Getting into the field of graphic design is more attainable than you might expect, especially today.

Regardless of their level of education, designers rely on practical experience to drive them. If you're a graphic artist at heart, you have the drive to learn new things and push yourself to achieve more every day. It's an exciting field to get into, but many would-be designers can get stuck at the first steps.

This article will look at what graphic designers do for a living and then give you a list of ten steps to becoming a graphic designer. So let's dive in!

What does a graphic designer do?

Graphic designers are either full-time or part-time employees at companies or design agencies, self-employed designers, or freelancers. Whether you work full-time, part-time, or freelance, you’ll have to meet several deadlines on a weekly or daily basis in a graphic design position.

The graphic design industry has quite the reputation for tight deadlines and busy work schedules. If you choose this as your career path, you must know how to manage your time and schedule effectively, so you don't miss any deadlines or get burnt out.

If you already have a full-time job in another field and want to pursue a graphic design program on the side, you can also do that, but you’ll need to plan out how you’ll manage your time well in advance.

If you plan to be a self-employed graphic designer, be prepared to be flexible because you might have to work during the evening and even during weekends from time to time to meet deadlines.

Now, let's look at what you’re expected to do as a graphic designer. You might develop many different types of designs, from print publications (brochures, magazines, newspapers, etc.) to digital assets for television and web applications.

There’s a wide range of industries where graphic design skills are needed. You can be sure of one thing: in the same way that marketing is something that every company or organization needs, graphic designers are also needed in every company and in many different areas.

As a graphic designer, you might have to master various skills at once, such as book layouts, digital illustration, and corporate identity design. However, we recommend you hone your skills and specialize in one specific area. Among the most common graphic design specialties are Typography, Logos, Book Design, Product Packaging, Web design, User Interface Design, and User Experience Design.

We know it seems a bit overwhelming initially, but all you need to do is put your head down and build your career step by step. So, let's look at our ten steps to becoming a graphic designer.

1. Learn and understand graphic design basics

It’s true that you don’t necessarily need any book knowledge before you can create amazing designs. But before taking any further steps, we think it’s essential that you take the time to learn basic design principles and have a solid understanding of the elements of design.

Suppose you’ve never taken any design classes and don't know anything about graphic design or the design process at this stage. In that case, we recommend you read about graphic design history and the principles of design alongside practicing the key skills of graphic design.

Why is it so important to educate yourself about graphic design fundamentals? You can use them to improve your visual communication skills, learn more about the graphic design field, and get a better feeling of what it truly means to be a graphic artist.

Even simple things like applying color theory can dramatically improve the quality of your designs.

Employers looking for graphic designers always want some kind of proof of your skill set, experience, and knowledge of basic principles, so we hope you consider doing some reading on design practice!

2. Take online courses

Once you know more about graphic design history and learn the basics of design theory, you can take advantage of some of the best online graphic design software out there. Whether you’re a professional or someone relatively new to the design world, our recommendation stays the same: begin with the basics and work your way up.

There are tons of online resources that can help entry-level designers get their foot in the door. You can also start taking graphic design courses online or pursue a graphic design degree. To help you with that, we’ve compiled a nifty list of the 16 best graphic design courses online.

Some online courses offer a certificate once you complete it, which will be perfect for adding to your CV and LinkedIn profile to show off your graphic design proficiency.

Consider signing up for free graphic design software at first to reduce the costs of starting up as much as possible as you build your technical skills by doing online courses. Once you start earning money from your design work, you could consider upgrading your software.

You can start with Linearity Curve (formerly Vectornator), which offers fantastic design features, such as:

  • Industry-standard vector editing tools
  • Access to over 1 million royalty-free images from Unsplash
  • Access to over 80,000 icons
  • Advanced collaboration tools within the Curve platform
  • Auto Trace technology that transforms images into vector shapes
  • Cross-platform functionality that syncs your projects across MacBook, iPad, and iPhone
  • Access to a community of digital illustrators and designers
  • Access to Linearity Academy for design tutorials and more

With these amazing tools at your fingertips, you’ll be able to pursue studies in graphic design and learn the ropes using professional-level design software.

