Ben Barnhart

Ben Barnhart

July 13, 2021
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July 13, 2021
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Getting into the field of graphic designer is more attainable than you might expect, especially today.

Regardless of their level of education, designers rely on practical experience to drive them. If you’re a graphic artist at heart, then you have the drive to learn new things and push yourself further every day. It’s an exciting field to get into, but many would-be designers can get stuck at the first steps.

This article will look at what graphic designers do for a living and then give you a list of ten steps to becoming a graphic designer. So let’s dive in!

What Do Graphic Designers Do? 

As mentioned earlier, graphic designers either work full-time or are self-employed. Whether you work full-time, part-time, or freelance, you will have to meet several deadlines on a weekly or daily basis. 

As a designer, it’s crucial to manage your time and schedule well, so you don't miss any deadlines. If you already have a full-time job and want to pursue a graphic design program on the side, you can also do that, but you will probably need to plan out how you will manage your time well in advance. 

If you plan to be a self-employed graphic designer, be prepared to be flexible, because you might have to work during the evening and even during weekends from time to time to meet deadlines. 

Now let’s look at what you are expected to do as a graphic designer. You might develop many different types of graphic designs, from print publications (brochures, magazines, newspapers) to television and web applications.

The range of industries where graphic design skills are needed also varies a lot. But you can be sure of one thing: just like marketing is something that every company or organization needs, graphic designers are also needed in many different areas.    

As a graphic designer, you might have to master a lot of different skills at once. However, you also have the option to specialize in one specific area. Among the most common graphic design specialties are Typography, Logos, Book Design, Product Packaging, Web design, User Interface Design, and User Experience Design. 

So, now let’s look at our ten steps to become a graphic designer.

1. Understand and Learn Graphic Design Basics

Before taking any further steps, it is essential that you take the time to learn the design principles and have a solid understanding of the elements of design. 

Suppose you have never taken any classes and you don't know anything about graphic design or the design process at this stage. In that case, we recommend you read about graphic design history and the principles of design alongside practicing the key skills of graphic design. 

There are tons of online resources that can help entry-level designers get their foot on the door. You can also start taking graphic design courses online. To help you with that, we have compiled a list of the 10 best graphic design courses online

You can use them to get to know more about this field and get a better feeling of your life as a graphic artist. Some of the courses offer a certificate once you complete it, which will be perfect for adding to your CV and LinkedIn profile. 

2. Take Online Courses

Once you know more about graphic design history and learn the basics of design theory, you can take advantage of some of the best online graphic design software out there. You can be a professional or someone relatively new to the world of design, but our recommendation is the same. 

Start with free graphic design software to reduce the costs as much as possible as you build your technical skills.

You can start with Vectornator, which is offered entirely for free and offers features like: 

  • Industry-standard vector editing tools
  • Access to over 1 million royalty-free images from Unsplash
  • Access to over 80,000 icons
  • Advanced collaboration tools within the Vectornator app
  • Auto Trace technology that transforms images into vector shapes
  • Cross-platform functionality that syncs your projects across MacBook, iPad, and iPhone

3. Setup Setup Setup

Image Source: Fakurian Design

While graphic designers get paid very well in most cases, starting your journey as a graphic designer can be expensive to set up. Unlike writers that simply need a laptop to write, being a graphic designer requires much more than that. For starters, you will need to find the right graphic software for you. 

If you are an Adobe fan, you will need a monthly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, which is pretty expensive if you are just starting out. That is why it is best to start with free alternatives to Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or any other Adobe products and then decide if you want to switch to a paid option. 

Besides the right software, you will also need a laptop and at least one desktop computer. You might also need a Pantone color guide and a pen tablet later on. 

4. Follow Established Graphic Designers

This step may be overlooked at times, but it is crucial that you follow it. Everyone gets their design inspiration somewhere before developing their own creative process and being a source of inspiration to other people. 

Getting to know the work of famous graphic designers and artists and following them on social media will be helpful in the long run. You will get to know how they do what they do, understand them and their work better. By doing this, you will form your own graphic design style, which will gradually become clear to you once you create a handful of graphic design pieces. 

5. Create an Impressive Portfolio

Folio: Designer Portfolio Kit - Animation

Folio: Designer Portfolio Kit - Animation designed by Tran Mau Tri Tam ✪ for UI8. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

No matter if you want to work as a full-time graphic designer or as a self-employed graphic designer, your online portfolio will be a must-have. Having an online portfolio will make it easier to land an interview, apply for graphic design job openings, or get hired for graphic design positions by a variety of clients. 

