How to Become a Graphic Designer

Last Updated on January 19, 2022

Being a graphic designer requires a good learning foundation to succeed in the industry. But how do you start? Everything from finding a school to finding a job can be challenging. But I’m going to make it easier for you! In this article, I’ve compiled plenty of information that will help you take that next step in your life.

Read on to find out more about, how to become a professional graphic designer, how to become a graphics designer, how to become a graphic designer pdf, how to become a good graphic designer.

What does a graphic designer do?

  • discussing the requirements of the project (the brief) with clients and colleagues
  • providing costs for the project
  • choosing the most suitable materials and style
  • producing rough sketches or computer visuals to show the client
  • using specialist computer software to prepare designs
  • producing a final layout with exact specifications for typefaces, letter size and colours
  • working to budgets and deadlines

How To Become A Graphic Designer

If you find yourself daydreaming about designs or creating designs in your spare time, then a career in graphic design may be for you. You can start with these Steps on How to Become a Graphic Designer on how to get started graphic design by training yourself in graphic design or get a formal education. Volunteer your services at a local charity or apply for an internship to obtain the necessary work experience. Make sure to create a portfolio that showcases your best work. Then submit your portfolio to local marketing and ad agencies to obtain a job.

how to become a professional graphic designer


It never hurts to start early in any field, but it is particularly important when it comes to graphic design. While in high school, students should take classes in art history, drawing, graphic arts and website design. They can put their emerging skills to use designing and producing the school newspaper or yearbook. Graphic design requires a good eye and a creative mind, but also tantamount are the development of solid practical skills and software fluency. The sooner the student begins preparations, the better.


There was a time when a graphic designer could get hired strictly on their creative portfolio. Today, however, most employers are looking for designers with a more complete and well-rounded education – the kind only a college degree can provide. A certificate in the field, or an associate’s degree, may be sufficient in some cases, but the U.S. Department of Labor reports that fledgling designers are much more likely to land a quality job only after earning a bachelor’s degree.

There are currently approximately 300 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. that offer degree programs accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. School options run the gamut from large public universities, to small private colleges, to prestigious art institutes. There are also a growing number of online programs available. Coursework covers a wide range of subjects, such as studio art, principles of design, commercial graphics, web design, advertising and graphics-related computer technology. Classes in marketing and business may be part of the curriculum as well, since designers must be able to compile and submit professional job proposals, and effectively sell themselves to potential clients.

Regardless of the specific degree they choose, graphic design students should look for an accredited program from a reputable school.


Not all college programs in graphic design require internships, but those that do offer students an exceptional opportunity to gain practical experience, to form professional relationships in the design community, and complete work suitable for presentation in their portfolio or design “book”.


While a solid resume is an important aspect of any job search, the biggest asset to someone looking for a job in graphic design is an impressive portfolio. Though graphic designers will need a resume, the only way for a prospective employer to understand an applicant’s abilities is through a portfolio demonstrating a range of work and growth as a designer.

There was a time when a graphic design portfolio was a simple collection of a designer’s best newspaper and magazine advertisements. Professional portfolios today are much more sophisticated, consisting not only of print ads, but also including online advertisements, website graphics, and even a television commercial reel and animation demo. It is not uncommon for job seekers today to carry fully digital versions of their portfolio on CD or DVD with them to interviews – along with the more traditional paper version – and many designers also maintain their own up-to-date design portfolio websites.

For students just starting out, presenting a large and varied portfolio is difficult given the limited amount of completed work they’ll have done. In that case, they should focus on quality instead of quantity, presenting only their best design samples, and a portfolio arranged to meet a prospective employer’s specific needs.


Graphic design is a constantly changing and developing field. Designers must keep up with the commercial and artistic trends in the industry – or they may find themselves quickly left behind. They must also remain current on new and updated computer graphics and design software programs, which are in a near constant state of evolution. This is particularly true for designers working as freelancers, and for those interested in advancing to higher positions within their companies. Organizations such as the American Institute of Graphic Arts or the Graphic Artists Guild provide members with educational updates on new technology, software or methodology. Completing certification programs in vendor-specific design software can also help build credentials.