3. Setup setup setup

Graphic designer working on tablet
Image Source: Fakurian Design

While graphic designers get paid very well in most cases, starting your journey as a graphic designer can be expensive to set up. Unlike writers who simply need a laptop to write, being a graphic designer requires a few more sophisticated tools. For starters, you’ll need to find the right graphic software.

We’ve already listed the benefits of using Curve for free, but if you’re an Adobe fan, you’ll need a monthly subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud (which is pretty expensive if you’re just starting out). That’s why we recommend starting with free alternatives to Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or any other Adobe products and then deciding if you want to switch to a paid option.

Besides the right software, you’ll also need a compatible laptop or desktop computer. You might also need a Pantone color guide if you’re designing for print and a pen tablet for illustrations.

4. Follow established graphic designers

This step may sometimes be overlooked, but getting inspiration and tips from other artists is one of the easiest ways to grow your repertoire. Everyone gets their design inspiration somewhere before developing their own creative process and being a source of inspiration to others.

Getting to know the work of famous graphic designers and artists and following them on social media will be helpful in the long run. You’ll get to know how they do what they do and understand them and their work better.

By doing this, you’ll form your own graphic design style, gradually becoming clear to you once you create a handful of graphic design pieces.

As you make more connections with other designers, you’ll find yourself more immersed in the graphic design community, where you’ll be able to find and share helpful information and resources. Connecting with other designers and agencies will make it easier to spot trends and opportunities.

5. Create an impressive portfolio

Folio: Designer Portfolio Kit – Animation
Folio: Designer Portfolio Kit – Animation designed by Tran Mau Tri Tam ✪ for UI8. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

Whether you want to work as a full-time graphic designer or as a self-employed freelancer, your own online portfolio is a must-have. An online portfolio will make it easier to apply for graphic design job openings, land interviews, and get hired by various clients or companies for graphic design positions.

Many graphic designers use Behance to showcase their work. However, you have other options which you can explore, such as Pixpa, FolioHD, Carbonmade, Crevado, PortfolioBox, Coroflot Portfolios, and Krop. You can check out our guide on creating a graphic design portfolio with 16 examples of great portfolios to inspire you.

It doesn't matter if you don't have a lot of work to showcase. The important thing is to have an online presence – you’ll build up your portfolio as you gain more experience and add more of your work.

Start your professional portfolio early on and add your most recent or best pieces there as time goes by. You can update it anytime, and it’ll help you get noticed. If you don’t have any work to show just yet, a simple exercise you can follow is to recreate some famous logos to showcase your skills.

Having an online portfolio will help you present yourself as professionally as possible. Your online portfolio will also help potential clients or employers see if your work style matches what they are looking for.

So, consider your online portfolio as your additional CV. It’s also common for graphic designers to carry digital versions of their portfolios and have them ready to go if needed during a job interview.

6. Get some work experience

Graphic designers working on laptops and phones
Image Source: Marvin Meyer

Now that you have your portfolio ready, it’s time to showcase your work and get some experience in the real world.

Start by applying for entry-level positions. At this point, it doesn't matter whether it’s a paid job or an unpaid internship because the experience you’ll gain will be far more valuable to you in the long run. This is especially true if you’re starting out at a well-established company or agency and need someone to vouch for you or write a reference letter later on.

Even if you hold a degree in graphic design, getting some real-world experience through an internship or junior-level job is always recommended.

By doing so, you’ll also be able to add your new creations to your portfolio (just make sure you honor copyright laws and attribute the designs to the relevant companies you worked with!).

Another benefit of getting some work experience is that you’ll form professional relationships with other graphic designers, art directors, motion designers, creative teams, and design teams and become part of the design community in your area and online.