Many graphic designers use Behance to showcase their work. However, you have other options which you can explore, such as Pixpa, FolioHD, Carbonmade, Crevado, PortfolioBox, Coroflot Portfolios, and Krop. Here we have created a guide on how to create a graphic design portfolio and added 16 examples to inspire you. 

It doesn’t matter if you don't have a lot of work to showcase. The important thing is to have an online presence. Start your professional portfolio early on and add your most recent or best pieces there as time goes by. You can update it at any time, and it will help you get noticed. If you have no work of yours to show, a good start would be to recreate some famous logos to showcase your skills. 

Having an online portfolio will help you present yourself as professionally as possible. Your online portfolio will also help potential clients or employers see if your work style matches what they are looking for. 

So, consider your online portfolio as your additional CV. It is also common for graphic designers to carry digital versions of their portfolios and have them ready to go if needed during a job interview. 

6. Get Some Work Experience

Image Source: Marvin Meyer

Now that you have your portfolio ready, it is time to showcase it and get some work experience by applying for entry-level positions. It doesn’t matter if it is a paid job or internship since the experience you get from them will be valuable to you in the long term, especially if you are starting out and need someone to vouch for you or write a reference letter. 

Even if you pursue a degree in graphic design and real-world experience or an internship is not required, it is always recommended to get some work experience.

By doing so, you will also be able to add your new creations to your portfolio. You will also form professional relationships with other graphic designers, art directors, motion designers, creative team, design team, and be part of the design community. 

7. Learn Professional Copywriting

Many may overlook this step, but it is a great skill to have as a graphic designer. As a graphic designer, your primary focus should be all the design elements. However, any copy you use on your designs plays a significant role in how your work is perceived.

If you work in a company and always have copywriters doing the writing and checking the copy for you, you can be more “free” to make mistakes. However, if you are a freelancer or self-employed, you will need to have excellent communication skills. 

You will not always have the luxury of relying on a copywriter or someone that can edit or check your copy for any grammar mistakes. That is why it is always helpful to work on copywriting skills early on. Graphic designers with solid writing skills always have an advantage over those who keep using “lorem ipsum” placeholder text. 

Excellent copywriting skills for a graphic designer do not mean knowing how to write short or long-form copy. It simply means writing brief descriptions, one-liners, calls to action, headers, and so on. It also means that you have to be extra careful with typos and grammar mistakes and reflect the voice of any brand you are promoting. 

8. Stay Up to Date with Current Design Trends

Biggest web design trends

Biggest web design trends designed by Lily for Fireart Studio. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

Graphic design is a constantly changing field that keeps developing and evolving every year. While this is a great thing, it also means that you, as a graphic designer, will have to keep up with the new trends that come up each year. 

One simple way to keep up with the current visual trends is to follow well-known graphic designers or pay attention to your fellow graphic designers. Prospective clients and employers are always looking for graphic designers who don’t stick up to the same style their entire design career but try to adapt and evolve every year. 

Staying up to date with current graphic design trends also means using new and updated graphic design software programs or any other online program. 

9. Choose an Area of Specialization

If you want to work for an agency and have some certainty over your annual salary, you should consider a degree program geared toward the graphic design industry. An undergraduate degree won’t be enough to land you a creative director job right away, but a graphic design education can help boost your likelihood of beating the median salary.

Although this is not a requirement, (lots of freelance designers are very successful) it is always helpful for you and your clients to know which area you are specialized in. That does not mean that you should focus on only one area and leave other graphic design areas unexplored. 

It simply means to find out in which area you are the best at and brand yourself as the best one in that particular area. Maybe you are talented when it comes to logo design, motion graphics, or web design, and so on. 

Having a niche will help you set yourself apart from other graphic designers and convince companies or clients why they should hire you instead of others specialized in that area. 

10. Never Stop Learning 

Image Source: Windows

Even if you are not pursuing a college degree in graphic design right now, it is essential to stay in the “student” mode and never stop learning. Even if you are well established in your graphic design career, pushing your design skill and exploring new trends is always valuable.

Yes, following the latest trends is always recommended. But you don’t have to stay a follower your whole career. You can also be original, create new design concepts on your own, and hope that your work and evolving style will inspire others. 

If you decide to get a college education in graphic design later, you can also do that. It is never too late to go back to school. However, your level of education in this field should never stop you from building a career in graphic design. Practical experience will always set you apart from the ones that have a formal education but lack experience in the graphic design field.  

The steps we mentioned in this list are just some simple steps to take once you decide to follow a career in graphic design. The majority of these tips are helpful for both freelance graphic designers, agency graphic designers, or in-house graphic designers. Here are 14 graphic design tips to make you a better designer as well as Vectornator's 12 best graphic design examples to help you get started.

So take your first steps into becoming a graphic designer today! And don't forget to download Vectornator to get started!

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