Whether you want to work as a graphic designer professionally or want to switch to graphic design, the good news is that you are no longer limited to attending school or investing in a formal education.
But that doesn’t mean you plunge into the job without understanding what it entails to be a graphic designer. In this article, we’ll take you through a step-by-step process of everything you need to do if you want to learn how to become a graphic designer and land your first graphic design gig or job.
Step 1: Understand the fundamentals.
Step 2: Invest in the right tools.
Step 3: Build a graphic design portfolio.
Step 4: Get real-world experience.
Step 1: Understand the fundamentals
As mentioned earlier, there are no formal graphic designer education requirements or graphic design schooling requirements to become a graphic designer. But you must have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. And this entails becoming acquainted with design principles and learning how to employ elements such as color, contrast, hierarchy, balance, and proportion in your work.
But “where can I learn graphic design fundamentals?” you ask.
There are numerous free graphic design courses available on platforms like YouTube and Envato that you can use to begin expanding your knowledge base. So, try out a few different courses and refer back to them as needed. Some areas you want to direct your focus on include:
- Colors and textures: Color can make elements of a design stand out or fade into the background, while the use of texture can improve the overall feel of a design. So, it’s essential to understand how to use these elements in your design.
- Typography: Typography serves two key functions in graphic design. The first is to improve legibility, and the second is to communicate a design piece’s messaging, tone, and sentiment.
Aesthetics is also another function of typography. We are drawn to visually appealing designs that are clean, and easy-to-read designs. In contrast, we avoid designs that are busy, confusing, or cause us to strain our eyes. As a result, learning how to use typography effectively in graphic design benefits you and your clients.
- Graphic design theory: Design theory is important because it enables you to convey thoughtful and clear messages to your audience. It also helps you create advertisements and logos that stand out and elicit an emotional response from viewers, so study this theory carefully.
Step 2: Invest in the right tools.
If you’re teaching yourself how to be a graphic designer, you’ll also need to learn how to use certain software to bring your ideas to life. So, consider downloading the following software:
- Adobe creative suite: If you’re serious about pursuing graphic design professionally, Adobe Creative Suite includes a lot of the standard software you’ll need, such as Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop.
These applications may take a little more time to learn, but they’ll be well worth your time as they’re the industry standard software and will help you land a gig or full-time job. To start, use the 30-day free trial and switch to the monthly plan once it expires.
- Inkscape: This free and open-source graphic design software program is an excellent alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
It’s a vector graphics editor for Windows, Mac, and Linux with an intuitive interface and versatile tools for print, logo, and web design.
These tools support object creation, manipulation, fill and stroke, text formatting, and path operations. (Many designers find cloned objects to be especially useful.) Inkscape is primarily used for SVG work but can also export to PNG, PDF, EPS, PostScript, and other formats.
- Affinity Art: Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are relatively new competitors in the world of graphic design software.
Affinity Photo, as the name suggests, focuses on photo editing, whereas Affinity Designer is vector graphic design software that is ideal for branding, concept art, print projects, icons, and web mockups.
Regardless of the size or complexity of your work, Affinity software is designed to be fast. It also has a highly customizable interface, advanced layer controls, the capacity to undo up to 8,000 steps, and standard file format compatibility. This software is available for both Windows and Mac for $50.
In short, you must invest in these solutions as they’ll teach you how to become a master at visual design.
Step 3: Build a graphic design portfolio
Creating a portfolio is the ultimate chicken-and-egg problem: you need a portfolio to get a job. Without professional experience, it can be difficult to find projects to showcase.
The good news is that there are creative ways to build a portfolio without any prior exposure. Here are a few ways:
- Develop your personal brand: There’s no better client than yourself. So, create your visual identity as a designer and use those assets to personalize your portfolio and create a strong brand that can help you break into the design world.
You could design your own logo, font, color scheme, illustrations, animations, tagline, and other elements. Also, don’t be afraid to incorporate your hobbies and interests into your branding and showcase your personality through design.
- Offer your services for free: There are two simple ways to accomplish this: first, contact local businesses you frequent, or second, contact any connections you have at growing startups.
Offer your services for free and inquire if they require design assistance for X number of months. If you’re feeling brave, research their digital presence and pitch a design project to fill in any gaps or holes.
Second, you could use a marketplace, such as CatchaFire.org, which connects you to mission-driven organizations in need. You can search for volunteer projects based on skills (such as graphic or web design) and causes (like environment, homelessness, or education).
- Create a dream assignment: Consider a brand, industry, website, or product you’ve always wanted to work on, and write your own project brief. Treat this dream project like any other design project, and practice going through the design thinking process.
Step 4: Get real-world experience.
The first graphic design job isn’t always easy to come by. Clients are often unwilling to take a chance on a newbie and prefer to stick with established freelancers on whom they can rely.
So, one of the most common questions that newbie designers have is: “is graphic design hard?”
The answer is that it’s not hard as long as you know how to get your foot in the door.
This will help you land that crucial first gig to establish yourself as a designer and provide new content for your CV and portfolio. Here are a few tips:
- Network with other graphic designers: Developing relationships with your graphic design peers is invaluable for improving your skills, engaging in valuable conversations with industry experts, and gaining new opportunities through referrals and partnerships.
To start building your network, stay active on social media and engage with other designers’ work and posts. Then, send an introductory message and stay in touch with them periodically, so you’re on top of their mind.
- Share your work: Showcase your portfolio on graphic design platforms like Dribble, Behance, etc., to get more eyeballs on your work.
- Start applying to jobs: Sign up on job portals and freelancing sites like Upwork and start reaching out to potential clients or recruiters to pitch your work.
If you’re wondering how to learn graphic design, start with the fundamentals, invest in the right tools, build a portfolio, and put yourself out there to land a client or a job.
Although it’s not going to be easy, you’re going to find that it’s a career worth pursuing as long as you keep putting in the work to learn graphic designing and evolving.
About Artwork Flow:
Artwork Flow is a creative collaboration software that helps you collaborate seamlessly and accelerate the creative workflow of your design projects.
To learn more about how it can help you, check out our case studies or contact us for a free demo.