Advice for someone looking to get into graphic

This is a topic that’s been touched on multiple times on this subreddit, but it’s hard to find something that answers all my questions.

A little background about me. I’m 22 years old and went to college for a 3 semesters. Honestly I left because I went to hang out with friends and hated school. I just couldn’t stand it. The traditional classroom is no way for me to learn.

That being said finding a path to a job has been somewhat challenging for me. I know I want to work in a creative atmosphere. I’ve found I’ve enjoyed myself the most when I’ve done something like photography or video editing. I want to extend this and focus mostly on graphic design because I like to think I have an eye for it, just not the knowledge on how to create anything.

As I said I hate school but want to work in this industry. I am often left disheartened when I read a lot of things saying a degree is absolutely necessary. So I guess my question is mostly for the self learner’s. What do you believe led you to finding work in graphic design, despite being in competition with people that have degrees and a formal education.

Do online courses through things like Udemy or similar services help?

I’d also like to hear from people who have experience employing people that are getting their first jobs.

I’m asking to fill in any other information needed. If it helps i live about an hour out from Atlanta.

In the past it was entirely possible to make it as an unschooled designer. Those who are in the industry now that went that route back in the early 90s are finding out now they are having to go back to school to get that Bachelor’s degree because they are unable to even apply for good-paying jobs without it. Doesn’t matter if their portfolio and success is top notch. With every good paying job opening getting literally 100s of applicants, (that’s no joke, ask “Just B”) without the bar being set somewhere it would be impossible to weed the field down.

And one of the the main reasons most want a college degree? To demonstrate that the applicant had the determination to get through the program, not drop out to “hang out with friends.”

I wouldn’t even look at an Udemy course, nor do any of the certificate programs count.

While it is still possible to get work without a degree, the time has passed for making it on portfolio and references alone. Unless you fall into something incredibly lucky…or know someone willing to take you on in a studio where you can learn the ropes…and never fire you due to lackluster attendence, you may want to consider another line of work.

As I tell all students of Graphic Design, it is not about your art. It’s about solving creative challenges for other people. A lot of times, young designers, even those that went to college, find that fact out far too late.


It’s great that you feel you have found an area in life that you you enjoy and feel you could be good at. You’re very lucky. Many don’t find this until decades later.

It’s not that surprising that you didn’t like school. Many if not most educational programmes are ‘boring’ for most people. The courses are not designed to inspire and keep you engaged. Most young people nowadays expect instant and continuous rewards for their activity. This is especially the case if they have been exposed to gaming and social media. Those experiences are carefully designed to keep people hooked as long as possible by giving them a continuous flow of dopamine and other happiness hormones. Schools can’t keep up with this standard.

It’s expected you can’t find a job easily. Employers are looking for employees they can rely on, who have experience and demonstrated a high level of skill, which you don’t have yet. It is not true that you need a degree. It’s helpful to have it at the very beginning of your career, because it gives some confidence to the employer that you know the profession at least on a superficial level. What employers of creative people care about is you being able to do the job well in a reliable and consistent manner. Nothing else, nothing more. You need to have a solid portfolio and you need to be able to take on a job and demonstrate results a few hours later.

It’s not enough if you enjoy the job, if you are inspired, and if you’re full of energy. You need to gain the skills that allow you to express your creativity. You need to learn the tools, and you need to learn a bunch of background information that will help you structure your work.

Maybe in the future we will have the kind of edutainment that will make learning any skill fun, but right now it doesn’t exists yet. You have to put in the work and gain the knowledge yourself. Do all of these:

  • Take online courses to learn the tools of the trade, such as Adobe software. This will take you anywhere between 1-2 months per software. You need to be on a high level, so you’re not limited by your ability to create something if you dreamt it up. This is tedious work. Some of it will feel unnecessary or useless at the time, but push through it and learn it all. I promise you it will come together and come in handy very soon in your career. You will not regret any minute you spent on learning software. At minimum learn Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, but ideally you should learn other things too like Dimension, XD, Animate, etc.
  • Read a bunch of books on design theory and history. Many don’t realise that the thinking behind design is the most important. The visual elements are just the manifestation of the ideas that all start out in your head as conceptual ideas. You need to know what has been done in graphic design in the last 100 years, so you don’t reinvent the wheel. You need to have a good understanding of color theory. You need to read a deep book on typography so you have no trouble choosing the right typeface for any job. Read up on symbology. This is the minimum. After this you should go beyond and read about artist biographies, about art history in general, about related areas like marketing, psychology of perception, etc.
  • Start doing work immediately. If you don’t have any freelance clients, approach businesses and offer them free work to redesign their menus, their logos, etc. Get a brief and try to create something better than what they already have. Don’t worry if you fail. You will have to fail 20 times before you will succeed. It’s part of the process and you will learn a valuable lesson from each fail. You will also learn about how to communicate and get information out of clients, how to sell your work to them once complete.
  • Post your tries here so seasoned designers can give you their harsh critique. You may not like it, you may disagree with it, but trust me it will help you on the long term.
  • In about a year or so, you will have some pieces that are good, and you can start building your portfolio. Once you have a few real jobs under your belt you can apply for an entry level position at a design agency. If you have done all the above, you will be useful enough for an employer to hire you. Try to find a shop that is hot and where you can learn a lot. Don’t worry about how much they pay. For the next 3 years observe and learn from the pros. It will be fun to see how they are solving the same problems you’ve been struggling the past year or so.

