How to Become a Graphic Designer – The Ultimate Guide for 2022
Graphic design is all about creating a visual narrative and keeping it cohesive throughout the whole process. It can be a challenging but also an enjoyable experience – especially if you have a knack for color palettes, fonts, and visuals overall. In this guide, we’ll cover everything around the realm of graphic design and how to become a graphic designer. From tools and the best online graphic design courses, to job positions and salaries, this guide should give you a good idea of everything you need to know.
What is a Graphic Designer?
To put it in the most basic way possible, a graphic designer is a person whose job is to tell a story through a logo, package, website, poster, or anything else you can perceive with your eyes. And, to add on top of that, specific designers can work in different branches altogether.
So, how does one pick what they want to work? Web design? UI/UX? Branding and marketing? There are endless possibilities that come with being a graphic designer. So start by asking yourself what interests you the most and start from there.
Master Important Graphic Design Skills
It comes without saying, but having a good eye makes or breaks a designer of any kind. And, no, we’re not talking about eyesight, although that’s important too. Having the ability to spot tiny details that no one could, like how many pixels you need to nudge your text to make it perfectly in sync with the other elements, or differentiating between “lilac” and “lavender,” is a big plus. And, the good news is that if you don’t already function like that, with a lot of work and patience, you’ll start to notice those things in no time.
You’ll also want to gain the habit of analyzing trends that are hot right now. Now, we don’t mean that you should necessarily follow them, but having an idea of what’s in right now can help you get a feel of what people want at any point in time. But, of course, you can develop your style through following a handful of web and graphic designers you like on Instagram.
Depending on what you need to do, you’re going to need to master Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. In a way, they’re going to be your best friend. So, let’s take a closer look at them.
Adobe Photoshop vs. Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop is a raster-based photo manipulation program, which means it works with pixels – a fixed number of colored squares that make up any image. It’s great for working with pictures (ones you took, downloaded, drew), adding effects, cutting, pasting, coloring, and designing anything that doesn’t require to be resized later on.
On the other hand, Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based program whose primary use is to create objects made of tiny little dots interconnected with lines. This makes vector graphics the perfect choice for logos or any designs that you’d want to put on a small magazine and a massive billboard without the fear of it becoming a blurry mess in the process.
These two pieces of incredible software aren’t interchangeable. You’ll need to learn one raster and one vector-based program for a successful career.
Even though the Adobe Suite is the most popular choice amongst people (because it’s the most well-known), there’s been a shift to more affordable, accessible, and even free software in recent years. Let’s go over the most popular choices.
Best Photoshop Alternatives in 2022
Even though Photoshop is the most dominant software in its field, there are a number of popular Photoshop alternatives on the market:
- Affinity Photo (paid), developed by Serif Ltd, is an editor for raster graphics available on macOS, iOS and Windows;
- Gimp (free), a free open source raster graphics editor available for all major operating systems including Windows, Linux and macOS.
If we look at some alternatives for specific use cases like digital painting and UI/UX design, we can also consider the following apps:
- Procreate (paid), a raster graphics editor app for digital painting developed by Savage Interactive and available exclusively to iOS and iPad devices;
- Sketch (paid), a MacOS-only vector graphics editor developed by Sketch B.V that’s one of the most popular tools for UI and UX design in 2022.
Best Illustrator Alternatives in 2022
Here are some Illustrator alternatives you can consider:
- Affinity Designer (paid), a vector graphics editor developed by Serif Ltd, and available on macOS, iOS and Windows;
- Inkscape (free), an open source and free vector graphic editor available on Windows, Linux and macOS. It is probably the most popular free Illustrator alternative;
- CorelDRAW, a vector graphics editor developed by the Corel Corporation available for Windows and macOS devices.
There are many other programs that Adobe offers, like InDesign and XD, which are specifically crafted for different areas of graphic design (UI/UX, Web design, digital and physical publishing, etc.).
User Experience Basics
Graphic design is a job that revolves around people. So, if you plan on becoming a graphic designer, you need to learn the basics of user experience.
Let’s say you’re designing a website for some company. You might think that you’ll just have to make it pretty. Easy, right? Well, technically, yes, but you’ll also need to consider usability, functionality, and speed. The visitors will need to interact with the elements across the pages – one way or the other. And if they can’t do that properly, then it doesn’t really matter how good looking the website is.
Enroll in Online Graphic Design Courses
A graphic design course can be a fantastic learning opportunity if you find the right one. Choosing courses can be tricky because you’ll need to start by looking at some of the best online learning platforms and what resources they offer for aspiring graphic design students.
That’s why we’ve shortlisted the best graphic design online learning platforms. Courses you’ll find on these learning platforms will teach you the fundamental principles of graphic design. Principles like typography, color theory, design psychology, layout theory, and much more. Some might even delve into different branches mentioned earlier, like web, layout, and UI design.
