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How to become a graphic designer without going to school

If I could travel back in time and give my younger self some sage advice, I’d tell her that it’s possible to become a successful designer without going to school. While I did go to college, ultimately my degree is not related to my career. And that’s okay! If you have dreams of starting a career in graphic design (or pivoting your career to graphic design), but lack the time or resources to go to design school, then keep reading to learn my top tricks for breaking into the industry without a degree.

Design theory basics.

First things first, you gotta learn the fundamentals of design! These principles are contrast, balance, emphasis, proportion, hierarchy, repetition, rhythm, and white space. These are the basic building blocks of all design. A quick Google search can teach you everything you need to know about these principles, but here’s a quick overview.

Tools of the trade.

What’s a designer’s best friend? Their computer! While the industry standard is an Apple Mac--such as an iMac or a MacBook Pro--Windows is fine to work with as well. Some added bonus tools would be an iPad and an Apple Pencil, Pantone swatch book, and/or additional monitor, but if you don’t have the funds to secure these right now, just focus on a solid computer. Last, a sketchbook and some high-quality pens and pencils will come in very handy for brainstorming designs.

Master the software.

The industry standard design software is Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. Don’t let the steep learning curve stop you from getting to know these programs like the back of your hand! Thankfully there are plenty of free (and paid) resources online to provide tutorials and shortcuts for learning how to navigate the software. My favorite free resource is YouTube, there are countless videos about every design software program available for you to watch. My favorite paid resources are Skillshare, Future Learn, and LinkedIn Learning.

User experience.

User experience (also known as UX) is the process of creating products that have been designed with usability and user satisfaction in mind. It incorporates elements of branding and design together with practical usability and function. This skill will be incredibly helpful if you choose to niche down to custom website design!


So you need to showcase your work to attract your dream clients, but you don’t have a formal portfolio from design school. Don’t worry, I’m going to show you how to create your own. If you don’t have experience working with clients yet, passion projects are a great way to show off your creative ability. Create a few project “briefs” to execute some different brand and web design visions. Pro tip: choose an industry, client audience, and style for each brief. Make sure the overall aesthetic mirrors the types of clients you want to attract. Then organize all of these projects into a portfolio showcase on your website!

Business of design.

Whether you plan to get a job at an agency or jump into freelancing, it’s important to learn about the business side of being a designer. Such topics include: how to create a proposal, how to write a contract, how to price your work, how to invoice your client in a professional manner, and so much more. If you take the freelance route, it’ll be vital for you to develop your client management and communication skills, such as how to manage client expectations, set boundaries, create realistic design project timelines, and how to ensure your client is satisfied with the final project.

If you’ve been thinking about taking the leap and becoming a graphic designer, then let me be the first to congratulate you! If you’re looking for additional help on your design journey, such as how to build passive income, set up systems for scaling your business, and how to effectively raise your prices while working with your dream clients, then definitely check out our Dream Big Designer course.


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hey, I'm meredith

I'm here to give you my best tips to help you build a successful biz. Welcome to our blog: the spot for growth hacks, DIY design tips, and advice from real business owners. Grab your latte and let's get creative!

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