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How to become a graphic designer

A roadmap to becoming a graphic designer and valuable resources to kickstart your journey.

How to become a graphic designer

Graphic design is the creation of visual compositions to solve problems and communicate ideas through text, imagery, colour and form. It is the use of visual content to communicate a message to an audience.

So graphic designers take an idea, content or information and turn it into something visually appealing. The information usually comes in the form of a project brief from a client, or requests from other members of an in-house team.

Designers are responsible for creating so many things you see and use on a daily basis such as adverts, magazines, fliers, web applications, packaging, logos, books, maps and websites.

A career in graphic design might be ideal for you if you are creative, a visual communicator and have a knack for great designs.

Although getting a degree in design might be an advantage, one can become a professional graphic designer without a formal education. Once you learn the fundamentals and put in the required practice, there's nothing stopping you from putting yourself out there as a freelancer or applying for a job at a design studio or as an in-house designer at a company.

What does the day of a graphic designer day look like

I spoke with our in-house graphic designer, Emmanuel Akpan, to get a feel of what the typical day of a graphic designer looks like. Here’s what he had to say:

“Graphic designers perform many important duties and tasks daily to complete their projects. Though, it depends on the aspect of design they are specialised in, it generally involves:

  • Breaking down project briefs: This involves trying to understand the problem to be solved and the main purpose of the design which was requested for.
  • Research - This entails searching for design ideas/references which have a similar concept to what you want to create.
  • Sketching/creating mood boards - A moodboard is (an arrangement of images, materials, and pieces of text around a particular style or concept). This phase of the design process is very important as it helps to streamline the results from your research process, and you also get to explore your own concepts by sketching. Don’t worry if you can’t draw. Your sketches are not meant to be perfect. It's just for exploration
  • Creating the designs - This is where you actually do the design work as you implement your learnings from your research, sketching and moodboards.
  • Getting feedback from team members and clients - At this point, you present your designs and take feedback. Most designers are afraid of feedback, but this actually helps you get better.

The prime purpose of a graphic designer’s work is to communicate ideas to an audience visually. It revolves around visual communication of different kinds, ranging from designing logos to websites to animations and much more.”

How to kickstart a career in graphic design

Here’s a roadmap you can follow to achieve your dream of becoming a graphic designer:

Understand the fundamentals of graphic design

Getting to understand the fundamentals of graphic design will help set you on the right track in your career.

Some of these principles include; Space, Balance, Hierarchy, Line, Shape, Colour etc. Spend about a week or two to focus on just the fundamentals.

Get conversant with the tools

There is a range of tools within the graphic design space but the popular ones are Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw, InDesign, Figma, Adobe XD and Sketch.

Also, you need to get a hold of tools like Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator (or CorelDraw) and Figma (Adobe XD or Sketch). It is advisable to focus on one program per time for a proper foundation in it. After mastering one, you can move to the next and you will naturally gravitate to the ones you prefer. Each program should take about 2 to 3 master, depending on the courses you are taking and their length.

Model established graphic designers

As a graphic designer, there will be designs that capture your attention or designers who inspire you. Find a place to collate all of these designs, designers and their work. You can find and save good designs on Pinterest, Behance and Dribble to name a few. Try to replicate these designs as often as possible till you get something similar to what already exists

The more you do this, the better you get at your craft. Don’t worry if your designs are scrappy at the beginning, with time your style will emerge and you’ll gain mastery and excellence.

Build a portfolio

Your portfolio is a collection of your best work that shows your skills, methods, expertise and versatility. It acts as your landing page and a place for potential clients to gauge your competence. As you grow in your career, you should keep adding your best and most recent pieces.

Many graphic designers use Behance to showcase their work. You can build a portfolio website on Webflow or Squarespace or explore other options such as Pixpa, FolioHD, Carbonmade, Crevado, PortfolioBox, Coroflot Portfolios, and Krop.

Get work experience

After you’ve spent considerable time learning, creating your first designs and building your portfolio, then it’s time to get real work experience. The benefits of getting work experience will be valuable in your graphic design career. You’ll get to try your hands on different aspects of design, work directly with experienced colleagues and network within the industry.

This step might not be as straightforward as others, but there are ways around it. You can join graphic designer communities, network with peers and established graphic designers. You can also be proactive by pitching your skills to brands, professionals and corporations that need your services. Also, try applying for vacancies through job boards.

Hone your storytelling skills

Outside your graphic design skills, you should also work on your storytelling. This means you should know how to communicate simply and clearly. And there’s no better way to communicate than the use of storytelling.

This is a skill you should continuously hone in your graphic design career. Learning visual storytelling will help you know how to communicate the purpose of your design projects effectively. You can also apply your storytelling skills in your social media content, which can also help you build an audience online.

Resources for your graphic design career

YouTube Channels

1. The Futur - https://www.youtube.com/@thefutur

2. Satori Graphics - https://www.youtube.com/@SatoriGraphics

3. Mizko - https://www.youtube.com/@Mizko

4. Will Paterson - Will Paterson - YouTube

Courses

  1. Graphic Design Masterclass - Learn GREAT Design - Online Courses - Learn Anything, On Your Schedule | Udemy
  2. Graphic Design MasterClass- Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign - Graphic Design MasterClass- Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign | Udemy
  3. Google UX Design Course - Google UX Design Professional Certificate | Coursera
  4. Logo Design Mastery Course - Logo Design Mastery In Adobe Illustrator

Books

  1. Designing Brand Identity - Alina Wheeler
  2. Work for Money, Design for Love - David Daisey
  3. Steal Like an Artist -  Austin Kleon
  4. This is Marketing - Sth Godin

Website Resources

  1. Freepik Find and download the best high-quality photos, designs, and mockups
  2. Unsplash - Get high resolution images for your projects for free
  3. Briefbox - Industry standard practice briefs & short courses for designers
  4. Noun Project - Free icons and photos for your design projects
  5. Adobe Colour CC - Colour palette generator for your design projects


Wrap up

Graphic design is a career well-suited for anyone who is enthusiastic, passionate, and creative. You will excel in this field if you love to play with digital and print designs, work according to client’s instructions and deliver effectively what they are asked to create.

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