Types of Graphic Design You Can Choose
When you hear someone say, “I do Graphic Design work,” you probably think you automatically know what that person does. But in reality, that person may do a plethora of things that you haven’t even heard of.
If you’re starting with a Graphic Design course or just looking up all the various career options you have, you’ll quickly learn that this job doesn’t include one specific thing. Instead, graphic designers can do a lot, and you have the freedom to choose what suits you best. Let’s take a look at the most popular graphic design areas.
This is probably the first thing most people think about when they hear graphic design. And, rightfully so, since every company and brand needs a logo to represent their image and identity. Logo designers have enormous tasks in front of them, and that’s compressing everything a particular company or individual stands for in just a small piece of text, image, or a mix of both.
Web Design, User Interface, and User Experience (UI/UX) design
Motion designers also fit into a sub-niche of some sort, having to know all the principles of graphic design and use them to create beautiful animations, visuals, and effects for all kinds of media, including film, TV, the web, or advertising. To put it plainly, motion designers design graphics that move, and for this, you may also need to add a little bit of Adobe After Effects and Cinema4D knowledge to your shiny new roster of skills.
Social Media Content Designers
Social Media Content Designers do what the name implies – they design graphics for posts that go onto a company or person’s social media or website. For example, this may include email graphics, banners, ads, photo-based posts, whole social media layouts, profile pictures, and much more.
Layout design is probably the least known type of graphic design. But, even though it isn’t well known, it’s still an integral part of the design process, and it is quite a fun job. Essentially, a layout designer’s task is to ensure that every single element on the screen (or page, if it’s for print) is readable and comfortably displayed for ease of use. Layout designers typically work in publishing but they can be found in marketing or advertising.
Don’t think that you have to pick a path when you’re starting. It’s much more important to get the fundamentals down and then decide what you love the most about being a graphic designer. The most important thing is not to rush yourself, and of course, you’ll always have a chance of dipping your toes in any area you like. Then you can decide what suits your tastes best.
Becoming A Graphic Designer: Working On Your Own Projects
So far you’ve learned something about the software that you’re going to be using every day and covered the essential topics from a course that you might’ve picked. Now it’s time to work on some real-life projects to get a sense of what being a graphic designer is all about.
Finding inspiration is relatively easy; you can make anything! Experimenting with different posters, creating album covers for your favorite artists, or even redesigning existing merchandise and product packages is a sure way to elevate your sense of design.
3 Different Ways To Work As a Graphic Designer
We touched on the different graphic design areas you can decide to go for, but there’s another distinction we need to make – what type of graphic designer you can be.
Graphic Designer in an Agency
As the name suggests, these designers work in an agency that offers services to clients, be it individuals, small indie brands, or massive corporations. At this position, you’ll likely work alongside a bigger team of designers, where each one has their own set of responsibilities they need to take care of and pitch new ideas to the group when the project requires a refresh.
This position often requires the teams to develop whole identities for the clients and usually has multiple projects simultaneously for different clients.
Working at agencies is an excellent way of keeping things fresh and exciting because you’ll have many projects to work on throughout the whole year. But, if you’re prone to stress, this might hinder your performance and creativity because it can be a position with tight deadlines and harsh critics.
In-House Graphic Designer
In-House designers work for a company or brand in a more traditional “nine-to-five” type of setting. They often have many tasks that surround the whole brand identity of the company they work in, such as designing promotional materials, cards, flyers, brochures, revamping website elements, and whatever else may be needed at that given time.
Because these designers work for an established firm, there are many requirements they need to fulfil because their job involves matching the company’s brand and vision with their designs. And, on the other hand, they also need to consider the audience they’re designing for.
Freelance Graphic Designer
Freelancing is often the go-to for every graphic designer when starting their career. It’s definitely the most freeing and creatively liberating out of the three.
Freelancers take their most developed skills and promote themselves on various platforms (social media or freelance websites) and book clients either by contacting them for work or having a highly developed social media presence where clients reach them.
This position comes with a lot of perks. You set your own time, you can find like-minded clients that want your specific style on their brand, you can work from wherever you want, and you can enjoy all of the flexibility to have enough time to work on yourself while you’re building your career.
Making your name well-known in the freelance waters is tough, but perseverance is vital. If you’re trying to get gigs on Upwork, for example, you need to be patient and apply to a ton of jobs. Chances are, with almost zero experience, you won’t get stellar jobs right away, but starting small isn’t bad. You just need those little building blocks that will propel your career drastically if you have the nerves and strength to wait out the first couple of months.
A freelance designer’s pay can get comparatively high per project, especially if you get a considerable following and brand yourself correctly. That’s one more thing to get you motivated to start developing your skills sooner rather than later.
