Proactive Guide to Beginning Your Career as Graphic Designer

by Mike Jansen

In my experience, when starting a graphic designing career – any career for that matter – there are two possibilities: you could be

  • A designer who gets into the field with a landscape of success in their mind, or
  • A designer who has their first draft ready but fussing about all that could go wrong. 

At times, you could be both as well. Nonetheless, the end goal of both these designers is to become the best graphic designer the world has ever seen. Of course, a lot is required to achieve the same, after all, Rome was not built in a day. And a lot could go wrong. Some designers get stuck in their design process, some find it difficult to come across valuable clients, and some simply face challenges at getting the best monetary returns for their work. 

With that being said, here, I plan to give you solutions to all the above-mentioned – and other – problems you could face in your career as a graphic designer. With this blog, let us walk through each and every aspect of becoming your best self as a graphic designer. Also, let me get this out of the way: the process of becoming a graphic designer does not start at sketching. There is a lot more to know about it before getting to a paper or screen. 

Understanding The Graphic Design Industry

As a budding graphic designer, you should know what the industry looks like; its ups and downs, its benefits, its potential, its challenges, and its estimated growth. As indicated by Globalgraphics, any individual who is presently making their way into the graphic design industry understands that the manner in which you take a look at it, initially, is really different from the manner in which you will see it once you get familiar with the field. While working on your first design, you might be under the impression that your responsibilities are very laid back, and as this is an artsy industry, it will be more play and less work. Be that as it may, I assure you that is not near the truth. That makes it even more crucial to understand the industry you are getting into. 

Read more: What is the Future of Graphic Design?

Currently, there are 266,300 graphic designers in the United States. Yes, that is just one country, the numbers are increasing all over the world. Besides these, up until the year 2019, there were 16,823 companies in the graphic design industry, amongst which, 71% created 10 times more content from the year 2015 than all the previous years. With the job growth being less than other occupations, i.e. 7% and 11,000 jobs in the next few years, many graphic designers have considered getting a degree in the field of graphics. On the bright side considering gender equality, with 53.4 designers being female, this industry has more women in it than men. 

Here is the scary part: around 40% of designers quit the industry in the first 2 years, and 30% of the remaining in the first 5 years. With that being said, the importance of design cannot – and is not- overlooked. With time, the graphic design industry is expected to grow its wings more than ever. All in all, with widespread categories such as animation infographics and design for computer systems, in terms of digital categories, the industry is expected to see 24% growth. Furthermore, as per 60.8% of digital marketers, visuals are the foremost element in executing effective marketing. 

Most importantly, as per IBIS World, the global graphic design industry has seen an overall growth of 2.2% in the year 2021. With the pandemic hitting businesses and designers, I see this statistic as a success. In addition to that, with 90% of designers working as freelancers, the graphic design field gives you the opportunity to follow your career with flexibility and more freedom than ever before. 

Learning… and Learning Some More

As you move ahead in your career in graphic design, even at the beginning, you will be surprised by a list of skills that you need to keep in check. Of course, there are basic drawing skills, designing techniques, and creativity. However, in order to make graphic design a full-time and successful career, you will also need to excel in areas you may or may not know yet. Therefore, once you have a view of the graphic design industry in mind, give it all your efforts to become a valuable and successful part of it by working on building skills and never-ending curiosity. 


Getting a Degree in Graphic Design

With stories of college dropouts turned into the most successful entrepreneurs the world has ever seen, many individuals are torn between the importance of a college degree and following a career with what one knows and picking up the things as they come along. 

However, with millions of graphic designers bringing unique, creative designs to the table, employers, and clients find it a lot more challenging to assess credibility than ever before. In the past, graphic designers could get recruited solely based on their portfolios. Today, notwithstanding, most businesses, hiring managers, and clients are searching for graphic designers with more theoretical and practical knowledge, along with the credibility of the same, a combination that only a college degree can give. An endorsement in the field, or an associate’s degree, is possibly adequate for some designers. However, as per the U.S. Division of Labor, budding designers are significantly more prone to get a quality occupation solely after acquiring a bachelor’s degree.

In case you plan on getting a degree in the graphic design field, here are topics that significant courses incorporate: drawing, typography, computer graphics, animation, design history, advertising, composition, and marketing concepts. 

To take your education as a graphic designer up a notch, most courses include programs committed to the advancement of a designer’s portfolio, which is generally expected of candidates for graphic design occupations. In addition to these, courses in the history of art and present-day art may help with stirring creativity, and courses in customer behavior and human psychology could be immensely useful for understanding which design will have what manner of effect on which set of demographics.


People could pretend as they do, but nobody can truly know or tell you if a path to your career will require a degree or will that degree simply serve as a certificate to you. Therefore, after thorough research and introspection, take your time in understanding which path works the best for you as a graphic designer. 

To help you decide: Do You Need a College Degree to be a Graphic Designer

Regardless of which path you choose to walk on, there are certain skills you will have to learn in order to become a graphic designer:

Start by Knowing The History of Graphic Designing

This may sound unnecessary as of now, however, soon you will understand that by diving into the historical backdrop of visuals and graphics, you help yourself in enhancing your taste and find out about what makes a regular design convert into a legendary design. As you explore the diverse graphic design disciplines, begin to pick regions that you are attracted to, and study that subject to find where your interests take you, and zoom in on areas you need to study further. 

