design

  • Design technology

  • Digital manufacturing

  • 3D printing

  • Computer-aided design

Freelance opportunities vs. full-time employment

Freelance digital designers have a wide variety of work opportunities, including UI design, photography, videography, animation, and more. Each project will be different, even if your role focuses on a particular element of its construction. Best of all, with the right skills and experience, freelancers may be able to increase their earning potential beyond what they'd make as an employee.

The question for many is whether it’s better to take on a digital design role with a specific company or break out on your own as a freelancer. Let’s look at the pros and cons of freelancing:

Benefits of freelancingChallenges of freelancing
Flexibility to choose projects and clientsLack of benefits and job perks, such as employer-funded health care
Ability to determine the value of your timeNeed to seek new work continually
Remote working opportunitiesChallenges with balancing work and personal life
Creation of your own scheduleTax implications, depending on your home country

If you're considering freelancing in digital design, one option you have is to gain experience in a full-time or entry-level position that you can then use to launch your own brand. As you gear up to take this step, build a strong professional network and compile a portfolio that showcases your abilities and versatility. These steps can make it easier to land top-paying clients and take on interesting and complex projects.

Get started in digital design with Coursera

Build job-ready digital design skills for your resume and portfolio with a course from a top company or university on Coursera. Depending on what area of digital design interests you, consider the Google UX Design Professional Certificate or the CalArts Graphic Design specialization on Coursera.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Web Developers and Digital Designers," Accessed February 21, 2024.

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