A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become a Graphic Designer

Published 2021-12-13T06:00:00 by Bryan Miller

Graphic designers are a type of creative professional that tells stories with the visuals they design. These individuals are tasked with combining words, imagery, and graphics to engage audiences and communicate a specific message to them. While a graphic designer is working on a project, they will use such design elements as textures, colors, lines, and shapes to complete their work. The finished result can be anything from animations and logos to product packaging.

Graphic designers are in demand right now because of the importance of graphic design for a company’s marketing or advertising efforts. If you’re thinking about starting a career as a graphic designer, the average salary for a graphic designer is around $40,000-$55,000. The salary you obtain largely depends on your experience, your talents, and the area you live in. If you work out of San Francisco or New York City, you can expect a relatively high salary because of the high cost of living.

If you want to become a graphic designer, you will first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a similar subject involving fine arts. A top benefit of being a graphic designer is that you can work as a freelancer or for a specific company, which gives you options and provides a certain amount of versatility that isn’t available with other career options. The following guide takes a step-by-step look at what it takes to become a graphic designer.

Step 1: Learning the Graphic Design Principles

graphic design principles

The first step in this process involves learning the core graphic design principles that will guide your work for the rest of your career. It takes a considerable amount of skills and knowledge to create good designs. You will also need to understand how to correctly apply design theory and principles to be a successful graphic designer.

The elements you will work with on a regular basis include scale, lines, space, color, shape, harmony, emphasis, typography, and textures. Each element alters the design and influences how a company’s audience responds. In many cases, good graphic design is the key to a successful marketing campaign.

Step 2: Take a Graphic Design Course

You can learn even more about the fundamentals and basics of graphic design by taking a graphic design course. When you take this course, you’ll be able to improve your graphic design skills to prepare yourself for a career in this industry. Another benefit of attending this type of course is that you will be introduced to peers and mentors while taking this course, which will allow you to build your network.

The many topics that are covered in a graphic design course include graphic design software, layout, color theory, and typography. Depending on the course you take, you might also learn about website design principles and best practices, graphic design history, and user experience. These courses are available as in-person courses at a college or university or as online courses that allow you to learn about graphic design from any location.

Step 3: Master Key Tools in Graphic Design

key tools in graphic design

You can also improve your standing as a graphic designer by mastering the key tools in graphic design, the primary of which are software tools. While there are many types of software that you can and likely will work with as a graphic designer, the standard software for graphic designers is Adobe Creative Suite, which includes apps like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe PhotoShop. In fact, most of the design work that you do will occur in these three pieces of Adobe software.

Even though the idea of mastering these tools might seem like a daunting task, it’s important to understand that Adobe offers comprehensive training resources and guides that will tell you everything you need to know to learn and eventually master the applications that are most important for graphic designers. You can find Adobe tutorials at this link.

Step 4: Create Your Own Portfolio

A robust portfolio of completed projects is essential for any graphic designer who wants to garner long-term success in this field. Once you have the knowledge and tools that you require, you can start working on graphic design projects. Keep in mind that even smaller projects will help you build your portfolio and should provide you with experience that might prove invaluable when you eventually tackle larger projects.

When you’re starting out, consider working on mock logos or ads for any company. You could also think about taking an existing design from a company and creating a new one, which will help you learn how to make designs that are geared towards a target audience. If you have enough confidence in your skills, you could offer to volunteer your graphic design services to local brands and nonprofit organizations. Anything you can do to build your portfolio should pay dividends in the future.

While you’re creating a portfolio, keep in mind that all types of graphic design projects can be placed in the portfolio, which includes any course projects, work projects, or personal projects. Even though your portfolio should contain a large number of completed projects, quality is still more important than quantity. The first impression that you make with potential clients or employers will involve the work in your portfolio, which is why you should only include projects and design work that best shows off your skills.

There are numerous websites that provide graphic designers with the tools they need to make a strong portfolio, the primary of which include Behance, Dribbble, Adobe Portfolio, and Crevado. All of these websites are free to use and will give you everything you need to make your portfolio.

