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How I learned Graphic Design (without a degree)

I’ve never really typed out my journey before so I feel like this is going to be a long post. Buckle up! I would like to preface this by saying I have a Marketing Degree from the University of Cincinnati (go bearcats!) and took a lot of Branding & Marketing courses throughout my time at UC which have helped me A TON when it came to launching my business.

There was not really one date and instance where I said “I’m going to study Graphic Design and start my own business”. I have always been into art and I would run into instances in my internships where I would need to design something small, like a flyer, and would play around in Microsoft Powerpoint or Google Presentations only to realize that I had a ton of fun moving around design elements.

Over time, I would get compliments from bosses and co-workers on how well designed the flyers or advertisements were. I VERY slowly started realizing that the most exciting part of my work day was designing and not working in spreadsheets.

It wasn’t until right after I graduated school that I actually got to play around in Adobe Creative Cloud because I had access to it at my first full-time job. On my lunch breaks or when I had nothing to work on, I would start playing around with all of the different buttons in the programs. If you’ve ever opened up Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop, you quickly become overwhelmed. I knew it was going to take a lot of time and dedication to learn how to use these tools properly.

I would go home in the evenings and watch Youtube videos on different design tutorials. Things like “how to create an overlay on an image”, “how to center align text to an art board?”, “how to export a document for print in InDesign?”. Then I would go back into work the next day and sneakily try to work on these tutorials.

A few months later, I decided to purchase the Creative Cloud suite on my personal laptop at home. I had access to my student email still so I was able to get the Adobe student discount which helped a lot. In all of my free time, I would create fun designs and patterns in Adobe. I would research design terms. I would obsessively follow people on Dribble and Behance (designer networks). I would pin my favorite logo and website designs. I was in full study mode for a long time. I have always loved learning.

About 8 months later, I had family members start asking me to design them logos for their new businesses. I realized that I could probably start charging for my services. Because I had been doing research and watching Youtube videos often, I decided to create a Portfolio on Squarespace. I started with an easy starter template and plopped up some of my “fake” designs. I then created an Instagram account to start publishing some of my work.

To be honest, my first handful of clients didn’t come too easily but the more consistent I became at posting work examples on Instagram, the more DM’s I started receiving. Granted, my logo price back then was $300 which probably helped. Every few months I would evaluate my pricing and making necessary increases. And today, I am able to charge $1,497 for my logo package because of all of the knowledge and experience I have gained since then.

If you’re looking to start learning Graphic Design, my suggestions are as follows:

  1. Start by getting yourself a good quality work setup station. I have an HP Pavilion Laptop. Don’t believe others when they say you HAVE to have a MAC to design. Not true. But make sure your laptop has a lot of storage and RAM. The design programs take up a ton of memory.
  2. Start reading design books. Read this article for some book ideas
  3. Research design principles. More info on those here.
  4. Research design terms. Terms like typography, body copy, leading, alignment, legibility, hue, tint, RGB, CMYK, shade, complimentary, EPS, Pantone, etc.
  5. Follow designers online. Create a Dribble account. Search around and save designs you love. Also check out Adobe Behance. There are some really cool designs on there.
  6. Start pinning design blogs on Pinterest. There are a ton of people of there who are writing on blogs on how to design. Start a large pinterest board dedicating to learning graphic design and start pinning away.
  7. Now is the time to start designing but before you dive head in, maybe start out with a free program like Canva to make sure that this is really what you want to do and have a passion for.
  8. Once you realize you love it…. purchase the Adobe Creative Cloud suite! You’ll need InDesign if you’re designing printed materials. Illustrator for logos and everything else. Photoshop for mockups (like when you display a website design on a laptop mockup). If you’re only going to purchase one, I one hundred percent recommend Illustrator.
  9. Start educating yourself with tutorial videos on Youtube. If you’ve rather learn things quickly maybe enroll for a course on Skillshare.
  10. Practice EVERYDAY. This is important. Learning a design program is like learning how to ride a bike. You need to be consistently practicing. Start experimenting by designing color palettes, moodboards, flyers, business cards, patterns, web mockups, whatever your heart desires! Use these fun designs for your new portfolio for when you want to start getting real paying clients.

P.S. I have a tutorial video on how to export your logo files for your clients. Check it out here!

  1. Amethyst Duke says:

    This was awesome! Thanks for the insight.

  2. Lynette R Ferguson-Hunt says:

    Probably the best advice I’ve come across that I can connect with:)

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