How To Become A Graphic Designer Without A Degree

Last Updated on February 7, 2022

A design degree can seem like the best and safest option to kickstart a career in graphic designer, providing both a foundation in skills theory and the relevant qualifications needed to get a job. But it’s not the only route into the industry. In fact, many junior designer roles are hired based on portfolio and experience as much as qualifications.

Accessing the right information on the internet might not be easy sometimes, that’s why we bring you in the article below, the best and latest information on graphic designer salary, what to learn to become a graphic designer, how to become a graphic designer online, graphic design jobs without degree. Read on to know more.

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How To Become A Graphic Designer Without A Degree

1. Take time to specialise

Graphic design is a broad industry that encompasses many specialities. While a graphic design degree may set you up with a foundation in the theory of many of these areas, if you don’t go down the degree route, you can focus your attentions on a specific niche or specialty: 

Developing a deeper knowledge of a specific skillset could give you a competitive advantage when it comes to applying for jobs.

Logo design is one area that is always in high demand and suits those who enjoy the communication theory behind consumer behaviour. If your personal interests lie more in tech than pencil and paper, then mobile app and website design are two other niches where a specialisation could set you up for success. 

Attending local hackathon or startup events is a great way to get some valuable experience in this side of the industry.

2. Master the software

Whether you enjoy it or not, you can’t fully escape technology in the professional design world – so it’s a good idea to start mastering it now. Even designers who prefer to work in traditional materials will often have to use online systems to make digital copies or work on project edits remotely.

  • Get Adobe Creative Cloud now 

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are the two obvious software choices (as well as InDesign for those who plan to work in print). A strong understanding of one or both is a real asset when a design degree is missing. 

Luckily, there are ways to self-teach or learn online when it comes to both. PSDTuts and TutsPlus offer some of the most popular in-depth tutorials, but there are many more to choose from. Take a look at our roundup of Photoshop tutorials to get started.

3. Invest in the tools

Your computer and its software will be two of the key components of your professional graphic design work, regardless of whether your do a degree or not. Software like Photoshop can require significant speed and space from an operating system, so it’s a good idea to invest in an up-to-date computer. 

The biggest challenge tends to be choosing between a PC or Mac. Mac is most commonly used among professionals and in design agencies, but the purchase ultimately comes down to budget and personal choice.

4. Learn how to write

OK, this might seem off topic, but a designer’s job is about more than looking after the pictures or making things look aesthetically good. A great designer will also have some skill with copywriting, and understands that good design is about the correlation between imagery, colours and language.

There are plenty of online blogs and traditional design books dedicated to writing for design so get to know the basics and try replacing that ‘Lorem Ipsum’ text in your next design drafts.

5. Develop your style

Style can often be the differentiating factor in becoming a successful graphic designer, whether that means securing an in-house role or building your own freelance business. Of course your own personal preference will take time to come to the fore, as you practice with different styles. 

However, when you do start to find your style groove – that area where what you’re best at meets what you prefer to work on – that’s the time to start honing it. A good way to practice your style is to take other people’s work and recreate it as your own version. Then you can move on to creating projects from scratch in your style.

6. Build an online portfolio

While this article explains the many ways you don’t necessarily need a degree to work in graphic design, one thing there is no workaround for is the need for a design portfolio. It can feel frustrating building a portfolio from scratch, without the educational projects or work experience to fill it.

One way to show both design theory and showcase your designs at the same time is to take poorly designed logos, websites or posters, and place them beside your own, improved versions. Then you can explain the issues and why your design is more effective. Just remember to keep only your best work for the portfolio showcase, and clearly state that it’s an unsolicited redesign.

As for whether your portfolio should be in paper form or online again, is a personal decision, however you would be advised to put some ‘shop front’ on the internet, even if it’s only a selection of your work. A huge amount of networking and inspiration in the industry comes from online sites like Dribble and Behance and a website is an easy business card to reach a marketplace of millions.

7. Get to grips with user experience

User experience in design (often referred to as UX) is the process of creating products that have been designed with both usability and user pleasure in mind. That means it incorporates elements of branding and design as much as practical usability and function.

This is an important area for designers to understand, as they will often be designing graphically alongside web designers or app builders for example, who will expect the designs to reflect important concepts like designing for screen, eliciting emotional responses and ease of use.

