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Demand for high quality and unique designs is increasing as brands desire to maintain a strong presence in social media, traditional media, and advertisements. In fact, careers in graphic design are increasing in popularity, as successful professional graphic designers can make over six figures a year by working with big brands or a reasonable side income from freelancing. Luckily, graphic design is a skill which can be learnt, and you too can become a graphic designer with effort and motivation.
Depending on the working hours you desire, your level of expertise, graphic design training and interests, there are a few options for careers in graphic design. Think of your ideal day as a graphic designer and consider one of these options to work towards:
As an in-house graphic designer, you will be working within the marketing or advertising department of a company. Your designs and projects will solely be for the company’s industry, so variation might be limited. Companies usually employ qualified, professional graphic designers for these roles. Depending on the size of the company, you will work either individually or with a small team to build designs to build company branding. In-house designers are usually proficient in general graphic skills, and have the ability to work on long-term projects.
Companies, businesses or brands without an in-house graphic designer will employ professional graphic designers from a graphic design agency. This means you will be tasked with making designs for a range of industries, products or campaigns. However, agency graphic designers will be limited to making one-off or short term projects.
Freelance graphic designers are self-employed and offer their services on a piecework basis. Freelance graphic designers can work on projects as big or as small as they’d like, set their own hours, and charge their own prices. You don’t need any formal graphic design training to be a freelancer. If you are looking to build a portfolio, small freelancing jobs would be a great way to show off your skills. Likewise, freelancing can be used as side work to bring in extra income.
Becoming a graphic designer involves a bit of training, skill building and practice. Here are the steps to get you started in your graphic design career:
There are fundamental graphic design concepts which need to be learnt in order to properly design and build skills. There are a range of ways to learn graphic design principles, such as:
Creative degrees will normally offer graphic design as a major, and usually can be studied in a Bachelor of Arts (BA), at an arts university, or vocational institution. Graphic design degrees will also teach you more theory of design and art, as well as offer hands-on tutorials in design software. Degrees will most certainly provide you with qualifications to be a graphic designer; research these majors to see what type of graphic design education is on offer:
If you’re not too interested in the theory part of graphic design education, you can try a bootcamp. Bootcamps are a type of intense short course, designed to build your skills and knowledge on the essentials quickly. Bootcamps will usually pick one type of graphic design software and get you to a proficient level so you can use the tools independently for your own designs.
Websites which host a range of bootcamps include:
If you’re looking to learn graphic design at a reasonable pace, but don’t want to do a whole degree, you can try learning graphic design through a short course. Courses can set you up with the principles of graphic design, as well as explore options in graphic design careers.
Many of these courses you can learn online at your own pace, such as:
Whatever option you pick, you will learn graphic design principles which you can put into practice in your work. Ultimately, an understanding of graphic design will allow you to build a professional graphic design portfolio and help make client ideas come to fruition.
Graphic design training will go over principles such as:
Whatever graphic design educational program you choose, they might recommend a certain software to use. However, having a broad range of skills in different software will help you make professional graphic designs. Likewise, becoming a professional graphic designer in an agency will require you to be able to use a range of tools.
Graphic design tools to try include:
Once you start making your own designs, or complete assignments from graphic design degrees or courses, you can build a portfolio. All professional graphic designers have a portfolio where they can showcase their skills and niche. You can have the best quality graphic design training, but without a professional graphic design portfolio, you won’t be hired. Make a few designs which demonstrate your niche and include the tools or software used in an online portfolio.
🔖 Further reading: How to Make a Graphic Design Portfolio [What to Include & Examples]
Professional graphic design jobs require a traditional resume alongside an impressive portfolio. If you are changing careers to become a graphic designer, use your resume as an opportunity to showcase your existing industry experience as well as the graphic design qualifications you have.
🔖 Further reading: Graphic Designers: Resume Examples, Formats & Tips
Think of how you view graphic design, the role of graphic design, and your motivation behind becoming a graphic designer to answer interview questions. Also, think of how to explain your graphic design training and experience, and be ready to list graphic design tools you can use. Show the interviewer how you can build a successful campaign and brand identity by mixing creativity with design principles.
So, you want to get into graphic design, but have never worked as one before. As with many creative disciplines, becoming a graphic designer involves working a bit harder to find the right people and companies to start a career. If you have the right graphic design training and have practiced your skills on your own, there are ways to become a graphic designer.
Search for internship programs offered to university students to gain experience as a professional graphic designer. This is the typical way to start as a graphic designer. If you aren’t in university or can’t do an internship, you can volunteer your skills to a local business and help them build a campaign, logo or advertisement.
If you have an idea for a project, or want to build skills in a certain software while learning graphic design, making personal projects can help you build your portfolio. If you have no professional graphic design experience, use your portfolio to explore your unique graphic design style.
If you can’t find a traditional internship, try networking online or in your local community to find people who need graphic designs. If you used a course or bootcamp to learn graphic design, you can post your portfolio on your LinkedIn and share that you are looking for design work. Or, if working with small businesses, try being referred to other businesses who might need your help. You could also reach out to professional graphic designers or design agencies and ask if you can be referred to anyone who is looking for a graphic designer.
As mentioned earlier, design agencies will be employed for short term projects from businesses. Agencies have larger teams than in-house graphic designers, and will have junior roles available. Design agencies have experienced, professional graphic designers to learn from, providing high-quality graphic design training. Design agencies might require more experience, or qualifications in graphic design.
Obviously studying graphic design at university will provide you with a degree. However, many of the courses and bootcamps mentioned will provide you with a certificate at the end. If your portfolio is limited, or you have little professional graphic design experience, being certified will help you get started as a graphic designer.
How long it takes to become a graphic designer depends on your degree, bootcamp, or course length. Depending on how quickly you build your portfolio and skills, becoming a professional graphic designer can take between 6 months and 4 years.
This depends on what level of graphic design education you choose. Likewise, graphic design software can be free, or cost up to $1000! However, you can certainly build skills with free courses and design software.
The professional graphic designer career path will start with a junior or graduate role, working in an agency or company. From there you can become a midweight designer, senior designer, working up to creative director. Alternatively, you can work as a freelance graphic designer, independently making designs for clients who hire you.
🔑 Key Takeaways
Now you know how to become a graphic designer, make a choice on how you want to learn graphic design, and get practicing! Learning graphic design involves combining graphic design principles and skills to build designs with purpose. Even if you have no experience, you can get into a graphic design career by having a strong portfolio.
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--- Originally written by Bronte McNamara ---