Do you have a flair for communicating messages and ideas through visuals? Do poorly designed graphics make you cringe? Do you have an eye for details? Do you look at a design and think of what you’d do differently? Chances are becoming a graphic designer may be a fulfilling career pathway for you!
In this article, we cover everything it takes to venture into this field and start getting paid graphic design projects.
Table of Contents
What is graphic design?
Graphic design is “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content” (AIGA).
As a graphic designer, you solve a problem or achieve a specific objective using visual elements. For instance, you let people know about an event by creating an invitation with details about the event. You design a logo for a business to help them convey their brand’s unique identity. You create graphics for a website to make it more visually appealing for visitors.
A graphic designer uses elements such as lines, shapes, colours, texture, photos, typography, among other things, to achieve these purposes.
What does a graphic designer do?
A graphic designer is a visual-thinking problem solver responsible for creating visuals for individuals and businesses. Every graphic designer is charged with the task of solving specific communication challenges and achieving specific creative outcomes.
For instance, here’s a case study on how simply changing a button colour to red (application of colour theory) increased conversions by 21%.
QuackQuack tested their homepage with two buttons: One was blue, and the other was orange. They kept the text (Submit) the same.
They found that 23% more people clicked on the orange button than the blue button.
However, web design is just one area that a graphic designer works in. Graphic designers work on a plethora of things ranging from logo designs, business cards, brochures, flyers, folders, print advertisements, postcards, company letterhead and envelopes, booklets, catalogues, packaging design, greeting cards and invitations, social media pages, web advertisements — the list goes on.
Why should you become a graphic designer?
For one, passion. Graphic designing can be a very fulfilling career path for artistic individuals and those who are naturally creative.
Two, from corporate branding to web design to social media marketing, graphic designing plays a crucial role in virtually every business aspect. Therefore the opportunity to find work and earn with this skill is immense, be it any category, such as advertising, news & media, social media, marketing agencies, websites and more.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how much graphic designers earn based on their experience:
How to get started and become an awesome graphic designer?
A) Learn graphic design
You can either self-learn the necessary skills and become a graphic designer or enrol yourself for a formal design course.
1. Design school
Although a large number of graphic designers are self-taught, there are various perks to getting a formal education in design.
- Being a designer does require a certain amount of knowledge of tools and software, an understanding of trends and art history, colour theory and more. A structured program ensures you don’t have to spend years trying to figure out how things work or don’t.
- In college, you will learn to work with others, follow directives, hand in work on time and meet deadlines, and learn to take feedback and get better as a designer.
- It is highly likely that the curriculum requires you to work on various projects and internships. This helps as you will walk away with a robust portfolio and work experience to show for.
- College expands your network of people and helps you gain exposure.
Some of the Top Design schools in India:
- National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
- Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay
- National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Delhi
- Indian School of Design and Innovation, Mumbai
- Delhi College of Art, Delhi
- Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore
That’s all about going the design-school route. Now for the alternative.
Here’s the thing. Working on tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are definitely skills you need to pick up to be a good graphic designer. But, it’s also essential that you understand typography, graphics and colour (the holy trinity of graphic design) on a deep level.
2.1. Learn Graphic Design Theory for free
It’s possible to create something that looks good on Photoshop or any Design app on your own. But, if you are thinking about becoming a professional designer, learning design theory is vital.
It essentially forms the foundation of all things visual — photography, design, and illustrations. It includes design principles, elements of design, how to create/use visual communications, and much more. Learning it will enable you to use different design elements in an aesthetically pleasing manner and pay heed to the hierarchy of information. More importantly, you will be able to create a design that’s powerful or impactful.
These websites have free lessons on the various aspects of Design Theory all in a single place. You’re welcome.
- Principles of Design – Graphic Design Theory
- 50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design Theory
- 14 Extremely Helpful Free Graphic Design Courses
As a graphic designer, you’ll be wearing extensively on two types of graphics – Raster and Vector.
2.2. Learn Raster graphics editing
A majority of the pictures we see on our computer and phone screens are raster images. Even an image you click on your phone is one. These are made up of pixels.
Adobe Photoshop is a software that is extensively used for (pixel-based) image editing, image manipulation, graphic design and digital art. Learning to use Photoshop is an essential skill to become a graphic designer. It is the universal digital tool used in a wide variety of formats, from print to interactive design, to even video.
A cheaper alternative to Photoshop is GIMP, which is open-source, free software.
Free Photoshop Tutorial
Free GIMP Tutorial
2.3. Learn Vector Creation and Editing
Vector graphics consist of shapes called objects which include lines, curves, shapes and text. Vector objects can be thought of as a set of mathematical instructions or paths, rather than pixels. These paths contain information about the position of an object within the image; line width and length, and any colour information. When taken together, these objects contain the complete information required to display the image on the screen correctly.
Adobe Illustrator is a popular vector graphics editor used for creating logos, sketches, typography, icons and illustrations. It is often considered a companion tool to Photoshop.
