The Calculated Creative

Starting Your Graphic Design Journey

Use these tips to launch yourself on the right path according to your goals, skills, and aspirations.

Graphic design is a multifaceted field that involves combining images, text, and ideas to communicate messages through visual media.

It requires creativity, knowledge of design principles, and technical skill.

Here's an in-depth look at how to start learning graphic design and launch your career.

Learn the Principles of Graphic Design

  • Study color theory - Understanding how colors interact, complement each other, and evoke different moods and emotions is foundational knowledge. Learn about shades, tints, and color harmony. Study basic schemes like analogous, complementary, and triadic.
  • Learn typography - Typography involves selecting fonts and arranging type in ways that enhance readability, hierarchy, and aesthetic appeal. Study concepts like kerning, leading, serif vs. sans-serif, and display fonts. Analyze how type is used in real world examples.
  • Understand composition - Visual composition involves the arrangement and layout of graphic elements. Learn principles like scale, balance, emphasis, contrast, and use of space. Study how alignment, proximity, repetition, and visual hierarchy affect composition.
  • Study graphic design history - Looking at early examples of print design along with contemporary digital design provides context and inspiration. Research the Bauhaus school, Swiss design, and pioneers like Paul Rand and Saul Bass. Study landmark designs and their social/cultural significance.
  • Learn software - While ideas come first, software skills bring concepts to life. Start by mastering vector graphics editors like Adobe Illustrator. Then expand into Photoshop, InDesign, and even video editing software. Following tutorials is a great way to get hands on experience.

Build Your Graphic Design Skills

  • Practice basic techniques - Doing foundational exercises like reproducing logos, posters, and flyers from well known designers teaches core skills. Practice kerning type, applying grid systems, creating logos, and lays out brochures and infographics.
  • Take on diverse projects - Seek opportunities to design business cards, packaging, posters, websites, mobile apps, and more. Working across print, digital, and environmental mediums expands your abilities. Take on at least 5 unique types of projects.
  • Refine your creative process - Develop effective workflows for concept development, research, iteration, prototyping, testing, and refinement. Document your process to identify improvements for future projects.
  • Learn from critiques - Present work regularly to experienced designers, instructors, and design-savvy friends for constructive feedback. Identify weaknesses and improve your skills based on objective critiques.
  • Build a diverse portfolio - Curate a collection of 12-15 polished projects showcasing your graphic design skills across multiple mediums. Tie projects together with a consistent style and brand identity. Present both final designs and process.

Launch Your Graphic Design Career

  • Get formal education - Consider a certificate program, associates degree, or bachelor's in graphic design. This provides foundational knowledge, project experience, mentorship, and career networking.
  • Complete internships - Interships give on-the-job training under real world constraints and deadlines. Try getting 2-3 internships at design studios, agencies, or in-house teams to build experience.
  • Gain freelance clients - Seek out freelance gigs by networking, cold emailing, or using freelance job boards. Low budget jobs still provide valuable opportunities to demonstrate skills and get testimonials.
  • Build an online presence - Create a portfolio website that highlights your mission statement, bio, skills, case studies, and best work samples. Promote your work on design blogs, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
  • Join professional organizations - Join AIGA, Adobe Create magazine, and Graphic Artists Guild to gain access to resources, job boards, events, and more opportunities to connect with the design community.

The road to becoming a graphic designer takes patience and dedication, but it's an incredibly rewarding creative career. Use these tips to launch yourself on the right path according to your goals, skills, and aspirations.

Make Your Work
Suck Less

Pulling back the curtain on the creative process to help make your work a little less terrible. A 3-minute read delivered each week on Monday morning.

The Calculated Creative

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