Some of the most well-known graphic designers to date are self-taught masters of their craft. Graphic design is an increasingly popular career path due to its intersection between hands-on creativity and technical skills. The demand for it among businesses is even greater as the world constantly craves newer, smarter, and more creative art to showcase brands and make memorable advertisements all around the world. If graphic design is a skillset you’ve always wanted to dive into, you’re in luck! We’ve put together a few tips to get you started on your self-taught journey:
Learn the software.
There are so many different players in the game now, it can be hard to know where to start. To keep from being overwhelmed by all the options, stick with the industry standards. In the graphic design world this would be the Adobe Creative Suite. When starting out, there are really only two programs in the Adobe CC that you should focus the bulk of your attention on– Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.
With all the different and often free sources online, there are a number of ways you can tackle learning these programs. My personal favorite is through Udemy courses. The number of courses for Illustrator and Photoshop available can make choosing an instructor difficult. My tip for narrowing this down is to make sure you look for Adobe certified instructors. These instructors will have really well detailed courses that will also ensure you don’t develop any bad habits as you build your foundation of knowledge for navigating these programs!
Learn the design fundamentals.
As you’re building your foundation in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, you’ll get the itch to start bringing your creative play power in with your developing technical skills. The best way to start blending the two worlds is to build your creative knowledge base at the same time as your technical base! How do you do this? By beginning the dive into design theory! You can start with some simple Youtube videos on the design theory behind color, composition, typography, and the like. As you figure out which areas peak your interest the most, you can dive further in with books, more online courses, and even podcasts. One of my favorite sources for diving into design theory subjects is The Futur Academy Youtube channel. It’s a channel packed with knowledge and run by design leader, Chris Do.
Play around with tutorials.
As you start to get more comfortable with the Adobe programs and your mind gets more and more excited by the ideas behind color palettes and impactful typography, you’re ready to take the next step! One of the best ways to learn new skills throughout your entire journey as a designer, is to play around with tutorials!
At the start of your career, there are an abundant amount of free, beginner-friendly design tutorials available on Youtube. For the first few times, try to follow these tutorials to a tee and produce the exact same result that the original creator did. After you get good with this, the best learning process happens when you break tutorials! It’s similar to learning how to cook from recipes and eventually getting to the point where you can open your fridge and whip up a delicious meal with whatever you have. Tutorial-based learning can serve you in the same way. Get used to the basics, understand what common formula behind all these tutorials are, and then, get creative, break the rules, and learn to use your tools at your disposal!
Do some free work.
Once you’ve gotten to a point in your skillset where you feel ready to start using your powers for good, but aren’t confident enough to ask for compensation, or even don’t have any approaching you with paid opportunities, you can do some free work. Free work was my personal gateway into launching my freelance design business and building an impressive portfolio. Find local businesses that could use a logo or website refresh. Go online and redesign some advertisements for your favorite companies. Be the first to offer to design the flyer for your brother’s local soccer tournament. It doesn’t matter the allure of the event or company behind the project. Good design is about the design and nothing else.
Reach out, collaborate, get seen, be heard.
As your portfolio of free work develops, you’ll begin feeling confident enough to start charging for your work. This is often the hardest jump for young designers starting out in their careers– from free work to paid.
The best tactic I’ve seen and used time and time again is to do everything in your power to be involved in the design community. This means having a polished, well-designed website that reflects your style and displays your portfolio. This will always be your reference point when someone asks to see your work. This means reaching out to designers on Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance, and genuinely complimenting their work and fostering relationships. This means jumping on and creating opportunities to work on projects with other designers– even if it’s something as simple as you doing the final round of edits for the project.
If you remember anything from this guide, it should be this– treat your graphic design journey and career as a “you get out what you put in” kind of deal and don’t forget to enjoy the process. Graphic design skills could be your gateway to many different career paths and opportunities.