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Where to Start Your Path as a Designer:

How to Become a Designer with Little or No Experience—The 5 First Steps You Need to Take

If you’re like me, you’ve been thinking about what you want to do with your life. You have had day jobs in serving or retail but after a while you just begin to hate it. You are looking for a way to turn something your passionate about into your job or career so you are actually excited to go to work. That’s the dream anyways.

For me, I knew a few things about myself:

  1. I always enjoyed making art and I had some natural talent at it.
  2. I like to create things and to solve problems.
  3. Even though I can tend to be introverted, I like to help people and interact with them.

This led me to a career choice of graphic design. After a few years in college, I learned that you can find connections between all subjects and therefore people, but we tend to get lost in translation. Graphic design is an essential part in filling that gap of communication that separates people.

So if any of this resonates with you, you might want to look into graphic design as a career. I know when I decided on graphic design, even with my Bachelor’s degree, I needed more information out there to make sure I was on the right path to fulfill my goal. So if you’re here looking for information to help you get started, you’ve come to the right place.

There is so much information out there for people who have some graphic design experience or students from a high-end art school. This blog is for the beginner with little or no resources who needs some guidance. I have been fortunate enough to meet some people in my life to help me on my path, and I’m here to share with you my experiences and failures to help you decide what is the best route for you to take. I will break this out in a step-by-step guide for you to start your path.


Understanding what a graphic designer actually is and does.

The first thing you need to do, after deciding on becoming a graphic designer, is to fully understand what a graphic designer is and what that job title entails. A lot of people think that graphic designers just draw and create all day and they can make whatever they want and get paid for their art. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not what it’s really like. Design and art are very similar in their essence but different in their execution. I will go deeper into this subject in a later post about the difference between art and design, but the main take away is that design offers solutions to problems. Don’t get it wrong, you do have to draw and create all the time, so you do need a solid foundation in art, but you have to understand that you’re working for someone else, so you have to create what the client is paying you to create. Save your own creations and artwork for after work and on your own time.

Take an honest look at your skills and knowledge.

So as a designer your job is to figure out the best solution to a problem, and your first problem you have to solve is “Where do you begin your path as a graphic designer?” The first step is figuring out if you have the skill set that goes into design.

I would highly recommend taking some art and design classes. Design classes will teach you basics every designer needs to know, like typography and different styles of design. Art classes will help you hone your creativity and build a solid foundation to build your career. There are plenty of places to find these courses be it at your university, community college, or online. There are even some really great blogs and YouTube channels out there that can help you hone your skills.

If you don’t have a background in art or design, that’s OK. Remember everyone starts from zero so even the best artist and designers started where you are starting right now! Just stay focused on the goal and work hard and you can achieve your dream.

Figure out what hardware you will need.

A lot of graphic design is done on the computer now. You can still start off designing by hand (which I do recommend, you can never have enough sketch books), but the final products are created digitally. So you need to have a computer that can handle the type of software you will be using on a daily basis. I will go in more detail about computers and software in a different post, but you will need a solid desktop or laptop, either PC or Mac, with a lot of storage capability and adequate RAM. I would get an absolute minimum of 8 gigabyte RAM and if you can afford it, 16 gig or higher. Always keep in mind that this is an investment that will pay for itself over the years, so it might be better to save a little extra now and get a quality machine that will last than get something cheap that won’t do the job as efficiently, costing you more time and unnecessary stress.

Figure out what software you need and need to learn.

This is a very simple and yet complex part of the design path. It is simple in figuring out what you need to learn but complex in learning it. There are tons of programs out there that do roughly the same thing all for different prices, so which one do you choose? I would recommend for graphic designers, to stick with the Adobe CC suite. Adobe is an industry standard and most jobs out there require you to know these programs. If you’re incorporating more illustration into your career there are some better options, such as Sketchbook Pro, that mimics regular paper and pencil drawing, but you still need to know the Adobe Suite.

The main programs in that suite that I use most frequently are Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. I will be posting tutorials using these programs to help you on your path to becoming a graphic designer. If you can master these three programs you will be well on the right path. However, I encourage you to try the different programs in the suite because depending on what type of graphic design you want to focus on, you may need to learn Premiere Pro, After Effects, or Dreamweaver for a few examples.

I would also recommend learning some coding such as HTML, CSS, or Java if you want to go more into Web Design. If that is the route you want to take, seriously look into becoming familiar with WordPress and different themes in that platform and other Content Management Systems (CMS).

Reach out to designers and artists in your community

This may seem like it should not be in the first steps to becoming a designer, but the earlier you start to network and reach out the design community, the better off you will be. Try to find a mentor, someone you can learn from and maybe shadow for a day or two, so you can see the ropes of what a graphic designer does. Reading and learning are fantastic ways to start but there really is no teacher like experience.

If you don’t know where to start to find a way into that community, talk to your teachers and see if they know someone in the field. Or if they are adjunct teaching, they are most likely in the field themselves and are willing to help you. Always show appreciation to these people and if you set an appointment with them, do not show up late or disheveled. They are taking time out of their busy schedules to help you with nothing in return. Take time to appreciate that and tell them you appreciate it and if you get the chance show them, with a thank you note or email. The more time you take with these people who help you, the more time they will take for you and you can further along your goal that much faster.


Take Away

These are the five first steps you should take when becoming a graphic designer. Always remember that 70% of being successful in your undertaking is action. Show up for class, talk (in person) to your teachers and mentors. It is good to have a plan and that is a great place to start, but a plan means nothing if you don’t act on it. You have a starting point now, so get out there and start on your journey to becoming a graphic designer!


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