Becoming a Designer: A Definitive Guide to Get You Started

Did you know that the average graphic designer salary in 2020 stands at an impressive $75,718?

The graphic design career is an exciting, fast-growing, and lucrative career choice for people of all ages. Irrespective of your age, gender, and location, you can carve out a bright future for yourself as a graphic designer by developing the right skill sets.

The demand for skilled and talented designers is so high that there is no dearth of options before them. Although the bulk of them are employed in regular jobs, there is a sizeable and rapidly-growing segment of freelancers. In fact, many people stuck in deadend jobs are teaching themselves graphic design to make the switch to a more exciting field.

And, they do!

That’s the beauty of graphic design. Anyone (literally) can become a designer. 

Why Should You Become a Graphic Designer?

Well, if you need more motivation than a handsome salary, here are a few more interesting facts for you to consider:

What story do these facts tell?

Good design is not only a driving factor behind consumer purchase decisions but also a key success factor for consumer-oriented businesses. It can help a website (or business in general) shine, pierce through the noise, and captivate the attention of the visitors. Good design can help businesses establish themselves as a strong brand that deserves consumer attention.

And, who is uniquely positioned to help these businesses? That’s right, a graphic designer.

A creative and skilled designer can help businesses stand out and grab the eyeballs that matter to their business. For this reason, graphic designers are rewarded handsomely.

Who Can Become A Graphic Designer?

Laptop with some Graphics Design tools open.

Well, anyone can be a proficient designer, as long as you are ready to master the skills necessary to perform the job. However, whether you will love what you are doing and whether you’ll grow into an accomplished developer will depend on your soft skills and temperament. Here are some qualities that define a successful designer:

  • You can explain your ideas to your listener clearly in a language they understand
  • You can listen (really listen!) and understand people even when they are not able to communicate properly
  • You can collaborate with other team members – managers, developers, marketers, sales people, and more – effectively 
  • You have a thick skin and can take feedback well, no matter how critical it is
  • You have patience
  • You respect deadlines. This will matter for every one of your clients and bosses
  • You understand what people like, what captures their attention, and what moves them

Most of us are not born with every one of these qualities. Some of us struggle with patience, cannot take negative feedback constructively, don’t work well with others, or lack some other quality. However, we can acquire every one of them over time. If you have the temperament and determination to develop these qualities, then you can be a successful designer.

What Technical Skills Should A Designer Have?

Skilled designers pack varied sets of technical skills that set them apart from the mediocre designers. Here’s a lowdown of the technical skills you must acquire in your journey to becoming a talented designer:

1. Basic Drawing

Start with something simple and easy – sketching. Draw anything you like – everyday objects, beautiful models, nature, your own dreams – anything that you fancy. Follow some useful guides on sketching and replicate your learnings. Get command over the shadows, colors, depth perception, 3D objects, and other elements of drawing. It’s the first step in your journey. And, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

2. Visual Design

Under this seemingly innocuous category, there’s a vast array of skillsets that demand every ounce of creativity hidden within you to master. Basic drawing skills, a strong understanding of design theory, color fundamentals, and an intuitive understanding of what makes a design good or bad are critical for every designer. With these skills, you’ll be nothing short of an artist.

3. User Experience

A strong command of the user experience is critical for a modern designer, who often need to create web experiences, such as for websites, web apps, and even mobile apps. User experience is more than just about good-looking pages and screens. It’s the “feeling” that your audiences experience when using your designers. 

A deep understanding of user experience fundamentals will help you create designs that evoke specific emotions and responses from your users when interacting with your designs. Whether it’s a sense of calm, urgency, excitement, curiosity, or other emotion – you must be able to kindle the emotion you want in your users.

4. Design Software

Designers, especially those working in design agencies, often have to create banner ads, mockups, wireframes, logos, vector images, and other creative assets using design tools. You may even be asked to edit photos or enhance them. Here are some of the standard tools used by designers in the industry:

  • Adobe Photoshop®

Adobe Photoshop is one of the best programs for creating, editing, and enhancing photos. It comes with a large number of editing tools, but you don’t have to master all of them. You need basic Photoshop skills like image resizing, image compression, format conversion, cropping, slicing, and so on. 

  • Adobe Illustrator®

Adobe Illustrator is a very different design tool compared to Photoshop. While Photoshop is a pixel-based design tool, Illustrator is a vector-based tool. You will likely use Illustrator for the bulk of your creative work, such as creating custom buttons, new fonts for logos, and so on. A decent level of familiarity with this tool is necessary for becoming an effective designer. 

  • Adobe InDesign®

InDesign is a must-have tool for every professional designer; more so, if you are in the publishing business. It’s the standard design tool used for creating everything that’s intended for publishing – brochures, magazines, info sheets, ebooks – you name it. It has a steep learning curve, which means that you’ll get the hang of the tool and its features in a short time. 

  • CorelDraw Graphics Suite®

It’s a powerful alternative to Adobe’s InDesign tool. CorelDrawn Graphics Suite packs rich features that are easily accessible with an intuitive interface. The best part about it is that it’s more than just a standalone tool. It’s an ecosystem of stock images, vehicle templates, fonts, gradients, vectors, and more. It’s everything you’d want from your go-to design tool. 

