Always dreamed of starting a career in graphic design but don’t have the time or resources to go to art school? Many successful graphic designers have pursued creative careers in unconventional ways. Below, we explain how to get into graphic design without a degree and highlight a professional graphic designer who did exactly that.
Do You Need a Degree to Be a Graphic Designer?
While some graphic designers certainly use a college degree to enter the creative field, it’s not a requirement. Many companies hire entry level designers based solely on their portfolio and experience, rather than if they have a degree.
With that in mind, there are a few things you will need as a graphic designer without degree: some amount of raw creative talent, the dedication to learn several critical skills, and an impressive portfolio that will convince employers to take a chance on you. The last is perhaps the most important in the job-hunting process. You must have a portfolio of work to demonstrate your creativity and design skills, so potential employers have something concrete on which to base a hiring decision.
Skills You Need as a Designer
While you can learn how to be a graphic designer without a degree, you will still need a few basic skills to succeed in a professional graphic design environment.
Whether or not you have a degree, you will need to have a good grasp on design software. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are common design software tools, as well as InDesign for those working in print. In a professional environment, it’s likely you’ll use these design tools on a daily basis, so it’s worth getting familiar with them now. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn how to use these tools outside of a traditional college or art school.
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Client Management and Communications Skills
Beyond creating beautiful designs, you’ll also need some basic business skills to succeed in a professional environment. For example, you should understand how to interpret and design based on a creative brief, create realistic timelines, and manage client expectations and communications. You will need to be open to feedback, with an understanding of how to incorporate those revisions into your designs until the client is satisfied with the final product.
Basics of Design Theory
In addition to any innate creative skills you bring to the table, you will also need to understand the basics of design theory. This includes typography (arranging letters and text in a visually appealing way), balance, proportion, scale, and color.
In design, user experience refers to the process of creating something that is both visually appealing and functional. If you are designing web sites, for example, they must not only look good, but be easy and intuitive to navigate from a user perspective. Understanding the basics of user experience can help you become a more effective graphic designer.
How Do You Become a Designer?
Equipped with the necessary skills and a portfolio that showcases your best work, there are a few routes you can take to become a graphic designer:
One of the best ways to break into the graphic design world without a degree is to make connections with other designers, as well as other professionals in the industry you’re targeting. Those connections can be instrumental in helping you land a position when a role opens up.
Establish an Online Reputation
If you don’t want to seek out jobs in the traditional sense, you can also work to proactively establish an online presence. If you regularly post incredible work and attract enough followers, you can establish your reputation as an expert level graphic designer—which can help you more easily find a job.
Hear From a Successful Graphic Designer Without a Degree
Designer and top Skillshare teacher, Dylan Mierzwinski, is a great example of someone whose creative career didn’t begin in the classroom.
Dylan started a traditional education path at a university, but after bouncing from major to major, she realized that college wasn’t right for her. Her love for art had always been a constant in her life, so she opted to enter a one-year certificate program that focused on the basics of web design, graphic design, and video production. The certificate program redefined how Dylan viewed education, inspiring her to pursue her creative interests independent of school.
“If I learned anything there, it was simply that I could learn something new, and I enjoyed it! After that year I spent countless hours on Skillshare, YouTube, and in art books and the Adobe programs trying to learn and understand more.”
As she sharpened her skills through online classes and continual practice, she went on to teach what she knew in person and then eventually became a published Skillshare teacher. Despite feelings of self-doubt, Dylan didn’t allow her lack of formal education hinder her pursuit of design and illustration.
“I know what I’ve taught on Skillshare is valuable, and that what I’ve learned on Skillshare is valuable, so who cares where I learned it or in what order? The education is what counts, not the schooling.”
Teaching (and learning) on Skillshare has given Dylan the ability to practice what she calls the cycle of art: learn, do, share. By sharing her self-taught skills, she hopes to empower students to take risks and try new things. Income earned through Skillshare has also allowed her to focus on projects that she’s most passionate about.
“Financially, Skillshare has made it possible for me to move toward my real dream life as an artist. I mean… did you read that? I get to make my dreams a reality. (Cue cheesy 80s family sitcom music). I no longer have a 9-to-5 traditional design job that drains my creative energy with no payoff.”
Dylan’s tips for launching a creative career or side hustle? “Just start—my tried and true motto that gets me going on the regular. Just start somewhere, and follow the path it leads you down. Maybe you’ll start with a specific tool in a program, or maybe with color theory, or a designer whose work you like. It’s all connected, so just get going. And don’t use Papyrus or Comic Sans if you can help it.”
Possible Career Paths for Designers
As Dylan proves, graphic design is certainly not a dying career. In fact, there are more options than ever for creatives interested in the graphic design field. Some potential career paths and specialties include:
This is a popular specialty for graphic designers. While this career path includes creating the overall design for a website, it also incorporates elements of user experience, including buttons, menus, interactive elements, and more.
Graphic designers are often hired to create not just logos, but entire brand identities. This means that your design process could include taking a logo you created and envisioning it across an entire organization, from its signage to marketing collateral.
Marketing and Sales Graphic Design
In many organizations, there are ample opportunities to design marketing and sales collateral, from brochures to ebooks to trade show display materials. This type of design often spans both digital and print, so you can apply your skills in a number of different ways.
Learning how to become a graphic designer doesn’t have to start with a degree. With the right talent, skills, and motivation to learn, you can find a way to enter this creative field—and make a career out of the thing you love.
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