So, you want to become a graphic designer? But don’t want to invest years of your time and get into debt while doing so? Well, the good news is that you do not need a degree to become a graphic designer. Graphic design is an amazing creative career with limitless possibilities, but there are definitely certain things you need to know before embarking on your new role. We’re going to show you how to learn these things without going to university and how to become a graphic designer without a degree.
Before making the jump to this fantastic career, we thought we would break down what a graphic designer is and what they do so we can help you make a fully informed creative career change. At Shillington, we define graphic design as the effective visual communication of an idea or concept. This, in turn, makes graphic designers visual communicators—it’s their job to take ideas and concepts and turn them into something visual.
The visuals that graphic designers create are a huge range of things. For example, the concept given them could be that of a new business and they have to take this concept and turn it into a visual identity—creating the entire “look” of the company. We call this branding. However, a graphic designers’ job doesn’t stop there—they also design a whole host of things, including advertising, publications: books and magazines, packaging, digital design: websites and apps, campaigns and so much more. Graphic design is an exciting, ever evolving field.
Now you know what a graphic designer is and what this creative career entails, we’ll show you how to become a graphic designer without a degree—saving you time and money in the process.
To begin your journey into design, you’ll have to get up to scratch on design theory and the fundamentals of graphic design. These are the things that should be the basis that you build any future design upon. They include things like design thinking, grids and margins, colour theory, image usage and lots of other things that shape the technical side of design.
Though, the most important of these is the design principles—a set of five rules that every designer should follow to create successful, harmonious designs. They are: alignment; which creates unity; repetition, which creates association and strength; contrast, which creates emphasis and impact; hierarchy, which creates organisation; and balance, which creates stability and structure. You need to learn how each of these work and should be applied to your design work, and how all five work together.
From books to videos to short courses, there’s lots of ways to get to know graphic design fundamentals and theory to help you become a graphic designer without getting a degree.
Keep reading for some of the best ways of doing so.
Graphic designers love books. Not just because they are often beautifully designed things to have on your shelf, but also because they contain so much useful knowledge.
Some graphic design books are just amazing sources of design inspiration, showcasing the greatest design from across the world and across time. Titles such as Jens Muller’s double volume The History of Graphic Design, Counter-Print’s Big Type and DESIGN(H)ERS are perfect for when you’re a bit stuck for inspiration.
Books aren’t just pretty things—they’re also a great way to learn. To help yourself to become a graphic designer without a degree there’s some top books to pick up to help you learn everything you need to know to become a graphic designer. For example, Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris’s Basic Designs series, Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler and legendary designer Josef Müller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design are all packed full of essential knowledge that every graphic designer needs to know.
Having graphic design knowledge and mastering the fundamentals is one thing, but…
…to really become a graphic designer without a degree you’ll have to have the skills to back up your knowledge.
There are lots of ways to develop graphic design skills—from self teaching yourself online to enrolling on a short graphic design course. You can also read books, listen to podcasts or subscribe to design blogs—like the Shillington Design Blog that you are currently reading. All these individually or combined will give you a good understanding of the graphic design skills needed to become a graphic designer.
If you have some graphic design skills but need to boost them to actually start working as a graphic designer for your day-to-day, then there are some great options for this too. Getting yourself a graphic design mentor is a great option to learn. You can also practice design briefs, even ones you made up yourself, or collaborate with other graphic designers to help get those skills refined and ready. Whether total beginner or design upskiller, you’ll need to master the vital graphic design tools….
Like any profession, graphic designers have a set of tools that they use in their day-to-day life. These graphic design tools are a mix of both physical tools and software, both of which you will need to get the hang of if you are going to become a graphic designer without a degree.
The main physical tool of a graphic designer is a computer, namely a MacBook or an iMac—as Apple products are the industry standard and used by a majority of designers and design companies. It’ll quickly become your best friend as you dive into the world of design so it’s worth investing in a high spec Mac that is able to run all the programs you will be designing on. There’s also some other handy gadgets—such as a high definition monitor, a Wacom tablet, a digital camera and a smartphone—that will also help you in your new career.
The tools you will really need to get to grips with are the essential graphic design software—namely the Adobe Creative Cloud, InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator and Figma. These are the programs you will do a greater part of your work on and they all serve their own very useful purpose: InDesign is a page layout program for both digital and print design; Photoshop is image editing software; Illustrator is a vector drawing and editing program; and Figma is a digital design app, with vector graphic editing and prototyping capabilities.
So far it seems like we’ve just told you to learn things—theory, skills and tools—but what if there was one way to learn all these things and more to become a graphic designer without a degree…
Yes, if you want to learn everything you need to know, including design theory and fundamentals, graphic design skills and the Adobe Creative Cloud and Figma, and build your own professional portfolio of your own amazing design work, then there’s one great option for you: Shillington’s online graphic design course.