Fun Fact – Did you know that your Adidas Shoes, Victoria’s Secret lingerie and Ralph Lauren shirts are designed on Illustrator?
An alternative to Illustrator is Inkscape, which is free, open-source software.
Free Illustrator Tutorial
Free Inkscape Tutorial
2.4. Learn a publishing software
As a graphic designer, you might also have to work on printables. This includes flyers, brochures, book covers, magazines, newspapers and more.
Desktop publishing software (or DTP software) is the software used for creating such editorial projects. With a DTP, you can arrange text, images and graphics on a page and easily arrange these elements to create the desired document.
Adobe InDesign is the most commonly used desktop publishing and typesetting software application. An open-source, free alternative to InDesign is Scribus.
Free InDesign Tutorial
Free Scribus Tutorial
So there you have it, these are the essential software and skills you need to pick up, should you choose to learn graphic design by yourself.
Let’s look at what’s next.
B) Pickup allied skills
As a graphic designer, every freelance project or full-time job you get is going to bring its own set of requirements. For instance, some situations will need you to have a solid understanding of motion graphics. Whereas some other roles may require you to know basic video editing.
Here are the most critical allied skills that you should pick up along the way:
- Adobe Premiere Pro – It is an application that lets you edit videos, audio and images to produce broadcast quality, high-definition videos.
- Adobe After Effects – You can use it to create digital visual effects and motion graphics. Moreover, it is widely used in the post-production stage of film-making and video game development.
- Sketch – It is a vector graphics editor which is available on macOS. It is widely used for UI, mobile, web and even icon design.
Is it mandatory to learn these skills? No, but, learning the ones to relevant to your focus area will help you land exactly the type of work you want.
- Adobe Premiere Pro Tutorial for Beginners
- Adobe After Effects Tutorial for Beginners
- Sketch Tutorial for Beginners
C) Practice, practice, and practice
Learning the tools and theory is the first step. Next, you need to dedicate time and effort to create more and get better.
You don’t need to take up real projects or real clients, in the beginning. You just have to find side projects and work on them. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Design a T-shirt graphic.
- Re-design or create a mockup of an existing website
- Re-design existing logos
- Pick a quote and create an attractive social media post for it
- Pick up a word and create a typographic poster
- Design different types of event invitations
- Find a local business or NGO and offer to design for them for free.
You can feature the best work out of all this on your portfolio (which we’re covering next).
Pro Tip – Dissect an existing design. Download a vector or PSD design resource you admire or looks complex (Freepik has tons of them), open it in your own app, and go through the Layers panel. See what the designer has used and how to build the final design. Now recreate a similar design.
D) Build a portfolio
A portfolio is a document or website that showcases your best work. Whether to land a freelance gig or a full-time job, it is vital to have an impressive portfolio. Your portfolio lets your potential client or job hirer understand your design capabilities and work history.
You can build a website where you can host your portfolio (you’d have to create one for this) or use of an online portfolio maker.
Some commonly used online portfolio websites for Graphic Designers:
Here’s more information on the critical elements of a portfolio and how to create one.
Pro-Tip – Create a blog to complement your work. Along with displaying your design, you can also explain your logic behind the work to show that you are meticulous. Why a logo is designed a certain way or what it means, why you’ve used certain colours (all the colour theory you’ve learnt is going to come in handy here), and so on.
E) Build a network
Networking when you’re just starting out has many perks. You can get feedback on your work, get your doubts answered, get to know more about the latest design trends, and collaborate or gain referrals.
To start with, you can try connecting with senior designers or design experts and then go on to add potential clients as you grow.
Here are some ways you can go about this:
- Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups for Designers
- Connect with senior designers on LinkedIn or Twitter who are working with big companies or up-and-coming startups
- Connect with designers on Instagram (a lot of Designers create Instagram accounts dedicated to their designs) or Pinterest
- Join communities like TapChief, Dribble, and Fontli
- Use event curation apps such as Meetup, EventsHigh and EventBrite to find out relevant meetups and workshops happening in your city.
- Start working out of coworking spaces or cafes and start connecting with people around you.
F) Land a freelance gig or a full-time design role
You’ve learnt the skills, created designs, built a network – now what?
Now, you start working as a designer.
The options are many. You can become a freelance graphic designer and work with multiple clients, or you can join an organization. Both have their own pros and cons.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Ensure you have a completely filled out LinkedIn profile with your portfolio link attached. (Here’s how to go about LinkedIn Marketing)
- Create a resume for yourself. Most recruiters ask for your updated resume along with your portfolio when you’re applying for a job.
- Sign-up to job portals like AngelList, Naukri, Indeed and so on, and freelance websites like TapChief.
The key to becoming a successful graphic designer is never to stop learning. Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep trying new things. New technologies and platforms come out very regularly, so ensure you are up-to-date with them. And most importantly, remember to put your heart into your designs.
As April Greiman, one of the early adopters of computer technology in graphic design said,
“I like to step into areas where I am afraid. Fear is a sign that I am going in the right direction.”