Is It Hard to Become a Graphic Designer?

We all asked this question at some point:

Is it hard to become a graphic designer? 

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.

Having said this, the next question follows: 

Should you pursue a career in graphic design?

Answering this question 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.

So: 

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

In this post, I tell you 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: What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Understanding what is graphic design 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.  

Who Can Be 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?

Judging from my own learning journey and my experience teaching college-level graphic design, over and over I’ve seen 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 do you feel 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 in itself 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 sections are important for understanding what you will be doing specifically as a graphic designer.

Graphic Design As A Career 

As with any job in the creative economy, graphic design continues to be a career choice with good prospects. 

Think about it: 

Today, graphics are at the center of everything we do and consume. Just about any industry, from tech to education to health to advertising, relies on images to convey messages. 

This is because graphic design is all about the communication of information in visual terms. 

However, this means that a lot of people want to become graphic designers. In other words, there is competition in the field. 

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a graphic designer was $52,110 in 2019, with higher average salaries (above $63,000) in states such as Washington, Massachusetts, New York, and California. 

Graphic design salaries in the US 2019
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The field is expected to grow at a 3% rate, which is considered below the average of other professions. 

But here’s the thing: 

Related fields, such as web development, have higher average salaries ($73,760 per year) and are growing at an above average rate (13%)

This doesn’t mean that you now have to learn to code off the bat. 

It means that, as you learn graphic design, you will have to learn skills that directly relate to graphic design for the web. 

The more you combine graphic design with the field of web design, the better your chances at succeeding in the field. 

Here’s the good news: 

You don’t necessarily have to know code to design for the web, as there are many aspects of web design that don’t require complex computer science skills. 

What to Study to Become a Graphic Designer ?

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, researching, and evaluating information.

In general, graphic designers must become 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:

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

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.

If you want a more extensive list of skills, check out the O*Net website (from the US Department of Labor), which compiles data from multiple graphic-design related job titles

Average graphic design skills used professionally.

Do you need a Degree To Become a Graphic Designer?

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, I truly don’t think it’s required for your success.

Let’s analyze this: 

There are some pros of getting a graphic design college degree: 

  • It can give you a clear path as to what you need to learn and the skills you must master.
  • It can provide you with expert guidance and assistance from a professional along the way. 
  • It could even help you find a job or internship experience right out of school through special university programs.  

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.  

To give you perspective, according to the report Trends in College Pricing 2019, by the College Board,  average out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year universities were $26,820 in 2019-20, a 2.4% from the previous year. 

Average cost of tuition, four-year US universities.

On the other end of the spectrum, platforms such as Udemy or Lynda, which have an extensive range of graphic design courses, range from a couple hundred dollars for a course or memberships of about $40 per month. 

This means that a graphic design degree is an investment of time and money. 

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, if 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. But 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. 

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.

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:

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 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.  

And, of course, you can follow selfmadesigner.com!

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.  

Comments

  1. I am finally starting 11 grade. I don’t have a exact aim or what I want to be. To be clear don’t have a aim but the good part is I am eager to learn new things. I find about something and do research on it and gain knowledge. I wan’ t keep learning new stuff. I also really want to express what I feel but never able to talk about it to anyone. So this is my story. Can u help by telling me if I have what it takes to become a graphic designer.

    1. Ruben Ramirez

      Sujita:
      Thank you for sharing. I hear many great aptitudes that would qualify you to be a graphic designer. You still have some time to decode, which is good. I would suggest you start testing out learning graphic design to see if it’s something you would commit to in the long term. Download Inkscape or Gimp, think of a project you would like to accomplish (a logo for your social media, a flyer, a poster for your bedroom, etc.) and start learning. There are a lot of resources in my website but also in places like YouTube. It’s time to test it out!

  2. Travis Andrews

    At 41 am I too old to pursue a graphic design degree and career? Taking in consideration the time it takes to have a successful career.

    1. Ruben Ramirez

      I hear ya, Travis. I’m 44 myself. But think about it this way: Changing careers is not an On/Off switch. It’s a transition over time. You can start with that transition right now, maybe first for the pleasure of learning something new and having a creative outlet, but as you continue other things might start to happen, like getting payed for some random work. As time passes, you would be building the experience and the work samples (portfolio) that would help you to actually transition. You could do this, depending how much time and effort you can apply, in only a couple of years, which isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. Hope this helps. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m 24. I started to dabble in graphic design when I was 13, creating layout for MySpace and creating eye popping profile pictures. It’s silly when I look back at those day but it also felt accomplishing. Throughout high school I designed shirts and logos for my high school and other clubs. I was surprised when people actually liked them. When I got to college I felt the pressure of the competition of being a graphic designer and stopped doing photoshop mainly because it is tedious work. I would of course still create wedding cards for my family and any other request they’ve asked. I’ve been thinking about going back into graphic design but I need a hard push. I work full time now in an office and sure I’m good at what I do now but sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I followed the graphic design route. Trying to work and juggle graphic design in isn’t the easiest task but after reading post from actual graphic designers and their experiences I think it would be worth it to attempt again.

  4. Cris Hulleza

    I am a student in the Philippines and I’m currently not sure about what to take, I am in the 11th grade and want to start to choose a path that I would take, and currently, I enjoy thinking about working as a graphic designer

    1. Chris Hulleza:
      If your not sure that’s fine you still have time to figure it out. Just make sure to practice everyday and read up on articles pertaining to graphic design.

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About the Author:

Ruben Ramirez teaches Digital Media in college and started SelfMade Designer to share his knowledge of graphic design. He loves skateboards, guitars, and vector graphics.

Follow on Instagram: @iconocracia

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