How to Become a Graphic Designer: A Definitive Guide
Want to discover how to become a graphic designer? You’re in the right place.
Building a freelance graphic design career will give you the freedom to create your work schedule, earn income from your passion, and put your creative skills to profitable use.
If you choose to be an in-house graphic designer, you’ll get an opportunity to showcase your design prowess, learn from a talented team, and earn a good salary.
If you need a sign to stop thinking about becoming a graphic designer and start taking action towards a new career, consider this one. Here’s what we’ll cover.
The 7 niches of graphic design
Some designers offer services across various types of graphic design, while others specialize in one (or two) niches.
As you get started, choose only one niche and master it—this will increase your chances of success as you get comfortable in your new role.
Here are seven common types of graphic design to help you understand what niche(s) may interest you:
1. Marketing & advertising graphic design
Business organizations utilize diverse forms of media (including print and digital) to promote their products and services.
As a graphic designer specializing in marketing and advertising designs, you’ll be responsible for creating marketing visuals for businesses. Examples of assets you may create are social media ads, vehicle wraps, email marketing templates, and magazine/newspaper ads.
2. Visual identity graphic design
A company’s brand identity distinguishes it from other businesses. Companies infuse visual identity in their print and digital content and marketing campaigns to build a positive, attractive brand image for customers.
As a graphic designer specializing in visual identity graphic design, you will work hand-in-hand with stakeholders to create attractive visuals like logos, typography, and color palettes.
To thrive in this niche, you must be skilled at brainstorming winning concepts and interpreting stakeholders’ ideas into appealing visuals.
3. Packaging graphic design
Packaging doesn’t only protect goods for easy storage and distribution. Well-designed packaging also serves as a marketing tool for capturing customers’ attention and making a product easily identifiable by existing buyers.
If you choose packaging design as your specialty, you will be responsible for brainstorming packaging design concepts, creating mockups, and preparing captivating print-ready visuals.
4. Motion graphic design
Motion graphics are growing in popularity since they capture people’s attention quickly and have many marketing benefits. Businesses use these graphics in their content marketing and social media ads.
As a motion graphic designer, you’ll be responsible for creating designs like animated logos, advertisements, GIFs, and banners for businesses. You will also secure more opportunities if you have a solid knowledge of coding, 3D modeling, and marketing.
5. Publication graphic design
Magazines, newspapers, and other types of publications should be visually appealing to encourage readers to purchase or download and read them.
Graphic designers specializing in publication graphic design are responsible for creating design concepts for magazines and newspapers that’d provide a smooth reading experience and ensure the editors’ thoughts find expression.
6. User interface graphic design
Mobile apps, websites, and software tools need to have a clean, distraction-free interface to increase engagement. Having a cluttered interface will only drive potential users/visitors away.
UI graphic designers help to fix the issue of bad interfaces. They help businesses design user-friendly interfaces for their digital products or platforms.
UI designers work hand-in-hand with UX (user experience) designers and the developers who bring UI designs to life.
7. Environmental graphic design
Environmental graphic design creates eye-catching designs on physical structures, often outdoors. This type of graphic design involves using visuals to make spaces more memorable, attractive, or easier to navigate.
Graphic designers in the environmental design niche influence how people view and interact with a specific environment. Examples of environmental graphic designs include murals, office branding, and signage.
How to start a graphic design career
It’s time to put your design skills to profitable use. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to become a graphic designer:
1. Pick a niche
There are several types of graphic design, and the first step to becoming a successful graphic designer is to choose an area of specialization.
If you are struggling to pick a graphic design niche, consider what designs catch your attention. For example, if you have an eye for logos, you could explore this area and see where it leads. On the other hand, if you often notice the packaging of your favorite products, perhaps you may enjoy designing some of your own.
Another way to decide on a niche is to research what graphic design services are in high demand and pursue a career in one of those specialties.
To begin your research, visit social media communities for graphic designers (like this one on Reddit) and inquire about what kinds of projects their clients are demanding lately.
2. Learn the fundamentals
After choosing a niche, learn to create high-quality designs. Unique, high-quality designs will attract high-paying clients (who will, in turn, recommend you to friends and colleagues).
There are lots of free and paid graphic design resources (including learning resources) available online. Depending on your niche and financial strength, start by consuming free tutorials on blogs, forums, and places like YouTube.
You can also take free/paid classes on platforms like Udemy, Lynda, and Skillshare and purchase relevant graphic design books from your favorite bookstores.
3. Invest in relevant tools
You’ll have to purchase software tools and gadgets to run a graphic design business effectively.
Do your research to determine the collection of tools you’ll need to produce high-quality work in your niche. Check out the AppSumo deals page to take advantage of available mouth-watering offers.
4. Build a portfolio
Most potential clients will request your portfolio before they have a serious business conversation. After building up your design skills, the next step is to put together a portfolio.
If you’re a complete design newbie, brainstorm your own projects and add your finished work to your portfolio. You can also offer to do free work for friends to gather samples and testimonials.
