The Calculated Creative

The Debate Over Graphic Design Credentials

While a comprehensive design degree has many advantages, it is absolutely possible to enter and succeed in the graphic design field without one.

The field of graphic design is changing rapidly.

With the proliferation of design software and resources online, many talented designers are now entering the field without a formal degree.

This raises an important question - can you call yourself a graphic designer without a degree?

Here are some key perspectives on both sides of this issue:

Arguments for needing a design degree

  • Formal training at a university or dedicated design school provides important foundations in design theory, principles, and practical skills that are very difficult to learn properly on your own. This includes extensive courses in typography, color theory, branding, web design, print production, interaction design, motion graphics, and more. These courses give structure and depth to a designer's knowledge.
  • Design programs teach you how to work professionally with clients, receive and apply constructive feedback positively, collaborate effectively with creative teams and stakeholders, and communicate visual solutions. These "soft skills" are vital for a successful career as a designer.
  • Having a bachelor's or master's degree in a design field shows commitment to the industry and competence in creative and technical skills. Future clients and employers take it as an important sign that you have invested the time and effort into a formal design education at an accredited school.
  • The connections and networking opportunities provided by a multi-year design program can be invaluable for launching and developing your career. Fellow students form a creative community that lasts into professional life. Faculty provide mentorship and industry connections that are very difficult to access outside of school.

Arguments for succeeding without a degree

  • Many famous designers (David Carson, Massimo Vignelli, Paul Rand) did not have extensive formal training in graphic design, proving it is possible to do great and influential work without a degree. They learned through self-study, mentorships, and direct experience in the industry.
  • The proliferation of software tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign), online tutorials, video courses, design mentorships, and other design learning resources means motivated self-learners can gain extensive skills without formal schooling. Self-study allows you to focus directly on tools and subjects you need.
  • A strong portfolio of professional-level design work, personal projects, and sample pieces speaks for itself and demonstrates skills just as well as a degree does. Real world results and impact are more important than credentials.
  • Alternatives like accelerated design bootcamps, apprenticeships at design studios, and online classes can provide focused training and experience tailored directly to the working world. These options give practical knowledge without four years of study.
  • Design degrees are expensive and time consuming. Self-teaching through books, tutorials, mentorships allows you to start working sooner without taking on massive student loan debt that takes years to repay. The opportunity cost of lost income while in school is also substantial.

The Takeaway

While a comprehensive design degree has many advantages, it is absolutely possible to enter and succeed in the graphic design field without one.

Exceptional natural talent, focus on building a strong portfolio, and aggressively utilizing alternative learning resources can make up for lack of formal education.

Ultimately it comes down to each individual's goals, financial means, and desired career path.

With focus and persistence, it is possible to break into graphic design whether you have a degree or not.

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