Career change to graphic designer at 30

Hi all, not sure if this is the right place to post this but would be interested in your thoughts!

I’m a 30 year old publishing professional who wants to pivot to book design or graphic design in some format. I work 4 days a week so want to study part time to learn more about graphic design and get the skills to be able to make the change. I struggle with self directed and online working so would prefer to do it in person with a cohort of people in similar position (i.e. not an undergraduate degree). I would also prefer for this to not cost more than £4k and to have industry links so I’m in the best position to get a job afterwards.

I’ve seen Shillington, British Institute of Graphic Design and London Fields Design school, but does anyone know anything about these courses or know of any alternatives? - I live in London


Others might have a different opinion, but I am not too optimistic about graphic design as a career choice.

First reason is that there is a supply problem — as in an over supply of graphic designers or “graphic designers.” There are a ton of designers out there with varying degrees of experience, talent, and education. Part of the problem is the low bar to entry. Basically, anyone can subscribe to Creative Cloud or use Canva or whatever and call themselves a graphic designer. This certainly happens here in the U.S., but we also see this happening globally.

The second reason is that there is a demand problem. With all of the free or low-cost software, subscription services, templates, stock art, low- or no-cost options, many people take a DIY approach who would have otherwise had to hire the work out.

Combine the two — an excess of graphic designers and a lack of demand for the service — does not bode well for the future.

Yes, there will always be a demand for high quality designers, but there are a lot of high quality designers out there, too.

Bottom line, proceed with extreme caution. Also, there was a thread on this forum within the last week or two about some online learning institution in England. You might want to take a look at that. The poster did not have a good experience at all. I can’t remember for sure, but it might have been the British Institute for Graphic Design.

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Unfortunately, I agree with Steve’s pessimism about graphic design not being a particularly good career choice for most people. I also agree with his reasons for why this has become the case. Someone entering the field today is unlikely to make a good living as a designer without a combination of a degree in the field, dedication, a considerable amount of talent, and a good deal of luck.

However, if you want to stay in publishing while augmenting your experience and qualifications with some basic graphic design skills, that might be doable.

Many dubious for-profit schools have appeared out of nowhere over the past several years. This is one reason for the glut of new designers trying to enter the field with minimal qualifications. Most of these schools are online, but some also have physical locations. I live in the US and have no personal experience with these schools (either in the UK or the US), but I’ve read plenty of stories. Be very careful when considering these new schools. Check their histories an the legitimacy of their accrediting organizations, and get opinions from people who graduated or took courses there. I could be mistaken, but I’m doubtful you will find good, comprehensive, in-person coursework for under £4k. Graphic design skills aren’t something that can be picked up by taking a class or two — it’s a longer process than that.

Here in the US, we have state-run colleges that offer 2- and 4-year degrees and in-person and online courses for people who simply want to take a few classes without necessarily pursuing a degree. These colleges are legitimate and generally hire credible part-time instructors who work professionally in their fields and want to teach a course or two after hours. I don’t know if you have something similar in the UK, but if you do, I’d recommend that route over the new for-profit schools with dubious credentials and histories.

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I’m limited in experience, as I’m relatively new to the field, but here’s my thoughts on your queries:

You said you struggle with being self-directed and online work. I can relate as it’s hard to be motivated and disciplined when teaching yourself. It’s all too easy to procrastinate and not push yourself when you don’t have an actual professor or graded projects with deadlines. As for online classes, you don’t have the ease of simply asking/collaborating with people sitting next to you/across from you. That physical group setting is more conducive to asking for help, getting feedback, seeing what others are doing, etc.

That said, I learned so much more about graphic design from mining my university’s library and their many books on graphic design and typography, along with purchasing some excellent books on the subjects. Concepts on things such as visual and typographical hierarchy were explained and portrayed EXPERTLY in some of these books, whereas in my university classes, the professors barely touched upon them before having us start the next big project. Some of these books even went into detail about the creative process and provided real-world examples of successful designer and their specific works, and the creative blocks, hurdles and frustrations they came across, and the solutions they eventually came upon.

It was all incredibly enlightening and rewarding. I even enjoyed it! In comparison, my time “studying” design at my university felt like the equivalent of hitting my head against the wall for four years straight.

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I don’t share quite the same level of pessimism as others, though I do think it is tough to get into – then again, it always has been. I think it is still possible to make a good living at the higher end of the game, but at the lower end, then this is where I do share the pessimism and negative outlook.

The low quality and prices charged of the have-a-go-heroes, armed with Canva and a YouTube education has not only saturated the market, it has driven down expectations by small businesses.

I think there will be a pendulum swing back eventually, when they realise £20 logos are not enough to build an effective brand on.

Most of my work these days is in book publishing and is has been a steady thread throughout my career. There seems to be a reasonable amount of work around, but for a relatively small amount of designers.

Publishing is tough to break into, but if you have inroads already, you are ahead of the game, as long as you have the talent and knowledge to match.

I am sceptical of private courses and my advice would be to get a degree. That way, you rise yourself above the army of bottom-feeders out there.