Types of Graphic Designers

types of graphic designers

There are essentially three types of graphic designers, which include in-house graphic designers, freelance graphic designers, and agency graphic designers. The route you choose to take in your career largely depends on the type of work environment you prefer as well as the kind of career progression you want.

In-House Graphic Designers

An in-house graphic designer is someone who’s employed directly with a company or brand, which means that all of the designs they create will be centered around the brand they’re working for. Your tasks will be highly varied as an in-house graphic designer to account for all of the marketing needs that the company you work for has. You could work on everything from compiling annual reports to designing an extensive marketing campaign.

The role you have within the company depends on how many creatives the company has hired. While you will likely work alongside a team of designers, it’s possible that you will be hired as a solo designer. If you seek this kind of job, you will invariably have a more standard work environment, which means a normal work schedule and a consistent paycheck regardless of the amount of work you do. Because you’re working for a specific brand, you will be expected to improve on your previous work overtime.

Freelance Graphic Designers

If you work as a freelance graphic designer, you will be considered self-employed, which means that you run your own business and set your own hours. Along with the design work that you do, you will be expected to issue invoices and manage clients. You will likely work on a wide range of projects with different companies and brands, which could make your work experience more varied.

Since you can work from any location, you will have a certain amount of flexibility that other types of graphic designers don’t have. You can take on any number of projects at a given time. Even though there is a high demand for graphic designers at the moment, you will likely need to compete with other designers who are attempting to land the same projects. Your pay can also vary considerably depending on the number of projects you complete and how much you’re paid for each project.

Agency Graphic Designers

An agency graphic designer is someone who works with many different clients and brands but is also employed by an agency that handles numerous graphic designers. In most cases, agency graphic designers will work on relatively short-term projects for marketing campaigns. When you work at an agency, it’s important to understand that this is usually a more fast-paced work environment, which can take some time to get used to.

Since you will be working with other graphic designers who have their own skills and talents, you will be expected to create exemplary work that reflects well on the agency as a whole. If you want to work in a collaborative environment among other graphic designers, this is a fantastic option. Even though the hours that you have at an agency are similar to the ones you would have when working as an in-house graphic designer, it’s common for agency graphic designers to work overtime.

Careers For Individuals with a Graphic Design Degree

graphic design degree careers

If you have obtained a degree in graphic design, there are many different careers that you can choose to enter. While most people who earn this type of degree will enter a career as a graphic designer, you could also become an:

  • Art director – An art director is someone who determines which art pieces, photographs, or similar design elements are used for newspapers, magazines, websites, and movie productions.
  • Commercial designer – Commercial designers are directly responsible for creating drawings and conceptual sketches for manufactured products.
  • Marketing specialist – This career can involve creating brand messages, brainstorming ideas for new marketing campaigns, formulating sales presentations, and analyzing data.
  • Marketing manager – This career involves managing marketing teams and campaigns for brands, companies, or products.
  • Web designer – This type of career involves designing and creating websites from scratch for people or businesses that want to have an online presence.
  • Multimedia artist – As a multimedia artist, you can create visual effects and animation for movies, television shows, and video games.

Working as a graphic designer can be a fulfilling and lucrative career. Every company requires strong branding to survive and thrive, which is why this particular career is in high demand. Before you begin searching for a job, you could either earn a graphic design degree or start learning about all of the elements and tools that graphic designers work with on a daily basis.

Once you have the knowledge you need, you can apply this knowledge by working on projects that will add to your portfolio. A growing portfolio provides you with an opportunity to search for clients or seek a job at a company or graphic design agency.

Bryan Miller

Bryan Miller

Bryt Designs

Bryan Miller is an entrepreneur and web tech enthusiast specializing in web design, development and digital marketing. Bryan is a recent graduate of the MBA program at the University of California, Irvine and continues to pursue tools and technologies to find success for clients across a varieties of industries.

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