With so many Photoshop tutorials available online, it's tempting to think you can become a graphic designer after watching a few short videos. But the truth is, being a designer isn't about knowing how to use software. It's all about communicating.
A job in graphic design could suit many different types of people. Some designers are very creative, but others just focus on getting the job done. The thing they all have in common? Being able to communicate a message to people.
To be a successful graphic designer, you need to think differently, presenting ideas in new and imaginative ways. But more importantly, you need to be able to get those ideas across to others – your clients, their customers and audiences.
What are your first steps?
Some people will go to university to study graphic design. But that's not for everyone. And it's not the only way in. You could take a course. You could teach yourself. You could get work experience or an apprenticeship. Sometimes it just takes a personal connection to someone in the industry to open up opportunities and launch your career.
Whatever route you use, you'll need a good working knowledge of design techniques. Take a short course in Adobe software, read design books and magazines, and watch tutorials. And above all, keep practising.
Where should you look for work?
Whether you want to be your own boss working freelance or prefer to have a more stable salary in-house or at an agency, getting your first job will be the hardest. There's no getting around the fact that you'll get a lot of 'no's before you get a 'yes'.
Don't be put off. Ring around for work experience. Get in touch with friends and family who own businesses and do some work for them. Come up with your own projects and add these to your portfolio. It might take a few months of rejections, but the more you can get a name for yourself, the easier it will be to find new work.
A good option could be to look for work within an industry you're passionate about. You could apply for design work at a specialist magazine or agency – your insider knowledge could make up for your lack of design experience.
What if you can't find the right job?
The first few projects you do might be boring and might not pay much (if anything). But getting experience is very valuable. As soon as you have some real work in your portfolio, you can be more picky with which projects to take on and which roles to apply for.
The most important thing is to show your employer or client what you're capable of. Word will get around that you're a skilled and dependable designer.
Just remember, there's one factor that will make all the difference if you want a client to be pleased with your work: getting the project finished on time. It will help clients trust you. And when you've moved beyond junior designer roles, it's what helps maintain your reputation.
You could be the most innovative designer in the world, but if you can't get work in on time, you won't get hired again.
What else should you think about?
Introductory courses and work experience are great ways to get started.
You could take some more specialist courses if you want to go in a certain direction. Want to be an illustrator? A course in Adobe Illustrator is the obvious choice. Other specialist roles in design include typography, publishing, even printmaking.
Graphic design is an exciting career choice where you can really make the most of your creativity and technical ability.
Finding your first job will probably be the biggest challenge of your career. But if you know graphic design is for you, then don't give up. Be proactive. Once you're on the career ladder, there will be no stopping you.
Related courses at City, University of London
A short course is a great way to get started – whether you're exploring a career in graphic design or just looking to gain some extra skills.