How to get started as a graphic designer

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Starting a graphic design career can seem like an intimidating task…but that’s where we come in!  At YES, we have helped and taught thousands of students worldwide to improve their creative thinking and software skills through our Online learning graphic design UK.

Today I want to personally share some tips that I have used to become a self-taught graphic designer and later an Illustrator. These tips will also apply to university students who want to fast-track their skills to become a successful designer as well anyone who wish to change their career.

Before we dive deep into these tips, I would like to summarize a little about what Graphic Designer roles involve!

A Graphic Designer essentially is responsible for creating visuals to either sell a product, service or promote a message. These visuals can be anything from Posters, Magazine to Web Banners. Graphic Designers do not need to draw. However, they must be creative and have technical skills to put beautiful compositions together using design elements such as Typography, Images and color.

1. Passion is key

It sounds like a caliche, but you must have passion and love what you do to do it well. If you love doodling or looking through magazine layouts, playing around with colours, patterns and most importantly drawn to art and beauty? Then the good news is, creativity may already be built-in you. You need to practice on developing it!

2. Master Design Applications – but ONE at a time!

Besides being able to think creatively Graphic Designers need to Master the Softwares to produce the final results. Choose one software to learn first before moving on to others. Trying to learn all three at the same time will cause frustration and will be demotivating.

For a career in Graphic Design, I recommend learning the following industry-standard tools:

Adobe Photoshop is the most advanced image editing and manipulation application used by graphic designers, photographers, retouches, digital artists, web designers and hobbyists.

Adobe Illustrator is the industry-standard vector illustration application. Graphics Designers use Illustrator to create Logos and vector assets for web, print and video projects.

Adobe InDesign is the industry-leading page design and layout application used by designers to create books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, posters, flyers and digital publications. Understanding InDesign gives you precise control over typography, page layout and interactivity.

The order you wish to study can be determined by the type of projects you want to produce. Below I have listed a handful of tutorials which will help you learn Graphic Design skills!

3. Collect References

If you are passionate about design, this tip should come; naturally, you need to spend at least 5-10 minutes a day collecting and building your reference library. The more time you spend studying good design, the better you’ll be as a designer. Start creating a secret collection of all the artwork you love and learn to analyses why it caught your attention.

Here are my go-to places to build a reference library:

  • Instagram – You can save photos or videos for later in a private collection
  • Pinterest – Similar to a search engine, Ideal for collecting designs from around the world
  • Behance – Packed full of a wide variety of creative projects idea and process
  • Dribbble – – An ideal source for UI/UX, illustration and icon
  • Nature – Source inspiration from nature, plants and architecture

Daily life – Books, TV, food etc… Can all inspire creative thinking!  So start thinking like a designer in your everyday life!

4. Copy and Replicate

Once you built a reference library full of designs you love, now it’s time to replicate the artwork. YES! Copying does help you to improve your creativity. But you DO NOT sell or present artwork you recreated as your own! Remember, this is all about practice and learning and credit artists.

A handy tip is to take design ideas from many artworks but make little changes to it each time. This practice of copying and tweaking from others will help you feel inspired and gradually develop your design style.

5. Don’t quit your day job (yet)

Don’t leave your day job until you get a good offer! Money worries will put pressure and stop you from progressing. Instead, try to learn and improve your skills in your spare time either in the evenings/weekend and build a strong portfolio.

6. Organization

Time is crucial, and something you can’t ever get back. If you are serious about developing any skills, you need to put a lot of effort and time into it. Try to organize your time to make learning as part of your daily routine!

7. Build your Portfolio

Start building a portfolio on projects that you want to be doing when you are employed. For instance, if you love to design Logos, do more Logo designs projects. If you like to work for a publication, show more examples on editorial layouts! And if you prefer to show various projects, then that’s fine too.

The best way to learn and build a strong portfolio is through doing actual design tasks. There are so many fantastic crowd-sourcing sites that will help you to work on real client-based projects. Don’t focus on winning but strengthening your designs.

8. Ask for feedback and accept Critiques

Design is very subjective, and your artwork may not always meet the brief or appeal to everyone. However, to grow and improve as a designer, you need to be able to accept negative feedback! Try not to become defensive or try to justify your work. Those negative feedback will help you to learn and grow.

9. Show off your work

As a designer, you need to learn to market yourself and show off your work. We understand standing out is tough, but the reality is the more you connect and have an online presence, the higher chance you have to get noticed and potentially hired.

Build your portfolio online and share on sites such as Behance and Dribbble. Submit your best designs to forums such as Adobe fan page. Attend creative meetups such as Behance portfolio reviews and start sharing your creative process on Instagram.