Is It Hard to Become a Graphic Designer?

We’ve all been there:

Should I pursue a career in graphic design?

It’s a tough question that can save you a lot of time, frustration, and disappointment.  But don’t worry, I’m going to give you actionable advice that can help you take the plunge.

Are you ready?

Becoming a graphic designer is not hard if you have the right attitude, predisposition, and passion for becoming a designer.  However, IT WILL TAKE TIME.

Want to know if you have what it takes to become a graphic designer?

In this this post, I go into great detail to describe what graphic design is, what graphic designers do, and what you need to learn. I will show you that becoming a graphic designer it’s not that hard if you first understand some general criteria.

Let’s dive in.  

First Things First: Do You Know What Graphic Design Is?

Understanding what is graphic design is will give you a good idea of how hard learning graphic design would be for you. This is the first step in knowing whether you can actually stick with it long enough to become a designer.  

As a profession, graphic design is concerned with the strategic communication of concepts, ideas, and emotions through visual means.  

In other words, graphic designers are visual communicators who must come up with effective solutions for communicating to an audience through visual representations.

Sounds cool, right?

It is.  But the task of graphic design entails much more than simply creating graphics on a computer.  

Graphic designers are communicators and their skills go beyond the graphic aspect of the profession.  

How Do You Know If You Should Become a Graphic Designer?

Now that you have some understanding of what graphic design is, you’re probably asking the big question:

How do you know if you have what it takes to become a graphic designer?

Well, judging from my own learning journey and my experience teaching college-level graphic design, I’ve seen over and over certain characteristics that separate my most successful students from the least successful ones.

Answer the following “quiz:”

  • Do you have at least a little bit of talent?
  • Are you a creative person or regularly get the need to create something?
  • Do you have a need to communicate something?
  • Do you have a passion for art and design or enjoy other people’s artwork or creations?
  • Do you know what you like in terms of design (how things look, feel, or what they represent)?

If you can truly answer yes to at least 3 of the previous questions, you probably have the right aptitude to pursue graphic design.

But no so fast:

This is no guarantee that you will succeed.  Ultimately, success will always be determined by your level of commitment in terms of studying design principles, practicing, and getting involved in actual design projects.  

However, understanding whether you fit within this description at least will give you some idea if you would enjoy graphic design as a line of work.

Having said that, the next part is important for understanding what you will specifically be doing as a graphic designer.

What Skills Do Graphic Designers Need to Master?

A graphic design career entails much more than just sitting in front of a screen drawing stuff or retouching photos.  

In fact, design is a very dynamic career in which you need to engage in different processes before you even start to design.  As visual communicators, graphic designers must be good at planning, strategizing, and researching and evaluating information.

In general, graphic designers must be proficient in the following skills:

Research

Designers must be good at evaluating and investigating ideas, entities, and strategies in order to produce visual products that are appropriate, unique, and effective at communicating (a logo, for examples, entails a lot of research before even sketching a design).

Theory

Graphic designers must have a solid grounding in the theory and fundamentals of design.  They are always learning and fully understand the principles that underlie both good design and communication.

Communication

Designers understand the fundamental principles of communication as they apply to visual language.  For example, they know how to appeal to people’s emotions, about the psychology of color, and clear channels of communication.  

Aesthetics

Designers understand what works visually and what does not . They have developed a sense of beauty and functionality through experience, observation, and modeling their favorite designers.

Apart from these macro-skills, graphic designers at least must master the following visual skills:

  • Color
  • Layout
  • Composition
  • Type
  • Proportion
  • Design elements and principles

Do you think it would be cool to learn these skills and knowledge?

If this sounds neat, you probably have the right attitude to pursue graphic design.  If you’re indifferent, maybe you need to think harder before committing in full.

Do you need a Degree To Become a Graphic Designer?

This is a difficult question that can be answered only with some context (leave a comment below about your story and maybe I can give you more guidance).

However, the general answers is YES.

You definitely can become a graphic designer without a degree.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

School or university education can help you a lot in achieving a career in graphic design.  The thing is, it’s not required.

Let’s analyze this in more detail.

There are some pros of getting a degree: for example, it will give you a clear path as to what you need to learn and the skills you must master.  It will provide you with expert guidance and assistance from a professional along the way. It might even help you find a job or internship experience right out of school .  

But don’t be fooled:

I’ve seen many recent graphic design graduates who are no better, or worse, than self-made designers.

In addition, school can be expensive, will take time, and results are not guaranteed.  Ultimately, it depends on the person.

In sum:

A graphic design degree makes sense if you:

  • Need pressure and external motivation to get things done
  • Have the economic resources to pursue it
  • Need external validation factors (such as grades) to improve
  • Need someone to tell you what to do to get organized
  • Need constant external pressure to accomplish tasks and assignments
  • Are in no hurry to become a graphic designer (you will have to take courses other than graphic design, go at the pace of the curriculum, etc.)

If you are diligent with a degree, you can actually end up with a great portfolio, which is, ultimately, the only variable that will land you a graphic design job, period.  

But a self-made graphic designer could also accomplish a reasonable portfolio probably before the four-years it takes to get an undergraduate degree, given the person is diligent and passionate about it.

In the end, it boils down to this:

The path you take depends on many factors, such as your motivation level, economic resources, time restrictions, and your eagerness to become a designer.  

It’s All About The Timeline

In the end, learning graphic design is not that hard, if you at least have an aptitude toward art, design, and creativity. BUT IT DOES TAKE TIME. It’s a fact you need to accept off the bat.

You have to internalize this: You can’t become anything without sweat, consistency, and persistence. Period.

At first, you will probably suck at graphic design. If you stick with it, you will slowly but surely get better.

The trick is to continue practicing, figuring out problems, studying, and learning to understand what makes up good design.

You need to be very persistent and patient.  

I look at some of my fist logos and I am ashamed. They are absolute crap!

However, I got better with time, finally getting a firm sense of what’s good design and what isn’t. In addition, keep in mind that you will not suck for the entire time you’re learning.

You will go through different levels and each level will bring you new projects, opportunities for revenue, challenges, and, most importantly, learning experiences.

You will be worth your experience and level, but you can even make a little money as you learn!

Also, learning on your own doesn’t mean that you’re not getting “formal” education.

You will learn from books and great quality courses, and also from actual designers on the internet.

In sum:

You can learn to design in different ways, and it all boils down to the time spent on the actions that matter the most:

  • Learn design principles and theory
  • Start practicing with software
  • Get involved in as many design projects as possible (go do a postcard for your mom, a business card for your brother, a logo for a friend. etc.)

When I look back at my own process of becoming a graphic designer, I don’t think it was hard. I just see that it took me time.  

Learning graphic design is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I am still on mine.

If this is what you want, your only regret will be that you didn’t start any sooner.  So start right now: get a book, download free software, and start on your very project.  

Icon by Arthur Shlain for the Noun Project.

Do you want to know if you have what it takes to become a graphic designer? Tell me your story in a comment below and I will let you know what I think.  

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