If you don’t want to spend 3+ years and rack up some serious debt on a graphic design degree, then Shillington is the place for you.
Shillington does design education differently—equipping students with everything they need for a successful career in graphic design in just nine months online. So, you can become a graphic designer without even leaving the comfort of your sofa.
What makes Shillington’s online graphic design course extra special is that the whole thing is taught live by our teachers, who are all talented, practising graphic designers. All lectures, demonstrations, briefs and critiques are delivered live over Zoom during class, and all students are given a wealth of additional study materials outside of class.
With four timezone options—UK, US East Coast, US West Coast and AU Eastern—Shillington’s online course isn’t limited to one location. You can study from wherever you are in the world and join graduate designers from Japan, USA, Italy, the Philippines, India and more.
Online learning not your thing? Don’t worry, you’re not missing out as Shillington’s trailblazing graphic design course is also available on campus in New York, London, Sydney and Melbourne. You can also study graphic design abroad with Shillington, so you can learn whilst immersing yourself in the culture and creativity of one of these global design hubs.
On campus, you can choose to study full-time for three months or part-time for nine months, so the course can work around your schedule. And, whether you’re on campus or online, our industry-focused curriculum remains the same—preparing you to become a graphic designer without a degree.
You’ll see when talking about Shillington’s graphic design course, we mentioned a graphic design portfolio—which is potentially the most important thing you’ll need to become a graphic designer without a degree.
Your graphic design portfolio is your key to the industry. It’s a place to showcase not only your work, but also show what you can do and all the skills and knowledge you have learnt—no matter how you have learnt them.
It’s also the first glimpse that potential employers or clients will have of your work so it’s important that it reflects not only you as a designer, but also you as a person.
One key tip is to assure that your portfolio isn’t superficial. It should be a reflection of what you are able to do so having concepts and processes documented in there as well as finished designs is important. People looking at it should be able to understand where your finished designs came from and how they got there.
Additionally, make sure your portfolio never becomes a static thing. It should be constantly changing and evolving as you change and evolve as a designer and learn new skills, specialise in a particular area of design or just work on more projects. Once you’ve got your graphic design portfolio sorted you’ll be well on your way to becoming a graphic designer.
Having all the skills and knowledge you need and your portfolio means you are a graphic designer, but the graphic design industry is an open, friendly community. This means that getting to know other graphic designers is an essential part of becoming a graphic designer without a degree. It’s important to have a network.
Networking is easy! If you do a graphic design course like Shillington’s then you’ve already got your first network of graphic designers from a huge variety of backgrounds around the world—both in your class and in our 9000+ strong Shillumni community. But, if you weren’t lucky enough to get a network like this through your studies then there’s plenty of other ways to become a part of a design community. You can seek out design events in your local area, where you’ll meet people from all over the creative spectrum to chat and collaborate with. Then, there’s loads of places to meet fellow creatives and designers online—from social media platforms like Instagram, Behance and The Dots to creative Slack groups where you can ask for advice, find jobs and just chat.
The final step in your journey to becoming a graphic designer without a degree is to get a design job! Exciting stuff. First, you’ll have to decide whether you want to work for a design studio or agency, collaborating with a team to produce work for clients, work in-house for a company, solely designing for that brand/business or freelancing, working for yourself for a range of clients. All three options present their own benefits and challenges so the decision is entirely yours.
Graphic designers don’t actually have to work as graphic designers. We know that doesn’t sound right, but there’s a whole host of other jobs that graphic designers can do, which usually evolve specialising or concentrating in one area of design. Designers can become digital designers, UX or UI designers, book cover designers, brand designers, lettering artists, surface pattern designers, creative marketers and so much more. There’s lots of things you can do with a graphic design certificate.
Now, when it comes to actually finding a graphic design job then there’s a few options. The most successful of which is keeping an eye on specific design jobs boards—including Shillington’s own Graphic Design Jobs Board, which features creative jobs around the world. Design jobs can also come from unexpected places so you’ll never know when and how you might land a job—it could be through Instagram, your friends or just by asking directly.
You’re not the first person to become a graphic designer without a degree.
Thousands of people have come to Shillington from other careers, including lawyers, chefs, nurses and oil rig workers, and become graphic designers with fruitful careers. It’s truly an amazing thing to do.
If you’re looking for tips on how to make the change to a creative career or for some inspiration of how to use what you already know to benefit you as a graphic designer, then read some stories of those who have already done it. For example, Inez Padiachy went from studying sociology and sign language to becoming a graphic designer and Mary Lin owned a cupcake shop before her creative flair mader her want to become a graphic designer.
There you have it—your guide to becoming a graphic designer and changing your creative career without a degree. So, if you were dreading spending years and a small fortuner on becoming a designer then you have nothing to fear. Shillington’s graphic design course is perfect for people like you—you can become a graphic designer in just three months full-time or nine months part-time. What are you waiting for?