Apart from these, you may also have to learn other tools like Adobe Dreamweaver®, Sketch, and Adobe Premier Pro® as you go. 

5. Programming Languages

Some designers code for web or apps.

In technology projects involving websites, web apps, and mobile apps, designers are usually tasked with creating only the designs for them. However, freelance designers and designers in startups may be required to develop them as well. So, some web development skills would be relevant.

Web development technologies have come a long way since the first websites were created in the early 90s. Today, dozens of web development languages are in use, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Thankfully, you don’t have to learn any of them to get started in the trade. However, learning them will elevate your skillset and make you a priced resource. These are some of the most popular web development languages that need your attention:

  • HTML

HTML, short for HyperText Markup Language, has become a critical skill even for creative designers; let alone web designers. HTML coding is essential for uploading your content on a web page and give it structure. It’s the skeleton of a website.

  • CSS

If HTML is the skeleton, then Cascading Style Sheets is the skin of a website. It is what makes the HTML look good. Everything from fonts, colors, background, and other design elements are coded in CSS. 

  • PHP

PHP is one of the more advanced web development languages out there. You don’t have to learn it initially, but it can help you differentiate yourself in the long run. Most of the world’s websites are built on platforms that use PHP as the core technology, such as WordPress and Facebook.

In addition to them, you can also learn Python and JavaScript if you feel inclined towards the technology, but they are not as critical as the ones discussed above. 

An in-depth understanding of visual design, coupled with the expert knowledge of design tools and web development programming languages, can help you start a career in graphic designing as well as designing. As you grow, you will find a niche that you’ll love, and then you can focus on the specific skills you need to succeed in that niche.

What Qualifications Should A Designer Have?

Two designers looking at whiteboard with design mockups.

Some organizations hire designers only when they have formal qualifications related to design. However, that is not the case with most organizations. 

In fact, most organizations hire designers based on their expertise and their skills, irrespective of their professional qualifications. Of course, a formal qualification in the relevant field would be a huge plus, but not mandatory.

If you have relevant certifications to prove your expertise in a field and hold your own in the interview, you can get the job as a graphic designer. So, it’s good to earn certifications in programming languages, design tools, and other areas in which you’d like to showcase your expertise.

Let Your Work Speak for Itself

Demonstration is the most effective way to showcase your web design skills to your potential employers and potential clients. Once you acquire the skills and expertise, you need to become a good designer, just go ahead and create a stunning designs. It can be brand logos, marketing materials, website mockups, a brochure for your interviewing company, or something else.

In fact, kick it up a notch and create an entire portfolio of web designs, mockups, flyers, brochures, adverts, and other creative assets that will help you put your best foot forward.

Developing your portfolio helps you in two ways.

  • Firstly, you hone your skills as you move from one project to another, and it shows in your work. As you complete your projects and compare them as you go, you will start noticing a substantial improvement in the quality of your work. That will give you confidence in your skills, which will be visible to someone hiring you. 
  • Secondly, as your skills improve, so will your work. Then, you can share your best samples with your potential client or employer. Subsequently, you are more likely to land a job or project.

Moreover, a job is not the only option to launch your career as a graphic designer. You can start as a freelancer too.

There are plenty of platforms that help freelancers get design projects from clients worldwide. Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, People Per Hour, 99Designs, Toptal, and Solidgigs are just some of the many freelance websites out there.

No matter which platform you use, the potential clients will want to review your past work, and your portfolio will go a long way in securing new gigs/projects for you.

Learn To Market Yourself

Whether you are in a job or working as a freelancer, you should be able to market yourself to your respective audiences.

The first step is to understand what sets you apart. You will know this after gaining some experience in the field. You will identify unique traits that make you the right choice for your customers and employers. Once you realize what they are, you can hone them and promote them.

Master the art of effective communication. The emails you send to your audiences must be value-based and should offer them highly relevant and specific reasons for hiring you. Learn the tricks of the trade – creating blog posts, ads, social media posts, tutorials, and other content that can help you reach a wider audience.

Unlock the Power of Online Learning

Whatever you need to learn to become a successful web designer, you can do it online. You don’t have to enroll in a regular full-time program, neither do you have to spend tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in college tuition. 

The vast number of online platforms, such as Coursera, CreativeLive, Khan Academy, FutureLearn, and many others, offer a mix of free and premium (highly affordable) programs, learning resources, and even certifications to back your learning journey.

Everything from online degrees to online certifications to online courses is available to you at the click of a button on these massive open online course (MOOC) platforms. They have democratized education and make it accessible and affordable to everyone. 

Some of these platforms, such as CreativeLive, allow you to learn everything from the fundaments to the pro-level concepts, and offer you a platform where members share their stories and journeys. All of this will help you understand where you stand, where to go, and how to reach there. Platforms like CreativeLive help you acquire new skills from the comforts of your home, at your pace. So, what’s stopping you?

Take advantage of this opportunity and give your career as a graphic designer, the foundation, and fuel it needs to grow rapidly.

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