Graphic designers may choose to advance their skills, creativity and deep knowledge of the field by adding a graduate degree or post-secondary certificate. There are master’s degree programs created specifically for designers wishing to advance in theoretical studies (MA) or concentrate their work on a studio degree (MFA).

how to become a good graphic designer

To become a graphic designer, you will need to have IT and drawing skills. You’ll need to be able to find practical solutions to problems. You’ll also need excellent communication skills.

Most professional graphic designers have a foundation degree, HND or degree in graphic design or other art and design-based subject. You will also need a working knowledge of desktop design software, such as Illustrator, InDesign or QuarkXPress, and image-editing packages such as Photoshop. You can do courses in these at colleges, private training providers and through self-study.

An employer will be as interested in your design skills and creative ideas as they are in your qualifications. Talent and personal contacts (networking) are very important for getting work. You will need to have an up-to-date portfolio to show potential employers what you can do. Don’t be afraid to use your design skills (where appropriate) to make your CV stand out.

Unpaid work experience, holiday jobs and internships will give you the chance to develop your portfolio, make contacts and impress employers. You could also create a website to showcase your work.

Competition for jobs is strong and not all jobs are advertised, so as well as building contacts, you could approach companies and design agencies directly. A good starting point is to search for design agencies in the design directory of the British Design Innovation website.

You may be able to become a junior graphic designer through an apprenticeship scheme. You will need to check which schemes are available in your area. 

Graphic Design Salaries

Graphic Design Salaries are variable across the country, based on factors including experience, education, type of employer and geographical location. According to the BLS, the median national annual wage for graphic designers in 2014 was $45,900, while the top 10 percent of graphic designers earned over $77,490. Graphic designers with the highest salaries are generally those with advanced training and who work for specialized design firms. reports that the cities of San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York pay the highest salaries, with San Francisco graphic artists earning a median wage of $54,711. Self-employed designers earn up to $20,000 more per year than those working in other settings, according to Payscale.

Teach Yourself Graphic Design

Fortunately, it isn’t required to go to design school in order to be a graphic designer. A good foundation in graphic design history, theory, and practical application will help you hit the ground running. There are plenty of resources available in which you can learn graphic design on your own. Don’t set your expectations to high at first, as it will take enthusiastic study for years to become great. You can teach Yourself Graphic Design!

If you would like to learn graphic design from the ground up, through self directed study, then this article lists some great resources that will get you started with your design education. Also, even if you do go to design school, at least three-fifths of your education will be through self directed study anyway. 

Before we jump in, note that this post is brought to you by Envato Market. If you’d like to earn a solid side income from your design skills, you can sell graphics of all types or learn to build site themes. It’s a great way to get some real experience in the marketplace. In this article, we mention additional paths to explore earning an income with your design skill, after you’ve mastered the basics. You can also offer your skills as a designer on Envato Studio.

Now, let’s get to graphic design step-by step

1. Understanding the Principles and Theory of Graphic Design

There are a few graphic design principles that effect every project you’ll create. Understanding these principles conceptually and learning to apply them practically will formulate the foundation of your graphic design education. Let’s take a look at the basic areas you should study to get a solid footing in graphic design.


Shape, Spacing, and Rhythm

I remember first learning these basic design principles, and they seamed so foreign at first. It took me quite some time to get comfortable with these techniques. In school we did a beginner project that consisted of drawing triangles, just to communicate emotion through placement, shape and spacing alone. Below are some good resources on these principles.

