How to become a graphic designer in less than a year

Traditionally, becoming a graphic designer took a lot more than a year. First, you had to complete a bachelor’s degree. And that usually didn’t include much in the way of hands-on experience, so you should probably do an internship for a few months after that to fill in the gaps. Only then could you start applying for your first graphic design jobs.

It was all very well back in the days when you could get a scholarship to go to college and expect the state to pay your taxes (although even then, many couldn’t afford to take that much time out of the workplace). In 2022, however, with degrees costing £ 9,000 a year and inflation pushing the cost of living to record highs, it’s an increasingly less attractive option.

It is not surprising, therefore, that more and more graphic designers have found alternative paths in the profession. Nowadays, it is common to find that a considerable number of designers in any interior design agency or department have taken a different path than the traditional degree.

So how can you follow in their footsteps? Read on as we give you some tips for becoming a graphic designer in less than a year.

1. Take Shillington’s Graphic Design Course

Don’t feel like studying for three years? How about three months? Shillington’s graphic design courses are spread over three months full-time or nine months part-time. And because these courses are designed by working graphic designers who know what the industry needs, they are highly respected across the industry and have an excellent record of graduating in jobs.

Shillington’s courses take place on their campuses in the UK, USA and Australia, or you can take classes online, making them accessible to everyone around the world. They’re less about studying theory than learning what designers actually do in practice, so you’ll be working on real-world briefs, in a studio-like environment, with proper deadlines. That way you’ll have an industry-ready portfolio by the time you finish, which will get you a long way when it comes to applications and interviews.

This approach to becoming a graphic designer is increasingly popular with school leavers, graduates looking to enrich their degrees, and professionals looking to change careers. For more details, visit the Shillington website.

2. Read some basic books

While art is about aesthetics, design is about creating something that performs a function. To get your head on the fundamentals of design thinking, it’s important to read some fundamental books, and here are some good ones to get you started.

The Graphic Design School of David Dabner, Sandra Stewart and Abbie Vickress is firmly focused on aspiring designers who don’t want or can’t attend college. Its authors describe it as a basic course for graphic designers. The first section covers the fundamentals of design, such as composition, hierarchy, layout, typography, grid structure, and color. The second section puts these basics into practice and explains study techniques and production problems.

Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips is a classic text by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips, completely revised and updated in 2015. This is another excellent introduction to graphic design for new entrants, with visual demonstrations and concise comments explaining the principles behind everything from logos to website design.

A good complementary read is Drew De Soto’s Know Your Onions. It is designed like a notebook, with all the tips and knowledge of the authors contained within, along with blank pages that allow you to add your own personal notes and thoughts.

In addition to the principles of graphic design, it is also a good idea to research the practical aspect of a career in design. One of our favorite reads on this subject is Oh Sh * T What Now? by Craig Oldham. In this revealing tome, the famed designer answers common questions posed by aspiring graphic designers, such as: Where do you live? Can you afford to live? How can you make money doing design? How do you get a job? Who do you want to work for and are you good enough?

Alternatively, there is Extra Bold: a practical and informative handbook for designers that is part textbook and part comic, part zine, part poster and part self-help manual. Written by multiple authors, it contains a series of interviews, essays, typefaces, biographical sketches and projects from dozens of contributors that will really help you understand the topic better.

3. Learn through podcasts

While no substitute for a professional course or instruction book, podcasts are a great way to supplement your learning, especially when you’re in the midst of mundane tasks like housework or commuting. Here are some of our top tips to help you in your thriving graphic design career.

Pathfinder is a 16-episode podcast series from Shillington that offers advice to graphic design graduates from around the world entering the creative industry. Hosted by Shillington New York teacher Jimmy Muldoon, it features recognizable content that helps designers navigate the ups and downs of the journey from graduate to working designer.

Design Matters with Debbie Millman was one of the very first podcasts in the world and it’s still going strong today, after 15 years. The show is about how creative people draw their life span and its guest list is legendary.

Make it in Design features interviews with designers who have made bold moves and followed their hearts to grow as creative professionals. This podcast is a place of curiosity and discovery, and you’ll get some good tips on what it’s actually like to work in the design industry.

On Design with Justyna Green offers you in-depth conversations with the most inspiring figures in design, from designers to artists, creative directors to entrepreneurs. This podcast is a great way to find out what inspires leading creatives, how they work, and how they view the world.

Finally, the Creative Boom podcast gives you a scoop from artists, designers, illustrators and photographers on the ups and downs of being a creative and their daily challenges. Each episode is packed with insider career advice, honest business advice, and eye-opening stories.

4. Get involved

Graphic design is not like being a lawyer or an electrician – you don’t need to have a qualification to practice. So once you’ve learned the fundamentals, through an online course or self study, there’s nothing stopping you from getting involved as a freelancer and improving your skills by doing.

Of course, winning your first customer isn’t easy. Few will trust someone unprecedented, so there is a vicious circle you need to get out of there. You can show what you’re made of by posting personal projects and student work online, and if that’s good enough and you’re lucky, some customers might bite.

Most of the time, however, the most effective path is to target people you already know. Start with friends and family, distribute it to colleagues, fellow students, past tutors, and so on. Keep going until you find someone who needs design work, whether it’s building a website or creating a poster. You might be surprised how many people take the opportunity because most people don’t have a clue how to hire a designer and will welcome a familiar and friendly face to guide them through the process.

5. Check job boards

Once you are trained and experienced enough to start applying for jobs, freelance roles and internships, finding the right opportunity can become a full-time job in itself. So it’s worth throwing your net far and wide so as not to miss the chance. Here are some places to start.

The Shillington Jobs Board is very selective: it only approves and shares job opportunities and internships that respect the time and talents of designers. Roles are available in the UK, US and Australia, and you don’t need to be a Shillington graduate to apply, though it obviously helps.

If You Could is the job board of the It’s Nice That design blog. At the time of writing, it advertised 167 roles, mostly based in London but some for remote workers.

Nikky Lyle describes herself as a “creative recruiter with a conscience” and was D&AD President Judge in 2020. Her Graphic Design Jobs showcase offers opportunities across the UK.

The recruiting section of veteran publication Design Week offers a wide range of jobs in a variety of media roles. There were 35 graphic roles here at the time of writing, mainly based in London and southern England.

Start studying graphics!

To learn more about studying design in the Shillington Intensive Courses, visit the Shillington website.

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