Changing Careers to Graphic Design: Part 2

Posted by Sam Osborne on March 12, 2020

This post is a continuation from last week’s blog about the question of whether or not you should change your career or course of study to graphic design. Assuming you have determined that graphic design is the career that best matches your talents and professional goals, what steps do you need to take to make that design career a reality? I repeat the reliable MBA answer, “It depends.”

Education: Diff’rent Strokes for Diff’rent Folks

There are myriad educational options for budding designers that vary based on skill-level, means, time and location, so let’s explore them.

  • The True College Experience: U.S. News and World Report catalogs the Best Graphic Design programs in the country. These elite programs have high standards and the price tag to go along with them. However, the alumni networks and prestigious names would open many doors.
  • The Associate’s Option: let’s say you already have a four-year degree. Another Bachelor’s degree may not be feasible financially or chronologically. Fear not. Many colleges offer up affordable two-year degrees with an emphasis on real-world skills. A four-year program at most major universities will likely be administered by the fine arts college or department. You will get lots of theory but less practical instruction. My school had classes where design students from the university’s four-year program came to learn those practical skills. An Associate’s Degree can be paired with an internship to secure that crucial first job. After some time working as a designer, if you still have the urge, you can always return to school later to finish your B.A.
  • The Online Degree: certain two-year and even four-year graphic design degrees can be attained online. This may be the best option for those whose living or employment situation makes full-time class attendance impractical. Many programs may offer hybrid programs that are a blend of in-person classroom instruction and online curricula.
  • Self-learning: maybe you want to learn as much as you can on your own before you enroll in any program, take out any student loans or pay any tuition. Where can you go to master Adobe Suite programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign? There are plenty of free or lower cost resources online from which you can choose. YouTube is full of free tutorials to help with just about any graphic design program question you have. There are pay services like which offer instructor led programs that range from beginner to advanced levels that walk you through multiple graphic design software programs among other digital career routes.

The Primacy of the Portfolio

The capstone of design programs is the assembling of your portfolio. This is a curated selection of your most exemplary pieces of design work. They should convey both the depth and breadth of your skill set. And like most things, a digital version is no longer a novel option but a requirement. Sites like Wix, Behance, WordPress and Squarespace offer you free and pay options for creating a personal site to display your best work. They have ready-made templates which still allow you to customize for your needs. Some capstone courses may require a printed portfolio if for no other reason than to teach you how to deal with print vendors, and that is a worthwhile lesson in and of itself.

No Pay? Low Pay? No Problem: On Internships and First Gigs

The fear that you’re selling yourself short can affect many new designers. However, every chance you get to design is an opportunity to prove yourself, to grow as an artist and to get closer to a permanent paid position. Many design programs make internships a requirement and for good reason. Work experience is the best way to get good and get fast. Also, many first jobs may be temporary. Take them. If you prove yourself to an employer in a temp position, at the end of your contract period, they may have a permanent position waiting for you.

Live Freelance, or Die?

Many people go into graphic design partly for the chance to freelance and to be their own boss. That is a worthwhile goal for some, and design certainly allows for that. If this is what you want to do, you’ll need to decide whether to work as a sole proprietor or to incorporate as an LLC in your state. Are you up to the task of maintained two sets of books and preparing two tax returns? Do you have the discipline and organizational skills to juggle multiple clients and projects simultaneously while making enough money doing so to support yourself? Do you know a good accountant and a trustworthy lawyer (you’ll likely need both)? You may prefer the security of the less exciting but more stable corporate gig. You can always take on a side hustle for some extra spending money if you want without having to rely on that to pay the bills.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Learn Them

Seriously, know them by heart.

Once you acquire the education, experience and expertise necessary, you can begin a dynamic and fulfilling career as a graphic designer.

What some more career insights from creative and marketing professionals? Watch our Career Advice Videos, particularly the one with graphic designer Chad!

Posted in: Creative, Job Search, Job Seekers

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