  • The Principles of Design by Joshua David McClurg-Genevese
  • What is Graphic Design? Overview, Basics of Design Principles, and Design Elements

Color, Texture, and Imagery

Understanding the basics of color theory is important and getting a feel for how to work with colors. Color can make areas of a design pop off the page or recede into the background. The use of texture can enhance the feel of a design. In print design texture can be the actual feel of paper or other materials. Imagery can also blend in with texture and is loaded with colors. Learning how to balance these is a delicate craft that will take some practice to apply well. Here are some resources on using color, texture, and imagery in graphic design:

  • Principles of Color Design by Wucius Wong
  • Texture in Graphic Design
  • The Basics of Graphic Design

Working with Type

Your ability to use type is one of the things that differentiates graphic design from other visual professions. A big part of graphic design is understanding typography, developing your knowledge of typefaces, and how to apply them in your design. This will be a constant study throughout your career. Here are a few great resources on type:

  • Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann and E.M Ginger
  • Typography Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Using Type in Graphic Design by Timothy Samara
  • A Typographic Workbook: A Primer to History, Techniques, and Artistry by Kate Clair and Cynthia Busic-Snyder
  • Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton

2. Standing Strong with a Historical Graphic Design Grounding

Philip Meggs book (see below), is a must have for every graphic design. You should read it from cover to cover. Also, as you go through spend time researching areas that interest you the most. Pick at least three areas to go into detailed study with and learn as much as you can about them. One area of interest for me is the Bauhaus, which was a graphic design and craft school founded in the early twentieth century. I find the subject captivating, probably because it combines so many of my passions: art, design, history, and education.


3. Internalize the Graphic Design Process, Conceptual Solutions, Real World Experience, and Creative Application

Graphic designers solve visual problems. The key to teaching yourself graphic design is to understand the process of solving a visual problem. This means you’ll benefit from tackling design briefs. You’ll learn to apply the skills you study by solving fictitious design problems to begin with and as you advance tackling real world problems and working with clients.


Visual and Conceptual Problem Solving

Visual and conceptual problem solving is the core of what we do as graphic designers. Clients come to us with a brief, which is a problem that needs to be solved. A new company may need to enter a specific market and come to you for a comprehensive identity solution. Or you may work at a newspaper and have to lay out a page to deadline. The problems are endless and your job is to solve these issues.

What is a visual concept? Well it’s more than a pure visual solution. It’s a unification of a graphic and an idea, which is placed in context to solve a problem. Let’s look at the example of a logo. It’s a visual mark, which represents the idea of a company, presented in the context of all the company’s identity, marketing, and history. Let’s look at some resources for developing your visual and conceptual problem solving skills for graphic designers. Keep in mind though practicing your craft will help build your visual problem solving skills.

  • Visual Literacy: A Conceptual Approach to Graphic Problem Solving by Judith Wilde and Richard Wilde
  • Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips

The Design Process

Learning to research, create thumbnails, refine sketches, work up visual solutions in programs, and present to clients are just some of the basics of the design process. Every subset of design may have a slightly different procedure, and your working methodology, or a company you work for may implement things in a somewhat unique way in their production environment. Even so, the basics remain the same. Get familiar with the design process from start to finish, and work on getting faster and better at each stage of the process on each project you work on.

  • Design Evolution: A Handbook of Basic Design Principles Applied in Contemporary Design by Tim Samara
  • My logo design process by David Airey
  • The Role of Sketching in the Design Process by Sean Hodge

Real World Graphic Design Application

A business card, like a canvas, has boundaries. A book has specific dimensions and technical print limitations. These type of practical and technical limitations are an important part of practicing the craft of graphic design. Work to learn about these technologies and build up your knowledge through real projects. You’ll learn a whole lot about print by having to get a big project printed on a budget. Also, keep in mind that creative solutions are often driven within contained creative environments. Part of the fun of graphic design is solving technical problems with creative solutions.

  • Working Within Limitations to Achieve Great Designs by Sean Hodge
  • Basic vs Applied Research in Graphic Design by Michael Kroeger

4. Consider Advanced Study and Development

Advanced study can take many different paths for each designer. You may become interested in a related field, and then mold your graphic design education to apply to that field. However, every graphic designer will benefit from advanced study and planning.

Of course, there’s no limit to the depth you can study on any subject of graphic design. Grid Theory, Graphic Information Design, and Career Planning are just a few areas to focus on. You could certainly go much deeper in other areas as well.


Grid Theory

Many areas of graphic design incorporate grid based solutions. In many ways, grid theory is advanced principles of spacing, flow, and rhythm, though applied to real projects, like laying out an entire book or website. Putting together any multi-page document will likely benefit from a grid, as it makes the design feel cohesive. Below are some resources to get started with grids.

  • Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type by Kimberly Elam
  • Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop by Timothy Samara

Graphic Information Design

While many of the principles of graphic information design are similar to graphic design, it takes on a more technical and practical approach to visual problems. Rather than looking at the concept on a billboard, a graphic information designer might analyze the proper font size to use for traffic passing the billboard at 40mph, so as to have maximum impact. It’s a blend of scientific research and practical application to visual design. Edward Tufte has written many good books on the subject, and I recommend you read them all. They are elegantly written, the layout of the books are beautiful, and the principles taught have strong, illustrative examples.

  • The Work of Edward Tufte
  • Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte

Planning Your Career

Spend some time getting acquainted with the graphic design landscape and plan your career. Graphic design is a large discipline, which is directly involved in numerous occupations. Learning the potential of the field will help you decide what you want to focus on. You may be attracted to print design, advertising, interface design, or another graphic design or related field.

5. Learn from Professional Graphic Designers

Aside from studying graphic designers throughout history, you’ll also benefit by studying contemporary designers whom you identify with. A couple designers I found inspirational while I was in design school were David Carson and Carlos Segura. Both of these designers utilize typography in intuitive, innovative, and illustrative fashions. They helped encouraged me to get expressive with my use of type, spacing, and texture. While the approach they practice in design isn’t appropriate for every project, it certainly helped develop my graphic range and ability to think illustratively through graphic design.

You may fall in love with some other approach to design. Also, you’ll go through numerous phases, where you’ll be attracted to something else in design. This is part of what’s great about the field; it’s so diverse. Don’t be afraid to emulate designers approaches on some projects. It’s a good way to learn. Then you’ll move on to something else and it will become part of your collective design experience.


6. Developing Your Proficiency, Intuition, and Flow

Part of becoming a good graphic designer is becoming one with your tools. If you can wield a pencil, and quickly sketch down conceptual solutions, then you’re a more proficient designer. Of course, when working within programs the same thing applies. If you’re a logo designer, the better you know Illustrator, the better a designer you’ll be. That’s one of the reasons why sites like Vectortuts+ are so useful.

Being proficient with your tools helps you to be able to enter an intuitive flow like state when working, but it’s more than that. The better you know design, your medium, your chosen field of focus, your toolsets, and your workflow, the easier it will be to sink into that space where decisions come easily and time disappears. This flow state is a big reason why people choose any art related field, like graphic design; they enjoy being in the flow of creating and working visually.


7. Put Together Your Portfolio and Blog

Make sure to create a portfolio (a home base with your own url), and blog regularly on what you learn as you grow as a designer.

Three things help get you hired as a graphic designer (in order of importance): your portfolio, your demonstrated experience, your ability to communicate your knowledge on graphic design. You build all three of these over time. It’s not something that happens overnight.

Your portfolio is your most important tool in marketing yourself as a graphic designer. It demonstrates your abilities to practically apply your skills. When interviewing it also holds some of the greatest weight in you being hired.

Experience takes time to grow. Someone that has worked in the field for years, run an agency, or worked with large known companies has a tremendous leg-up in the industry. Don’t get discouraged though, everyone started from ground-zero to begin with.

One of the greatest skills one learns in design school is how to talk and write about design. It’s not just being able to create something that looks cool, but being able to critically analyze a problem, apply a proven workflow to solving it, and communicate the process. In the field, this will equate to needing to sell your solutions to clients or bosses. Or when interviewing, describing how you solved a design problem.

