N00b questions

Hello there! I’m new around here. I have three main questions. Let me start with an explanation so my questions are a bit clearer.

I have decided to primarily specialize in package design and have been learning graphic design for roughly the last six months on my own(no collage) and I have learned a lot. I’ve learned: Gestalt theory, color theory, typography, what dielines are, bleed, live/safe areas, CMYK vs. RGB, what Pantone is, U vs. C Pantone colors, UV coated vs. matte vector vs. raster, foil stamping, embossing/debossing, golden ratio, file types (.EPS, .AI .PDF, .SVG, .JPEG, .PNG), what proofing is, and maybe a few other things I cannot remember at this moment.

My problem has been knowing what to know. I don’t want to get into the field underequipped nor do I want to be an embarrassment to everyone in the GD profession. I have been taking this seriously and have been trying to do my best, but I still feel I am missing important knowledge.

So that takes me to my first question. What else should I be learning? Or put differently, what knowledge gaps should I fill? Second question, what resources would you recommend to learn more about what I already know and also to learn new things? And finally, for my third question, what would be some good places to post my designs to get constructive criticism and pointers? I hope this made sense.

Thanks in advance!

Those are all important things to familiarize oneself with, but let me answer your question this way.

Let’s say I wanted to be a professional basketball player, so I study all the rules. I look into all the right clothes. Get just the right shoes. Learn all about the physical characteristics of basketballs, hoops, backboards and court floors. I study the NBA. Learn the names of all the teams and the leading players on each. I take up running to get myself in the best possible shape. I do everything I can to learn about basketball. The trouble is, I’ve forgotten something. Despite all of this, I still can’t play pro basketball because I lack talent and have nowhere near the hours of needed practice and experience. Without that, I can’t really do much with any of those tools or the knowledge I’ve learned — the knowledge might be there, but the core ability isn’t.

I could have used becoming a rock star as an example, or a race car driver, or an airline pilot, or a sculptor. Everyone learns these things by starting at the beginning and putting in thousands of hours of practice and guidance from those who know more.

As important as learning everything you mentioned might or might not be, those are just odds and ends, the tools, and the practical knowledge that it takes to implement what all those thousands of hours of guided practice prepares one to do. Without the talent, skill, and experience, it’s all just academic knowledge that doesn’t add up to a good designer.

That’s an important observation and a considerable downside to teaching oneself — the teacher knows no more about the subject than the student. There’s a good deal of practical knowledge required, and your post indicates that you understand that. However, your post doesn’t show a realization that proficiency comes from practice, guidance, failure, criticism, struggle, dedication, and endless hours of all those things. You can’t learn to be a basketball player, a musician, a race car driver, or a sculptor from a book or from searching the internet.

As you’ve likely surmised, I’m not a big fan of trying to teach oneself graphic design. Not only is it a field wholly oversaturated with beginners, but it’s also a field where the starting to intermediate salaries are heading in the wrong direction. In addition, it’s a field where you’ll be in head-to-head competition with those designers who graduated from university design programs and interned at various agencies and businesses where they gained insight and experience from those more knowledgeable than themselves.

If what I’ve said hasn’t dissuaded you, and if you’re really committed to packaging design without spending four years in school, your viable options are limited. Still, others have done it. Try looking for a job where you can start at the bottom and learn the skills you’ll need and where you can develop whatever talent you might have. Honestly, though, I’m not sure where you’ll find that job unless your portfolio is just oozing with raw talent.

You’re focused on the ‘how’ of design, and have skipped the ‘why’. A comprehensive education in design will incorporate the study of history, criticism and aesthetics. Those are the things that provide insight into your design solutions, and determine your ability to succeed.

Go to college. It’s a valuable experience to be in a classroom of people who are ripping your work apart. That prepares you for real life in a way that internet message boards can’t.

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Not to pile on, (well maybe) but what you have qualifies for loading boards into a printer stack. In packaging design, that’s starting at the bottom.

You might be able to move up in a packaging print company of some sort, but I’m gonna say it is probably pretty rare for in-house design work, most of that file design comes from outside agencies. Production artist may be as far as you get, but at least you’ll know how to set up design files to print properly. Those outside agencies are looking for skill. And they have so many applicants they set a low bar at a 4 year degree and sometimes toss in 2 years of real world experience just to trim down the 100s that apply. Not kidding, most agencies see well over 100 applicants for any design job posting.

If you want honest (sometimes brutal) criticism, you can post some of your work here in the Crit Pit section of the forum. Most of us here are working professionals, so you won’t be getting the kind of feedback you might get from your friends and family.

Thanks for the input. I will take it all into consideration and give it thought. For the record, when I said I was learning on my own I didn’t mean just looking up whatever technical knowledge I though I would need to know. I have taken classes online from designers that have been working in the field. I have also been doing practice work and will do a lot more. I know that this would still be considered lacking to you guys from what you said, but just wanted to make that clear. Sorry for not making that clear in the OP.

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