A Creative Portfolio for the Creative Designer
Whether you work for a big firm or are a freelance digital designer working on your own set time, you need a portfolio to showcase your work. Think of it this way, if you’re a client and see a design you like on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll want to see their work immediately. So, show your work from a client’s point of view. You should put all the projects you’re proud of in the lime-light of your social media accounts and website and update them regularly.
A successful Instagram or Twitter profile counts as a good portfolio, too. This elevates your name to potential clients and also serves as a good networking tool for meeting other designers in the field. And, most importantly, you need to connect to people. Networking is as important as the design process itself. Ask around and offer your services; you’ll be surprised at the number of people that need a logo or icon for their new startup.
When creating a portfolio, you’ll want to look at a few successful portfolios first. It’s not about just making it pretty and slapping on every project willy-nilly. It should have a particular flow, be categorized by project, and what types you did for the project. This should be a golden rule for everything you do, not only portfolios but projects as well – think of the users first! If they can’t see or navigate through it correctly, they’re definitely not going to hire you.
How To Become A Graphic Designer Without A Degree
Degrees can help you out a lot in any field. But, when it comes to graphic design, it gets a little trickier than that. Many designers see highly successful professionals earning tons of money, and people automatically think that they have a college degree that they’re flaunting at every interview. While that may be true, the assumption that every successful designer has a certification of some kind is quite the big myth.
The main things you’ll need, whether you’re certified or not, are a desire to create unique pieces of art for other people and yourself, communicating abstract ideas into tangible things, a willingness to talk with and accept people’s criticisms, and overall be curious about everything around you.
Here are a few things that will help you to become a graphic designer and explore exciting graphic design career opportunities in 2022.
Sit Down and Practice
Being a successful graphic designer and making a living out of this kind of career essentially requires people to hone their craft in any way possible, be it at home or a classroom of some sort. So, we’d advise you not to be discouraged when you think about all those people and their degrees because most of them, believe it or not, don’t even have them. They just sat down one day in front of their laptops and started learning. So, sit down and practice. Turn on that course you just bought and let your imagination run wild. Or a simple YouTube tutorial could help, too.
Be on the Lookout for Good Learning Resources
Education doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, and you don’t need to study multiple years with the hopes of getting a degree and working at a massive firm. You can become a successful graphic designer by exploring learning resources that go beyond the traditional education. A lot of aspiring creative students are opting for online learning, finding mentors, attending workshops and following trends.
A Good Portfolio Comes a Long Way
A good portfolio goes a long way towards you getting recognized by clients. As mentioned before, If a client sees your portfolio and likes it, they’re going to trust you to design for them despite you not having a degree. So, work on your personal and professional projects, and update your portfolio regularly.
Good Social Media Presence
This is essential and is often overlooked. So, make that a priority, and we can’t stress that enough!
Don’t Be Picky
Especially when you’re starting as a new name in the industry. Accept all work that comes your way, and eventually, you’ll get to a point where you could technically afford to say no, but this wouldn’t be the right time for that.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Graphic Designer?
Timing is going to vary drastically depending on the learning route you take. So naturally, enrolling in online graphic design courses, going to a “boot camp” style academy, or a full-fledged graphic design school is going to make your path much easier, and you’ll get to work much faster that way.
When you’re going to start working also depends on what your knowledge is while starting. If you’re at zero, you’ll have to learn many principles and tools, so that may take you a considerable amount of time compared to someone who already knows how to do some basic things in Photoshop.
You should be ready to learn as much as you can, so setting how much time you’re willing to dedicate to learning about design at the beginning will significantly benefit your expectations and your pace. Also, it’s important to know where to learn graphic design – as in, the most popular learning platforms that have graphic design courses.
And, when you land your first real job, learning will become much easier since you’re going to start working on real-life projects.
How Much Is A Graphic Designer’s Salary?
According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a graphic designer is around $50,000 in the United States. The numbers jump to $58,000 when talking about freelance designers, and that’s not including any bonuses you might get. Depending on the gigs you acquire or what kind of firm you start working at, you can get a relatively high annual salary doing what you love on your terms.
The salary largely varies between the different branches of graphic design. For example, according to ZipRecruiter, the annual salary of a UI/UX designer is $91,000 in the US, while a web designer’s salary is around $60,000.
Nonetheless, these numbers are impressive, and it’s nice to know that many people are willing to pay for not only a designer’s time and patience but also for their unique style, sense, taste, and way of thinking.
Whether you’re a newbie on the brink of discovering the thrilling world of graphic design or a seasoned design connoisseur, aiming to make this your full-time (or part-time) job opens doors to many fantastic opportunities in your career’s future. It’s freeing and liberating for a lot of people, and rightfully so. Many people want creative jobs that don’t go stale after a few weeks of starting. The learning curve can be challenging, but if you’re willing to go the distance and put that creativity to good use, your work could impact a lot of companies and brands.