8. Learn the business of design

Graphic design is a creative job, but like all professions it operates within a business environment. That means there are skills you can bring to a role in the industry that lie outside the theoretical or practical teachings of a degree course. 

Skills like client negotiations, designing to briefs or writing business development proposals, as well as learning how design work is costed, how the time is tracked or the elements that go into design contracts. 

A lot of this can be learned online by reading design blogs and by keeping up to date with the latest advice for people who work creatively with clients.

9. Don’t forget the theory

All of this practical experience and industry research will go a long way to helping you compete with design degree graduates. However, it would be foolish to think that not studying a degree means ignoring theory altogether. 

Understanding design principles remains important and many of them can be self-taught through reading and research. You can break the theories down into categories and start small, with colour theory for example. Or you could look to a more structured course such as the TutsPlus graphic design self-study course.

10. Get a job as a designer

In order to take your own knowledge, skills and portfolio to the next level, it will eventually become necessary for you to gain real world work experience. This may seem like a chicken and egg scenario (a job without experience, experience without a job) but there are creative ways to find these opportunities, even at the early stage of your career.

Researching companies you may be interested in working for, connecting with people through networking sites like LinkedIn, pitching for internships or mentoring, are all ways of getting noticed and gaining industry experience. But there are many more.

Similarly, there are online jobs boards where you could pitch for freelance projects, such as Fiverr or Upwork, and there is always the option to pitch a project yourself to a voluntary organisation, a friend’s business or a local shop.

how to become a graphic designer online

How To Become a Graphic Designer | NewSchool

How to Become a Graphic Designer in 5 Steps:

  1. Learn graphic design principles
  2. Enroll in a graphic design course
  3. Learn key graphic design tools
  4. Work on your own projects to develop your graphic design skills
  5. Develop a portfolio to showcase your graphic design work


Learn Graphic Design Principles

To become a Graphic Designer, you first need a solid understanding of the principles of graphic design. Good design is carefully crafted. It involves a lot of planning and requires an expertise in applying design theory and principles. Graphic Designers need to consider elements such as lines, color, shape, space, texture, typography, scale, dominance and emphasis, and harmony. All of these elements impact a design and can shape how an audience feels.


Enroll In a Graphic Design Course

A graphic design course teaches you the fundamentals of design and helps you build your skills through working on projects. Graphic design courses will also introduce you to mentors and peers, who will be invaluable as you grow your network. Most graphic design courses will cover topics such as color theory, typography, layout, and graphic design tools and software. Depending on the depth, some courses will also teach you about graphic design history, user experience(UX), and website design principles.

There are a variety of options available, from structured academic courses to online courses that offer more flexibility. Find one that works with your schedule and learning preferences.


Learn Key Graphic Design Tools

There are a variety of tools that Graphic Designers use. Most commonly, they work with graphic design software. Adobe Creative Suite is the standard for most Graphic Designers. You will want to become familiar with PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign, as the majority of design work can be created through these tools. There are many user guides and training resources widely available. To get started, you may want to take a look through Adobe’s series of tutorials.


Work On Your Own Projects to Develop Your Graphic Design Skills

After you’re equipped with knowledge on graphic design principles and tools, it’s time to practice. The best way to grow your skills and master graphic design software is to work on your own design projects. To get started, you can create mock ads and logos for real or made-up companies. You can also take a company’s existing designs and try creating a new design — this is good practice for identifying and designing for target audiences. Another option is to volunteer with local non-profits or brands. Offer your design skills to these organizations so you get more practice, as well as gain real-world experience.


Develop a Portfolio to Showcase Your Graphic Design Work

A strong portfolio is essential for any Graphic Designer. Your portfolio can include projects you completed for a course, as well as personal or work projects. Focus on quality over quantity. Your portfolio is the first impression that potential employers or clients will see, so select work that demonstrates your design skills and interests.

how to get a graphic design job without experience

This article will help you know some important tips that can convert your dreams of becoming a successful graphic designer into reality. Note that this is not an automatic approach. You must put in your best – your determination, passion, vigor, – to stand a chance of soaring high.

1. Join design bodies and be a volunteer if possible

As a design student, you enjoy a discounted price if you join graphic design organizations. The essence of this great step is for you to meet with like minds, interact with them and maintain a healthy networking system. Taking part in design organizations will present you an avenue to have a good understanding of the field, the chance to have discussions with inspiring people, and to know the top guys in the industry.

