While many designers may believe that you need a formal degree to get a job as a designer, in reality, that’s not the case. There are a number of less costly alternatives to learning the skills you need to become a credible and desirable designer for hire.
We had a chance to talk with Karen Cheng, former Lead Designer at Exec about her experience in breaking out in the design world. “I wanted to change careers and become a designer, but I didn’t have four years and $100k to go back to school, so I decided to teach myself. At first, I had a lot of doubts on whether someone could teach themselves well enough to get a job. If you’re wondering the same, the answer is yes.”
1. Learning the Foundations
There are many ways to push your skillset forward. Before blindly jumping in, you must focus on building the foundational aspects that comprise a great designer. According to Cheng, the foundation includes learning how to draw, learning graphic design theory, learning the basics of user experience, and learning how to write.
“You don’t even have to get that good at drawing,” says Cheng. “You only have to do one thing to learn how to draw: get the book You Can Draw in 30 days and practice for half an hour every day for a month. I’ve looked at a lot of drawing books and this is one of the best.”
For learning the basics in user experience, The Design of Everyday Things and Don’t Make Me Think! are quick reads that are helpful. For graphic design theory, Picture This will do the trick. Cheng also recommends learning about color, typography, and designing with a grid.
“If you can find an online or local class to learn the basics of graphic design, take it,” encourages Cheng.
2. Building your Portfolio
Undoubtedly, skills are paramount for getting a job as a designer, but aspiring designers need a place where all of their work lives, so they can showcase their best work to potential employers. This is known as a portfolio.
A carefully crafted online portfolio can help you achieve many objectives including: the opportunity to display your skills and talent to prospective clients, enhancing incoming traffic to your other websites, and acting as a gateway to promote your career.
Creating a portfolio is essential as a designer, and you must take the time to organize samples of your work and bring them together in an appealing way.
The only way you will build your portfolio is by producing work. Whether it’s freelance jobs for people you know, securing an internship and producing work there, or creating your own side projects, any design work can become part of your portfolio. You must start somewhere.
3. Finding a Job
When Cheng first started learning design, she attended a job search workshop for designers. She entered a room full of designers with much more experience. Some people had 5 years of experience, while others had 10-15 years. They were all there for the same reason and it was extremely intimidating for Cheng, a self-taught designer just trying to find her bearings. Less than a year later, she landed a job in design.
“There was one key difference between me and many of the other web designers that gave me an edge: I knew how to work with developers,” recalls Cheng.
“The biggest factor to boost your employability is to be able to work with developers. Learn some interaction design. Learn some basic HTML and CSS. If you don’t have any experience working with developers, get some. Go to Startup Weekend, go to hackathons, or find a developer through a project collaboration site.”
Outside of designer-specific sites, there are also job sites like Monster and Simply Hired, as well as social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. If you get the word out that you’re looking for a job in design, you’ll significantly increase your odds of landing a job. So go on and get the word out there, stay persistent, and continue to refine your skills simultaneously.
4. Staying Ahead of the Curve
If you clear all of the hurdles and you’re fortunate enough to get a job as a designer, you can’t just stop there: you need to keep your work fresh and always evolving. There are constantly going to be other people trying to steal your job, and the only way to combat them is to keep creating and to keep designing.
“I seek out designers who are much more talented than I am and learn from them,” adds Cheng. “I find design classes. I work on side projects. I geek out at the design section of bookstores. There is still so much to learn and to improve on.”
We think Skillshare is a great way to stay ahead of the curve as a designer. Here are a few classes we recommend to help keep your creative skills on point: