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How To Become a Graphic Designer [2023 Career Guide]
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How To Become a Graphic Designer [2024 Career Guide]

12 minute read | February 13, 2023
Sakshi Gupta

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Sakshi Gupta

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Graphic designers play a key role in determining the success of any business, no matter the industry, and perhaps that’s why it’s consistently listed as one of the best careers for creative and artist types. 

But given that it’s such a popular career choice, there’s a lot of competition too. And that isn’t expected to change soon—in the next decade, the number of openings is only expected to grow by 3%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

So if you’re interested in a career in graphic design, you may be wondering: how do I stand out from the competition? 

That’s why we’ve created this guide. Below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about becoming a graphic designer. We’ll also tell you about successful graphic designers and their journeys.  

Is It Easy To Become a Graphic Designer?

It’s easy to find learning materials on graphic design and areas such as visual communication, print design, and motion graphics online. But if you are to break into this creative industry, you’ll need a solid understanding of art and design, as well as how to employ that in a professional environment. 

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

A graphic designer produces designs that inform, entertain, and capture the attention of consumers. 

Here are a few specific tasks that graphic designers might be given: 

  • Conceptualize and create visual assets for a digital marketing campaign 
  • Design the logo for a new company 
  • Create the icons for a website 
  • Design the cover for a book 
  • Produce images and visual assets to go along with the text in a presentation

How To Become a Graphic Designer

How To Become a Graphic Designer

Graphic design is a field that requires both a strong theoretical foundation in design, as well as a practical understanding of the tools of the trade. In this section, we’ll take a look at the graphic design skills you’ll need and how to use these skills to impress potential employers.

  1. Complete a Course

  2. Learn the Basics

  3. Make Time for Learning, Training, and Education

  4. Learn the Essential Tools

  5. Hone the Requisite Skills

  6. Build a Strong Portfolio With Volunteer, Freelance, and Sample Projects

  7. Build Your Network and Get Involved With the Community

  8. Consider a Graphic Design Internship

  9. Consider a Niche Based on Your Interests

  10. Build Your Resume and Start Applying for Roles

Complete a Course

If you are confident that design is something you want to pursue, or if you want to know more about design before a decision, an online course can be a great starting point. An Introduction to Design course can be really useful if you’re a beginner, while a UI/UX design bootcamp is a great way to specialize if you already have basic design skills.

Learn the Basics

If you want to be a graphic designer, you’ll need to start by gaining a basic understanding of the field. Digital design might seem like a straightforward term, but it’s important that prospective graphic designers understand what that actually means.

Start by learning about the basics of design theory. This will give you the foundational theory that you’ll apply in all your work. Then, you can wrap your head around the professional aspects better by understanding digital design and the different types of design, such as visual design, interaction design, and brochure design. 

Make Time for Learning, Training, and Education

If you’ve decided that you want to pursue a career in graphic design, then you have a few choices when it comes to getting an education. 

Formal Education / University Degree

The most common way to learn graphic design is by getting a college degree. This is a safe bet and will give you a broad overview of a whole slew of subjects within the design. 

That said, a college education is a big investment, in terms of both time and money. So you should be absolutely certain that you want to work in graphic design if you’re going to take this path. 

Bootcamp/Course

If getting a college degree isn’t feasible, there are various courses and bootcamps in graphic design that you can take. The advantage of doing a bootcamp is that they’re much quicker than getting a degree and you can focus on the specific area of design that you’re interested in. Another upside is that most bootcamps offer career services and some even give you a job guarantee. 

Self-Taught Route

Here are a few resources that you can use to learn graphic design on your own: 

  • Online Courses: There are various graphic design courses and certifications that teach you design thinking and practical graphic design skills. 
  • YouTube Videos: Channels like Yes, I’m A Designer and The Futur offer invaluable insights into the graphic design industry, and the best part is that most of their content is freely available. 
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  • Blogs: Here’s a list of graphic design blogs that you can follow to keep up with the latest in the industry and find pieces to inspire your own work. 

Learn the Essential Tools

how to become a graphic designer, Learn the Essential Tools

Most graphic design job descriptions ask for proficiency in at least one specific design tool. You can’t master them all, so you should learn a design software based on your areas of interest. Here are some of the most popular design tools out there: 

Adobe Photoshop

Not just a verb, Photoshop is one of the most commonly used tools by graphic designers. If you’re not sure exactly which discipline within graphic design you want to focus on, then this is a great place to start, as it’s expected that virtually all graphic designers know how to use it. 

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is used to produce all kinds of layouts. If you’ve ever seen a layout that combines text and images as you do in magazines, brochures, newspapers, and books, there’s a good chance it was produced using InDesign. 

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is a software for designers who like to create art themselves. If you’re somebody who likes to draw and wants to see those drawings turned into digital art, then Illustrator is the software for you. It is used to produce vector graphics that can easily be scaled up or down based on screen size. 

CorelDRAW

CorelDRAW is a software that’s used to create and manipulate vector graphics. CorelDRAW treats its vector graphics as packages where each element of the graphic is a separate object. So you can manipulate these objects individually within a vector graphic and make adjustments, such as changing the color balance, adding borders, and so on. 

Figma

Interface design is a branch of graphic design that focuses on designing interactive applications such as mobile screens. Figma is a tool that’s used specifically for interface design purposes. An added advantage of the tool is that it supports collaboration and makes it easy to create and edit designs as a team. 

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is another vector graphics editing software. The software is supported on both macOS and Microsoft Windows. It allows you to import files from tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, and turn them into vector formats. 

Hone the Requisite Skills

Hone the Requisite Skills, how to become a graphic designer

Now that you’re aware of the basics of the graphic design field and are familiar with the tools of the trade, it’s time to pick up skills that you’ll need. 

Technical Skills

Here are some of the technical skills that you should have under your belt so that you can become proficient as a graphic designer: 

  • Specialize in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or InDesign 
  • Learn how to code in HTML so you understand how webpages are structured and designed
  • Study digital typography so you know how text can contribute to a design experience
  • Understand the basics of user experience design so that you know how graphic design can contribute to a holistic user experience 
  • Print is still relevant today, so familiarize yourself with the basics of print design and producing physical layouts

Soft Skills

Graphic design will also test your ability to think outside the box and work with people from various other departments. Here are some of the soft skills you should inculcate over time. 

  • Creativity 
  • Communication skills 
  • Time management 
  • Problem-solving 

Build a Strong Portfolio With Volunteer, Freelance, and Sample Projects

Graphic design is one of those fields where your portfolio is arguably more important than your resume. Little else matters if you can demonstrate that you can make good work. 

The easiest way to start off building a professional portfolio is by creating sample projects. You can conceive of a website, magazine, or product, and then create graphic assets for it. 

Then, you can start work as a freelance graphic designer. Assuming such a role will give you the freedom to work for clients who are doing the kind of work that you’re interested in without being thrust into a hectic work environment. 

Finally, you can also volunteer at organizations that are looking for pro bono support. This can be a way to contribute to a cause that you believe in and work on projects that you can add to your online portfolio.

Get To Know Other Design Students

Janessa Poole

Janessa Poole

Content Designer at Reforge

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Trixy Woodhouse

Trixy Woodhouse

UX Designer at Nike

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Volkan Kantar

Volkan Kantar

UX Designer at Microsoft

Read Story

Build Your Network and Get Involved With the Community

Landing a job as a graphic designer is way easier when you know the right people. Here are a few ways you can go about making key connections in the industry:

LinkedIn

LinkedIn makes it simple to look for recruiters looking for graphic designers. Nurture your profile on a daily basis and build rapport by liking posts, leaving comments, and then getting to know others in the industry. 

Online Communities 

There are various online graphic design communities and job boards that can help you meet others in the industry. Remember that every community has its own rules and best practices. Make sure that you understand how each of them works before throwing yourself into the community. 

Conferences and In-Person Meet-Ups

Most sizable cities and towns usually have graphic design meetups or annual conferences that serve as a community for designers. You might even consider traveling to these since they can be a good investment if you’re looking to meet experts in the field and quickly make new connections. 

Consider a Graphic Design Internship

A lot of companies tend to offer internships as part of their graphic design program. You should keep an eye out for these internships and apply to them when they surface. Internships are a great way to dip your toes into a professional setting and give you the opportunity to land a job as an entry-level designer. 

Consider a Niche Based on Your Interests

Graphic designers are a lot like doctors in the sense that eventually they have to choose a specialization. The niche that you choose is completely up to you. For example, you can choose to transition to being a motion designer if you enjoy animation, or work in identity design if you’re interested in branding. The important thing is that you take some time to reflect on what you enjoy doing and spend time building skills in that area. 

Build Your Resume and Start Applying for Roles

When it comes to entry-level positions, recruiters are usually looking for candidates who have a strong portfolio that shows that they’re passionate about a creative career. You can find open roles on websites like LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter, but also make sure to tap your network to see if you can be referred to an open role. 

Requirements To Become a Graphic Designer: A Quick Overview

Requirements To Become a Graphic Designer A Quick Overview

Here’s a summary of the bases you’ll need to cover to go from graphic design novice to landing a job in the field. 

Foundational Knowledge

This covers the very basics of graphic design. You’ll go about gaining an understanding of what the field is all about and the principles that graphic designers use to produce aesthetic designs. You might also try your hand at some basic design to cement your understanding of the new concepts that you’re learning. 

Education and Qualifications

While you can pursue a degree in graphic design, don’t forget that you also have the option of completing a bootcamp to fast-track your learning in the field. Companies are open to hiring candidates on the basis of the bootcamps they’ve completed if they have a portfolio of work to accompany that. 

Skills and Tools

The mix of tools that you use will depend on your area of expertise and what your company prescribes. While the tools may differ, the specific skills that you use—such as typography, image manipulation, user experience, and user interface design—remain universal. 

Other Prerequisites

Remember that communication skills are key if you want to succeed as a graphic designer. You should know how to convey messages to an audience in an engaging, informative manner. Along with that, you should also be able to collaborate with teammates and communicate well with developers, project managers, and branding specialists. 

Career Transitioning to Graphic Design: Where To Start

Career Transitioning to Graphic Design Where To Start

If you’re looking to make a career change into graphic design, here are a few different ways that you can do that: 

Related Career Transition

Professions branding specialist and illustrator are both related to graphic design. That makes it easy to transition into the field because you already have some skills that are required. The main thing that you need to do is focus on filling any gaps in your skillset and see if you can make a lateral move within your company into a graphic design role. 

Unrelated Career Transition

It’s tougher to break into graphic design if you’re coming from a completely unrelated field. In that case, you should start by focusing on building foundation skills and a portfolio of personal projects. Only once you have a wide-ranging portfolio should you start applying for internships or entry-level positions in graphic design. 

Freelancing

The advantage of the freelance route is that you don’t need to impress a recruiter or manager to land a job. You can simply apply to freelance positions using your graphic design resume and portfolio. But you should know that being a freelancer basically implies running a business, and you’re responsible for finding clients, managing projects, and tracking expenses. 

Becoming a Graphic Designer: Real-Life Examples To Learn From

Becoming a Graphic Designer Real-Life Examples To Learn From

Here are a couple of graphic designers whose journey can serve as inspiration for your own. 

Example 1: Abi Connick

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Abi Connick broke into the graphic design industry without a degree in the field. She now has a thriving career as a graphic designer and a YouTube channel with over 160,000 subscribers where she helps budding designers find their feet. You can follow her channel for tutorials on basic design principles, packaging design, and using different graphic design tools. 

Example 2: Jack Bibb

Jack Bibb’s story is a great example of how much an internship can accelerate your learning process. He started his internship in a content marketing team but ended up picking up key skills in graphic design. His journey goes to show that having a growth mindset and learning in a professional environment can take you a long way as a graphic designer. 

How Much Can You Earn as a Graphic Designer?

Now let’s take a look at how much you can expect to make as a graphic designer at different stages in your career. 

Junior Graphic Designer

The average salary for junior graphic designers in the US is $48,237

Junior Graphic Designer, average salary

Mid-Level Graphic Designer

Graphic designers in the middle of their careers have a median salary of $66,201

Mid-Level Graphic Designer, median salary

Senior Graphic Designer

Senior graphic designers make a median salary of $81,202

Senior Graphic Designer, median salary

Freelance Graphic Designer

Freelance graphic designers make $58,437 per year on average. 

How To Become a Graphic Designer FAQs

We’ve got the answers to your most frequently asked questions:

Are Graphic Designers in Demand?

Yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2021 and 2031, almost 7000 new graphic design jobs will be added.

Is Graphic Design the Right Career Choice for Me?

Graphic design can be the right career choice for you if you have an interest in studying design principles, and also have the ability to work with industry-standard design tools. It’s also important to inculcate soft skills like creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving.

Is Graphic Design a High-Paying Job?

Graphic design can be a high-paying job. The average salary in the field ranges from $55,000 to $85,000, but you can make significantly more in higher-paying roles in the industry.

Can I Become a Graphic Designer Without a Degree?

Yes, you can become a graphic designer without a degree. Companies now accept candidates who have completed bootcamps or are self-taught. In either case, it’s important that you build up a portfolio of projects that showcase your skills.

Can I Learn Graphic Design on My Own?

Yes. The Internet is full of free or paid courses that you can complete to pick up requisite skills in the field.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Graphic Designer?

The amount of time it takes will depend on your mode of learning and your own abilities. Many bootcamps will take you from novice to job-ready in about six months. You should give yourself at least that much time if you’re self-learning graphic design. A college degree in graphic design takes four years but will give you skills in a wide range of subjects and tools in the field.

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About Sakshi Gupta

Sakshi is a Managing Editor at Springboard. She is a technology enthusiast who loves to read and write about emerging tech. She is a content marketer with experience in the Indian and US markets.