Getting into graphic design without a formal degree is absolutely possible with enough passion, persistence, and portfolio building.
It will take dedication and hard work, but you can develop the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to break into the field.
Here are some tips:
Teach yourself graphic design fundamentals extensively
Spend ample time studying graphic design principles on your own through a variety of resources. There is so much quality material available online and in books that will provide a solid foundation across key areas:
- Dive deep into composition, color theory, typography, branding, layout, image choice. Understand how they work together to create engaging and effective visual communication.
- Look at countless examples of successful designs and analyze why they work. Reverse engineer great logos, ads, posters, brochures, packaging, and more.
- Master essential software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign inside and out through tutorials and experimentation. Become an expert at using their capabilities.
- Read up on seminal graphic design history and influencers. Study major styles and movements. This will provide important context for your own work.
- Practice critically evaluating designs around you, whether it’s a website, a poster, or a brand’s logo. Train your eye to dissect what makes something visually appealing and aligned to objectives.
Put in the hours to build this well-rounded base of design knowledge. It will pay off as you start actually creating your own work.
Create a robust and varied portfolio
A diverse portfolio demonstrating your skills across projects and industries is crucial for getting your foot in the door. Treat portfolio building as an ongoing effort:
- Craft conceptual designs like posters, logos, brochures, branding kits, etc just for practice. Push your creativity across different types of work.
- Offer to create pro bono work for nonprofits and friends' businesses. This real world experience is invaluable even if unpaid.
- Redesign existing brands, campaigns, websites or apps. Think critically about how to improve them visually and functionally.
- Showcase work online via Behance, Dribbble or a personal site. Ask other designers for constructive feedback.
- As you take on more professional projects, choose pieces that highlight your best skills for the portfolio.
- Curate the portfolio carefully. Only include your strongest pieces that show both technical abilities and creative problem solving.
- Tailor portfolios for each graphic design role you pursue. Adapt to showcase relevant work.
Continually pushing yourself on personal and professional projects will give you an impressive portfolio to demonstrate your abilities even without formal work experience.
Gain hands-on design experience
In addition to self-driven work, look for opportunities to gain real world experience through:
- Internships at design studios and creative agencies. Many don't require a degree and provide invaluable learning.
- Apprenticeships where you can learn from experienced designers on the job.
- Freelancing for clients on the side through connections and creative services platforms.
- Finding an industry mentor who can offer advice and critique on your work as you progress.
- Attending design networking events and conferences to make connections.
- Volunteering to support design efforts for nonprofit organizations and local communities.
Any professional experience will build key skills like collaborating with clients, communicating ideas effectively, managing design projects, delivering polished work on deadlines. These will make you stand out when applying for jobs later.
Consider targeted design certificates
Finally, look into respected certificate programs focused on high-demand design skills like:
- UI/UX design certificates teaching user research, prototyping, interface design, etc.
- Motion graphics programs covering animation, video effects, and kinetic typography.
- Branding certificates focused on visual identity, logo development, style guides, and more.
Relevant certificates from vendors like General Assembly, LinkedIn Learning, and local design colleges can provide additional credentials without the full commitment of another degree.
With this combination of self-development, real world experience, and targeted training, you can establish yourself solidly as an skilled graphic designer ready to excel in the industry. It takes real dedication, but the graphic design field is a viable path even without formal education.