Good luck!

I don’t think its impossible without a college degree, it just takes a lot of commitment, hard work, and networking. I know a few working self taught graphic designers here in Los Angeles (which is very competitive). On top of iraszl’s advice, I also suggest you look into graphic design events that happen around your city. It will allow you to network and learn from professionals in the industry. If you can take classes at a community college, I would suggest doing this. I think if you focus on taking design courses, they will keep your interest.

Best of luck to you! :slight_smile:

My advice isn’t going to be exactly what you’re looking for, but it is honest advice designed to be helpful.

I’d really consider whether this is the field for you or not.

Can you make it as a graphic designer? Sure. I don’t know you. Maybe if I did, I’d answer differently. But in a generic sense, sure, you can make it as a graphic designer.

Is it tougher than ever to make it as a graphic designer? Absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes.

I say this for two reasons. The first is that there are more graphic designers than ever so you’re going to be competing against more candidates than ever. The second is that there has been a proliferation of DIY options for those that are so inclined coupled with a “good enough is good enough” attitude among many would-be clients. The result of these two factors is you have more designers than ever competing for a piece of a shrinking pie.

Any job opening you see will be flooded with dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants – many of whom are likely to have degrees and more experience than someone starting out.

I’m not trying to be a jerk – really, I’m not – but this is the reality of many job markets. When you say you’re an hour out from Atlanta, I don’t know if that puts you in one of the far suburbs or if you’re talking about a small town like Ellijay. My perception of Atlanta is that it’s a robust city but that there are probably plenty of designers looking for work.

All of this is to say that I’d highly recommend you consider the job market where you’re located and make sure the design field is a viable economic field to get into.

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The dichotomy of opinions here has a lot to do with the countries we live in.
I’m in the US. It’s just the way it is here.
If you are elsewhere, like Iraszl, your mileage may vary.

I think even here in the U.S., it’s possible to succeed in the field without a college degree — even today. There are those who do it, but…

The field is totally saturated with graphic design graduates who have 4-year degrees. Only a fraction of those graduates manage to land jobs or stay in the field longer than a few years before either giving up or moving on to something more lucrative. Anyone without the degree will be in direct competition with those who do.

Lots of companies require college degrees. In other words, no degree means no interview since the initial cut eliminates everyone without one.

Getting a job requires a good portfolio, which is what a college graduate should have upon graduation. Getting that beginning design job without a portfolio is, well, nearly impossible.

It’s sometimes possible to start below the beginning level, as in working as an assistant of some sort then learning and demonstrating enough on the job to justify a promotion.

The bottom line is graphic design is a tough field to break into. Here in the U.S., it’s far tougher still without a relevant degree.

I’d say the best chance for someone without a degree is to focus on the entrepreneurial side of design. If you’re comfortable working for yourself, you can be an independent freelancer or contractor for smaller companies. This type of work requires you to network and hustling to build your client list. It’s not easy.

As mentioned before, you’d be competing with college graduates with degrees in most formal job environments. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but when you browse the job listings, you’ll quickly notice that many require a 4-year degree to even apply.

To even consider this path, you’ll need a strong portfolio. I think it would be very difficult to create this without some feedback loop on your work. Online courses are great for technical lessons, but don’t do much to improve through critique.

Atlanta has some good art-focused trade schools that might be more up your alley than traditional college, such as Portfolio Center and Creative Circus. I haven’t looked into the tuition or requirements, but I think they usually earn you a 1-2 year certificate and focus mostly on your portfolio outcome. I’d consider these less optimal, but at least you’d have some formal education.

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