Writing articles for your blog is a great place to practice discussing graphic design, and how you’ve solved specific design problems. It also, in itself, demonstrates your knowledge in the field. Don’t be afraid to add case studies to your blog, even for personal projects, as it’s a great way to build this analytical skill set. Through self-study, use your blog to write articles as you learn about design. This serves as a good substitute for assignments you would receive in a design class, and will compliment the design projects you do.


8. Participate in Online and Professional Graphic Design Communities

Becoming involved in the graphic design community and professional associations will increase your connections in the industry and knowledge of the field. Also, attend conferences and network whenever possible.


Join Professional Associations

A great way to learn about the workings of the graphic design profession is to join professional organizations. They run conferences, produce articles, books, and other resources. Some of these organizations work to improve the profession as a whole by lobbying and other activities.

  • AIGA
  • Graphic Artists Guild

Becoming Part of the Graphic Design Community Online

Aside from professional communities, there are loads of communities on the web that you can participate in. Below are some graphic design forums you may want to participate in.

  • How Design Forum
  • You The Designer Forums

Getting Critical Feedback Online and Promote Your Work

Interaction and critique is really important to your growth as a graphic designer. If you’re not in design school, then you need to find other places that people will tear apart your work, and that you can develop your own critical eye. The best thing for a young design is to have someone tell them why something they made isn’t well designed, and what they might do differently. This prepares you for clients doing this (gives you a thicker skin), and it helps you grow with your visual and creative problem solving abilities.

I don’t know of the perfect place on the net to find this, but try different online communities or forums. And if you can find a mentor, even someone with just one or two more years of experience than you, who is willing to critique your work, this can be invaluable. Try some of the places mentioned below and search further.

Aside from your main portfolio, it also helps to have satellite portfolios, which are submitted to portfolio communities, and where you can get feedback on your work. They are also great places to promote your work and gain new clients. Below are some communities to explore.

  • DeviantArt
  • Behance
  • Coroflot
  • Flickr

9. Keep in Mind that Graphic Design as a Discipline Doesn’t Exist in Isolation

Any study of graphic design will include some connection to related disciplines. Studying art and illustration will help develop your ability to create graphics. Studying Marketing will help you place your conceptual solutions within the context of business and consumer needs. Also, graphic design is often a part of the foundational study for related disciplines. You’ll be a much stronger web designer, if you have a solid graphic design education for example.


10. Finding Work as a Freelance Graphic Designer

Aside form landing a job directly, freelancing is a career path available for designers. There is work out there for almost all skill levels. You’ll need to work at building your portfolio, negotiating, and your business skills.

There are numerous communities and resources online that can help you grow as a freelance graphic designer, and freelancing is a great way to get a broad set of graphic design projects under your belt. It’s a great way to grow your skills and learn through real projects, as you study independently.

11. Evaluate if Self Study or Graphic Design School is Right for You

After evaluating the above steps, do some research on schools, and consider the best course of study for you. Not everyone has the financial ability or desire to go to college. Fortunately, it isn’t a prerequisite to becoming a professional designer. The biggest resource in landing a job is your ability to demonstrate your skills, done through your portfolio, and in interviews your knowledge and passion should show.

Going to design school is great, but if you’re diligent you can learn graphic design through independent study. Keep in mind, I’m not saying don’t go to college, as that decision is up to you (I went to Undergraduate school and I took some Graduate courses). Also, you may be in a position that you’re studying something else, but are passionate about graphic design. Plenty of great designers started in other fields or learned on their own.

Even while I was in design school, some of the greatest lessons I learned came from doing projects on my own, studying online, and books. A good teacher can be a great resource though and I appreciate all those that helped me learn while I was in school.

If you do plan on going to design school, then spend some time deciding on the right school for you. What school fits your budget, goals, and ability to attend. You may want to consider online professional programs as well. Or for the brave of heart, do it without formal schooling.


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