Once you have enough samples (say five to six), set up a free portfolio on Behance, Adobe Portfolio, and Crevado.
Need inspiration? Check out these amazing portfolios:
5. Join relevant communities
Join and become active in relevant graphic design communities. This will enable you to benefit from others’ contributions, receive updates on trending design styles, and have professionals critique your work.
There are numerous graphic design communities to join online. If you are active on Reddit, check out these communities:
6. Find paid work
To start looking for paid design work, update your social media profiles to display your specialized services. Reach out to close friends and relatives to see if they need your services or can recommend your work to others.
Other popular ways to find clients are through freelance marketplaces, your website, cold outreaches, and social networking websites. (Keep reading to discover a list of ways and places to land high-paying graphic design jobs.)
7. Practice consistently
There will always be something new to learn—from new design concepts to life-saving shortcuts. So, ensure you keep practicing to improve your design skills. You can even transition into other design types when you think the time’s right.
For example, if you become skilled at making flat logos, you can transition and learn how to create 3D logos. By practicing consistently, you keep improving your skills and gaining experience that might come in handy later.
How to choose your graphic design software
As a graphic designer, you will need a few software tools to create stunning designs. Below are some factors to consider before purchasing any software program.
What’s your niche?
Specific types of graphic design require certain software programs. For example, a photographer might use a tool like Colorcinch to create quick digital artworks, while a motion graphic designer might need a tool like BannerBoo. Consider your niche when researching software.
What’s your experience level?
Not all graphic design software packages are beginner-friendly. Some have advanced functionalities suitable for only professionals. When choosing your graphic design tools, pick ones that match your experience level.
What’s your budget?
Some graphic design software products cost under $100, and others start at $500. Don’t neglect your budget when perusing design software. We recommend you choose affordable alternatives when just beginning your career rather than choose expensive design software.
Want to discover some fantastic software deals? Check out the AppSumo deals page.
Ways to market your graphic design services
Create a website
You can create a simple website on Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress and list your services so that interested potential clients may contact you. Once you have your website, you can drive traffic through SEO, content marketing, paid ads, and other strategies. While social media is a helpful place to promote your work and services, a website is where you can house your contact information and portfolio.
Sell on Appsumo
Do you create done-for-you design templates and mockups? Sell them on the Appsumo marketplace. Selling on Appsumo is one easy way to market your designs to a huge audience of entrepreneurs and earn consistent passive income.
Run cold emailing campaigns
Find companies you’d like to work with and reach out to them with your services and how they can benefit the brand.
Attend networking events
Both physical and virtual networking events are wonderful places to land clients. Attend relevant networking events and tell people about your business and design specialties.
Do social media promotions
You can land design work on social media in a couple of different ways. For example, some people publicly post job ads in social media groups. You can also reach out and build connections with a few people you believe might be interested in your services.
Check job boards
Many companies place their job ads on job boards. Check out relevant job boards to discover job openings for graphic designers. You can cind the top job boards for graphic designers here.
Join freelance marketplaces
Create an account on popular freelance marketplaces and customize your profile to spotlight your services, skills, and experience.
While some platforms will require you to bid for jobs, others will send you relevant offers—as long as you meet specific requirements. Some popular marketplaces to join are Fiverr, Upwork, and 99designs.
Productivity tips for graphic designers
A high-quality graphic designer will consistently produce quality work, land more gigs, and, ultimately, make more money.
Here are seven productivity tips for graphic designers:
1. Write down your ideas
Learn to write down good ideas that run through your head. This is crucial because forgetting good ideas can waste significant time and creative energy.
2. Outsource minor tasks
Quit spending time on minor tasks; outsource them instead.
Outsource basic tasks like image background removal, conversion of design file formats, and image compression. Minor tasks are time-consuming and can distract you from your creative design work.
3. Take frequent breaks
Sometimes all you need is a break to refill your creative tank. When you’ve worked for an extended period and begin to lose concentration, consider taking a short break.
Do some stretches, go on a short walk, listen to music, grab a snack, or do other activities to get back into the design mood.
4. Track your time
You might not know how much time you’re wasting on irrelevant activities until you get a time tracker. One way to stay productive and cut distractions is to track your time while you work.
Consider a time-tracking browser extension (e.g., TrackingTime) or free software (e.g., Clockify). (Check out AppSumo’s list of the best time tracking tools.)
5. Browse design galleries
Running out of ideas when working on a project can drain your productivity. One way to refill your creative tank is by drawing inspiration from other designers’ projects.
Design galleries are good places to find designs to inspire you. Browse the design galleries on Behance and Designhill to begin.
Your journey to becoming a successful graphic designer
If you’re serious about building a graphic design career, then there’s no better time to take action than now.
So, pick a niche, learn to create stunning designs, build a portfolio, and start marketing your services.
There are tons of businesses in search of professional graphic designers. With the right tools, proper knowledge, and a burning desire to succeed, you will soon become skilled enough to handle high-paying projects for top companies.
Ready to become a graphic designer? Browse the AppSumo deals page, grab a tool, and get to work.