Additionally, by learning history, its developments, and designers, you will gain the required knowledge and wisdom, and appreciate designs crafted by past designers, as well as get motivation from the present design principles. You could start by watching documentaries and tuning into podcasts whenever you get a chance, know all there is to know about the history of graphic design, and bring that knowledge to fruition through your designs. 

For your reference: The designer’s guide to Netflix: 12 must-watch shows and movies

Drawing and Sketching (not so basic skills)

Every designer – even the individuals who are not into the design industry – may have picked up a pencil or a pen and paper eventually in their work interaction. Almost consistently, there is that innovative inclination when you are holding a pencil rather than holding a mouse. It gives you more opportunity to outline what is the design for you – in your mind – on paper than on a screen. 

By drawing elements such as lines, boundaries, and shapes, you start to leverage that sparkle of imagination inside you to think of fascinating ideas that can be the underlying base of your next amazing design. In addition to that, you will find sketching immensely useful when you would be explaining your design plan to your client. Through sketches, drafts, and outlines, or simply presenting designs through your sketchbook, you can undoubtedly convey your design process and what the outcome would appear like to all the clients. More importantly, as you develop this skill, you take yourself towards wider aspects of your career in graphic designing, such as character designing, creating storyboards, animation, and etc.

Design Process and Principles of Design

If you have not already, soon enough, you will come across these terms: design process and principles of design. Yes, every artist has their own process and workflow. However, the designers have a more strategic approach. As an aspiring designer, you might want to be through with the design process even before having to come across it. A design process is a series of steps that begin as soon as you get a client, and it is through a design process that you make sure you deliver a design, and you deliver it in a way that is expected by the client. We will cover more on it as we move to the next parts. 

Furthermore, there are certain principles of design that you should be entirely familiar with. If you would type “principles of design” on the Google search bar, you would come across many design principles. This could be confusing, how many principles of design are actually there? Three? Five? A dozen? Roughly, there are 12 basic principles of design and 12 secondary principles of design. Here, it is important to understand at a very early stage itself that these principles of design are suggested to serve you as a guideline, and not a rulebook. Apply these principles, and see for yourself which ones work for you, which ones could be improvised and then put to application, and which do not suit your work at all. 

Related: Paul Rand’s Logo Design Principles (And How They Can Help Designers)

Fundamentals of Typography and Color

Two of the biggest elements of graphic design, typography and color are going to be something that will wander in your head at 2:00 am when you will simply go to get ice cream from the refrigerator. This may sound exaggerated, but I assure you that it is not. 

The way your copy is arranged and laid out on your design will determine the entire appearance and act as a factor concerning the overall objective of your design. It is not simply a text typed out, it is about line-spacing, kerning, readability, legibility, point sizes, letter-spacing, and typefaces; with hundreds of options in typefaces to choose from: rounded, highly geometric, contemporary, and many more. As you move ahead, you will find yourself wondering which two fonts go together, which target audience will connect to which font style, the difference between sans serif and serif, and numerous other concerns associated with typography. 

Also, read: What is Typography? A Deep Dive Into All Terms and Rules

On the other hand, the term color psychology will practically live with you in your apartment, and it can never be avoided. Color is a particularly significant element of design since it tends to be utilized to influence the overall mood of the design and standpoint of the client. Therefore, designers are very specific and certain about the importance of each tone of color, color combination, and how a color palette can be used for better and highlighted effects. When choosing colors for your design project, it is essential to have a strong understanding of color and the psychology behind it. By learning about color schemes, color combinations, color theory, you as a designer can influence and attract the target demographic in a subtle yet certain way. 

Read more about color combinations: How A Good Color Combination Can Strengthen The Entire Design

UX and UI Design

These terms may sound like designers are supposed to do technical work, but it is not entirely that, for the most part. 

A graphic designer ensures that they align their efforts and designs with their client’s requirements and preferences. However, a good graphic designer also keeps the client’s customer base and their preferences in check. For instance, if a client requires you to design a website or its graphics or a logo, they may or may not know what their customers would prefer. As a designer, it becomes your responsibility to make sure that people do not have to face inconvenience in finding what they are looking for. In fact, as soon as any individual lands on your design, they should get arrested by the same. 

In order to achieve this, you must have an understanding of what user experience is and how a user interface should make people feel. Which colors are likely to get more clicks? Is a certain button inviting individuals to click or is it just there merely to exist? Along with these, with time, through this skill, you will know how people scan designs, what should they notice first, and how to design them right. 

Related: What’s The Difference Between Human-Centered Design and User Experience Design

Along with these skills and knowledge, you shall also be able to decode the design jargon and terminologies. Not only will it make you sound professional and indicate to your client that you are down for business, but it will also help you learn advanced terminologies and techniques to become a better graphic designer. 

It Does Not End Here

Neither your road to becoming a professional graphic designer nor your exploration of the fruition it comes along with, the overall initiation of your career does not end here. 

While we certainly have covered a lot of what you as an upcoming graphic designer needs to know, there is still a long road to follow, and a lot more to learn and apply. Concerning the field of graphic design, including skills to learn as a graphic designer, creating impactful designs, and everything else in between, this could be your next step ahead.

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