What Does a Digital Designer Do?
A digital designer makes the world more human.
In the old days, a computer was a specialized instrument for highly specialized people. Sure, they were capable of all these incredible feats of computation. Yes, most people figured they’d probably be important in the future. Something like Star Trek, probably.
But actually using one? That was a task left for the hyper-talented and hyper-nerdy.
Digital designers got involved.
Digital designers are the difference between spooky old green lines on a dull background, and the virtual smorgasbord we have today.
The graphical user interface is a digital designer’s playground. They bring the inner workings of your computer to life with graphics and images that appeal to our sense of structure and excitement. They put together visual languages that help us make sense of complexity. They create whole worlds for your screen.
It’s the work that makes the internet come to life.
Of course, to do it well takes serious talent.
The very best of them blend a taste for creativity with a penchant for empathy and an uncanny ability to spot inconsistencies or problems in a design.
They’re like super creatives: deeply talented in a wide range of activities.
In practice, they use their skills in creative ideation, artistic and aesthetic judgment, and program-specific manipulation of digital files (think Photoshop or InDesign) to create the visual aspects of our online experience. Websites, video games, logos, icons, app interfaces, payment screens...the list goes on. It’s all the work of talented digital design professionals.
They’re artists and technicians.
Naturally, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they spend all their time doing the nitty-gritty work of designing. Moving pixels around, that sort of thing. But as their value to creative organizations has gone up, most have found themselves being called on to a variety of other duties as well.
Roles and Responsibilities for a Digital Designer
When it comes to digital design, gone are the days of the humble craftsman. The modern designer is often as much a manager as an artisan.
From the moment a project is proposed, a leading digital designer makes it their aim to identify key stakeholders, deliverables, budget considerations, and features.
Those who work in agency settings (or as freelancers) will have the added task of delving into the background of new clients. They’ll need to identify features of the organization’s existing visual style that are essential, as well as those that may need updating.
Once a project is underway, most digital designers will go through a process of outlining and rough prototyping (with a round of stakeholder feedback) before jumping into the creation of robust designs. Prototyping tools might include wireframes, pen & ink drawings, text documents, physical models, storyboards, or a host of other creative aids.
Of course, at the end of the day, the most important role of a digital designer is to ensure that all elements produced as part of a project are of the highest possible standard.
Their job is to organize and further the ongoing development of an organization's visual language.
Fundamentally, much of a designer’s success is determined by their choice of tools and medium to suit the task at hand. Some projects (a website landing page, for example) are best suited by wireframes and rapid design. Others (think 3-D modeling tasks) may benefit from extra time in the development and planning stages.
It’s a job for people who are able to think critically about a project’s deliverables and goals, and to adapt their workflow accordingly.
The Wide World of Digital Design
Branding, publications, packaging, products—everything from billboards to your Instagram feed—designers do it all. They’re the creative MVPs. And as the world gets more complex, they’ve never been more important.
But keeping up with all that change doesn’t happen automatically.
The greatest designers make it their mission to keep ahead of the game.
There’s always new technologies in the field. New ways of working. Even new trends or fads (and how do you know which is which?)
The digital designer is a master of change. They practice strategic foresight on a very practical basis: they must anticipate how a given design might be affected by coming changes—and ideally, build in some resiliency.
To do it well requires a mind that’s geared toward empathy (have we mentioned that yet?) and understanding human behavior.
Those same qualities (that help a designer produce a great experience for their users) allows them to chart changes in the design environment around them. Great designers help build processes that will allow their clients to success in both the short and the long term
A Digital Designer Has Their Choice of Career
So as we’ve discussed, the world of digital design is a large and diverse one. It’s a complicated, ever-growing field.
Naturally, that means that no two positions are alike.
There is a bevy of industries that hire digital designers on a wide scale. Those include: manufacturing, publishing, advertising and marketing, computer systems design, and more!
In terms of career progression, the world of digital design has a ridiculous amount of variability.
Some will begin as junior designers working under the direct management of senior designers. It’s a format that allows for some degree of mentoring—something like an apprenticeship in the trades. When these relationships work best there is an exchange of knowledge going both ways. The young designer might learn the tricks of the trade, while the older is introduced to new attitudes and developing concepts from a younger generation.
In other cases, the career of a designer may be more geared toward entrepreneurship. Recent graduates may choose to start an agency of their own, typically beginning as a sole proprietorship with one or two long-term clients, and growing slowly over time.
No matter which path they take, one thing is certain: it can be an extremely lucrative career. Truth is, digital designers have never been more valuable than they are today.
(I’m sure you’ve noticed the world is getting a bit more digital…)
That value is reflected in the compensation for today’s designers. According to Indeed, the average salary for a digital designer in the United States is $92,756 per year.
Why Companies Value Digital Designers So Much
Great design makes business better.
Here’s the thing: really innovative companies (I mean the best of them) know that the foundation of their success is understanding the people they serve.
If there’s one thing that digital designers deliver on, it’s that.
Where other roles in an organization may have other focuses that distract from the customer experience, a digital designer is all in. To succeed, they simply must be tuned in to (obsessed with, maybe) the everyday interactions of an organization and the people they sell to, work with, or offer services for.
That matters. As former IBM president Thomas Watson Jr. once noted, “Good design is good business.”
It’s not just a catch-phrase. It’s been noted in Forbes and other publications that for each $1 invested in UX design, a company may reap up to $100 in benefits. That should be no surprise: researchers studying internet usage have found that the visual style (including color choices, images, etc…) of a piece of content significantly impacts a viewer’s ability to retain and comprehend information.
In simple terms, the future belongs to those who understand good design. Companies of note are increasingly taking that reality into account.
Qualifications for a Digital Designer
Generally speaking, digital designers are expected to have a bachelor's in fine arts, graphic design, digital design, digital art, or a related subject at the minimum,
In practice, it can be a highly competitive field. Those who get the most sought-after jobs will oftentimes have a master’s degree as well, and will choose to attend a portfolio school to help them develop a collection of excellent work that blows hiring managers away.
Miami Ad School Helps People Like You Become Digital Designers
Designers make a more usable and thoughtful world. It’s all about purpose, vision, and strategy. Form and function.
It’s gratifying work...but it takes serious skill to do well. So how do you get good enough to do really incredible work?
You need real-world practice. At MAD, we don't believe in textbooks or exams. Our programs are all about exciting creative projects, real-world learning and one-of a kind practical experiences. No matter your level of experience, at MAD you’ll work on real-world designs for brands like Microsoft, Coke, and Burger King. Maybe that’s why our students have won 1,000+ industry awards.
And of course, at MAD the fun starts from day 1. We help you build the skills, portfolio, and industry connections you need to find a job you really love. We push our students to excel—and the things they achieve are worth it.