7. Learn professional copywriting

Many may overlook this step, but it’s a great skill to have as a graphic designer. In a graphic design position, your primary focus should be all the visual design elements. However, any copy you use in your designs significantly affects how your work is received. Often, the initial tagline or story for a campaign is formulated by the graphic designer and not the copywriters!

If you work at a company and always have copywriters doing the writing and checking the copy for you, you can be more “free” to make mistakes. However, you’ll need excellent written communication skills if you're a freelancer or self-employed.

You won’t always have the luxury of relying on a copywriter or someone who can edit or check your copy for any grammar mistakes, so it’s always helpful to work on your copywriting skills early on. Graphic designers with solid writing skills always have an advantage over those who lean on “Lorem Ipsum” placeholder text.

Excellent copywriting skills as a graphic designer don’t mean knowing how to write short- or long-form copy (in other words, you don’t have to be a great writer). It simply means that you possess the skills to write brief descriptions, clever one-liners, enticing calls to action, attention-grabbing headings, and so on.

It also means that you must be extra careful with typos and grammar mistakes and learn how to reflect the particular voice of any brand you’re working with.

Biggest web design trends
Biggest web design trends designed by Lily for Fireart Studio. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

Graphic design is a constantly changing field that keeps developing and evolving every year. While this is a great thing, it also means that you, as a graphic designer, will have to keep up with the new trends that come up each year.

One simple way to keep up with the current visual design trends is to follow well-known graphic designers or pay attention to your fellow graphic designers.

Prospective clients and employers are always looking for graphic designers who don't stick to the same style their entire design career but try to adapt and evolve every year. Companies always want something fresh to keep their audiences and customers engaged.

Staying up to date with current graphic design trends also means using new and updated graphic design software programs. You can also use any other online program to help you develop and grow, such as VR/AR design tools and animation software.

9. Choose an area of specialization

If you want to work for an agency and have some certainty over your annual salary, you should consider a degree program geared toward the graphic design industry.

An undergraduate degree won't be enough to land you a creative director job immediately, but a graphic design education can help boost your likelihood of beating the median salary.

Although this is not a requirement—many “untrained” freelance designers are very successful—it’s always helpful for you and your clients to know which area you specialize in. That doesn’t mean you should focus on only one area and leave other graphic design areas unexplored.

It simply means that you should find out in which design area you excel and brand yourself as the best one in that particular area. For instance, you may be especially talented in logo design, motion graphics, web design, etc.

Having a niche will help you set yourself apart from other graphic designers and convince companies or clients why they should hire you instead of others specialized in the same area. It’ll also help you target and reach the right potential customers, such as those looking for a logo, an ad, a website, etc.

10. Never stop learning

Graphic designers are always learning
Image Source: Windows

If you’re not pursuing a college degree in graphic design right now, it’s still essential to stay in the “student” mode and never stop learning. Even if you’re well established in your graphic design career, pushing your design skills and exploring new trends is the best way to stay ahead of the game.

Yes, following the latest trends is always recommended. But you don’t have to stay a follower your whole career. You can also be original, create new design concepts on your own, and hope that your work and evolving style will inspire others.

If you decide to get a college education in graphic design later, that’s also a viable option. It’s never too late to go back to school! However, your level of education in this field should never stop you from building a career in graphic design. Practical experience will always set you apart from those with formal education who lack experience or grit.

Your next steps

We’ve listed some simple steps in this article for you to take once you decide to follow a career in graphic design. Most of these tips are helpful for beginners and freelance graphic designers, agency graphic designers, and in-house graphic designers because every graphic designer needs the same attitude and skill set.

If you’re looking for more inspo, check out our graphic design tips to make you a better designer and some of the best graphic design examples we’ve found.

We hope we’ve given you some valuable tools to take your first steps toward becoming a graphic designer. If you’re ready to get started, go ahead and download Curve for free and see what you can create with a few essential tools: your iPad or laptop, an Apple Pencil, and your imagination.

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How to become a graphic designer in 10 steps with Linearity Curve
How to become a graphic designer with Linearity Curve