Graphic designers sure seem to have an interesting job, don’t they? Making art all day and getting paid good money for it — sounds like the life. But someone like you could never do it, right? You need years of technical training and years of experience…right?
The truth is, many graphic designers rely on their creativity more than their professional training. If you’re a creative person, you, too, can become a professional graphic artist, as long as you learn the basics. Here’s what you need to know to get your graphic design career started.
What is graphic design?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” Many people don’t have to know why the look of something appeals to them, but graphic designers do. Their job is to make something that not only looks good, but also serves its business goals (part of the greater communication design).
Visual communication is more than meets the eye. Graphic elements like color, shape, size, spatial layout, typography, etc., all communicate deeper emotional connotations. So if you’re making a logo for a brand that wants to be seen as friendly and down-to-earth, you should know that the color yellow and a sans serif font denote both of those traits.
That’s where a design education comes in, but it’s not as exclusive as you think. Without leaving your house, you can learn the necessary design skills in just a few weeks — or days — with the right color class, typography class or class for whatever other visual communication skills you don’t feel confident in.
Types of graphic design projects
Different designers specialize in different areas. You may feel an intrinsic pull to certain fields right from the start, or you could develop your specialization naturally after trying a variety of graphic design work. Either way, it’s best to know what’s out there before you dive in.
Branding Design — determines how a company is perceived, mostly through logo design, but also with the brand’s color scheme in its web design, advertising and other public materials.
Marketing/Advertising Design — draws specifically on marketing and advertising techniques to create the best ads and promotions for billboards, video, social media, etc.
User Experience (UX) Design — a type of digital design; focuses on making a user’s experience with websites, software or mobile apps as efficient and enjoyable as possible.
Interaction Design — another type of digital design; deals mainly with making the user interface intuitive and easy to use.
Web Design — focuses on page layout and choosing the right design patterns, in addition to creating the computer graphics for a website. (Web design also incorporates user experience design and interaction design.)
Editorial Design — perfects the typography and page layout for text materials; although more popular with print media, elements are still carried over to digital design.
Industrial Design — combines both function and aesthetic expression into manufactured goods, involving individual product design, production processes and business strategy.
Graphic Artist — drawing traditional fine art like illustrations or paintings for a variety of commercial purposes like T-shirts, book or album covers, tattoos, etc., or even environmental decoration like murals or customized interior design.
Motion Graphics — creates videos, typically for websites or social media, and involves other disciplines like animation, film production, and sometimes sound design.
How to find design work
To make it as a professional graphic designer, you need to know some work-related logistics. First, do you want to be an in-house designer or a freelancer?
In-house designers work on staff at companies, with the ultimate goal of earning job titles like creative director or art director. Freelancers, on the other hand, are hired project by project. While they often have repeat customers, they mostly work for different companies. To keep a steady flow of work, freelancers also need to know how to market themselves.
Another logistical concern for a graphic designer can be their toolkit. Different designers have varying preferences for design software, based on the usability and specialization of each. Some of these can get technical with steep learning curves, so it’s best to master only one or two rather than learn them all.
Adobe makes three of the most popular design software: Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. You can learn about all three here.
You can be a self-made graphic designer
With some creativity, willpower, a healthy dose of optimism and the right resources, it’s more than possible to become a self-made graphic designer. You don’t need design school — all you need is design schooling! Start with the fundamentals of graphic design, and then work your way up at a pace you’re comfortable with. Once you learn the basics, experience will teach you the rest.