What you stand to benefit from design organizations are tremendous. Take the opportunity of all the advice, offer, and knowledge, and make yourself active. Among other organizations one to join is AIGA.

2. Get internships

Doing an internship in a reputable design studio that has all the apparatus, and experienced designers, can be memorable and valuable throughout your graphic design career. There are a bunch of things to learn – you will know how design organizations operate, understand how to deal with clients, how to manage your time in time-sensitive projects, and much more. In some cases, you may be lucky to be retained by the company, gain more skills, and start your career.

3. Work for charities

An intelligent way to begin a network base, get noticed, and add good work to your portfolio is by offering your design prowess to charities in your area. By doing this, you are not only selling yourself but also helping the community with your work. These projects could be for both non-profit and for-profit organizations. Visit local galleries around you, animal shelters, businesses, etc. – do work that’s special to you and offer it to them without a fee.

4. Send fan mail

As humans, it gladdens our heart when we receive notes from admirers. In the design industry, this goes a long way in lifting the spirits and strengthening us. In this way, you can make it known to your design idols that you respect their impact in the industry.

There are many opportunities you stand to enjoy when you send genuine emails to people that matter most to you. Who knows, you may be lucky enough that one of them is looking for a person to fill a vacant position in their organization, and your skills match the requirements. You know that feeling when you work with someone whom you admire? It is definitely out of this world, because you’re going to work hard to be like them.

Of course, you are not going to get this always, so don’t feel disappointed if you don’t hear from them immediately. Keep the spirit alive by sending follow-up materials to show your recent work. This will serve as a reminder to the recipients, and make them interested in you in case of any available opportunity.

5. Support a network of peers

Often, we see our peers as rivals or competitors. This shouldn’t be the case. Instead, we should collaborate and support their work. There are great benefits attached to nurturing a network of peers. The project a colleague of yours may ignore due to a tight schedule or low budget can be a nice bargain for you. If you execute the project, you are not only benefiting from the monetary reward, but also building your portfolio which will eventually lead to bigger opportunities.

If you get blessed with other relevant skills that fit in the art industry, such as photography skills, you can blend it with your design skills. This can lead to opportunities that will announce your work to the world. Put your best pieces together in a well-presentable and elegant format (either PDF or print format), and be ready to send them out through emails to agencies you have an interest in working with.

7. Have an online presence

The world has gone digital, and for any business to thrive, it must have an online presence. You need to keep up with people around the world, and express yourself to them through your work. When we talk about creating an online presence, it is not limited to just having a Twitter handle or Facebook account. Prospective employers would expect to see a website or blog of your own, or use online portfolio services like Behance.

8. Be nice, be humble, be bold

These three features have a crucial role to play if you want to be successful as a designer. Regardless of whether we are engaged in offline or online work, we need human connections to climb the ladder of success. You have to be genuinely humble and friendly because they have a lot to play in building a relationship with other people. Clients are always compelled to come back for more business if they get treated nicely.

The bottom line of all these is building good relationships and communication, because they are the core of any profession. You can’t do without it.

9. Start working on personal projects

The key word for designers is “Creativity.” Since you are creative, there are 1001 things you can do. If the jobs are not forthcoming at the beginning, take your time and create your own amazing projects while waiting.

Share your day between finding conventional ways of showcasing your work to the world, and also building your work. This could be in the form of postcards, E-books, CMS themes, free distribution of great pack icons, or any other thing that can get you running.

It is quite risky to do personal projects, but it is worth it. There are advantages of creating opportunities yourself. You have all the tools needed to connect with colleagues, friends, and people with like-minds. The internet has made things much easier for us today, so seize every opportunity that comes your way, and use them to the fullest.

10. Keep pushing

The last tip on the list is a summation of every other tip mentioned above: Keep going forward. Keep up your good work of emailing, calling, networking, or other things you do. Don’t get discouraged or take rejection personally. Remember, the difficult part of a thing lies at the beginning. Stay positive, and believe that your opportunity will come.

graphic designer salary

The average Graphic Designer salary in the United States is $97,866 as of December 27, 2021. The range for our most popular Graphic Designer positions (listed below) typically falls between $49,590 and $146,143. Keep in mind that salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including position, education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.

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