Getting Started in Graphic Design - what/how to learn & do?

Hi, I’m a new poster here but I’ve lurked for ages. I saw a really good post with advice about graphic design a few weeks ago and it got me thinking about my current job and all the various reasons I don’t like it, which I won’t be detailing here except to say that both the work and the people leave something to be desired.

I want to go into graphic design and/or web design, but need some advice on how to get started. I have always been happiest when I have the opportunity to be creative. The bright spots at my current job are always the rare times when I get to create something like a template, a graphic, a newsletter, just anything where I get to make something look good.

I believe I have a reasonable dose of natural ability - I’m generally satisfied with the things I create (except when I have those unavoidable “everything I do SUCKS!” moments), people at work are always impressed when I create something for them, and people I’ve created websites for have been happy with them. I’m comfortable with HTML and CSS, I know a VERY tiny bit of PHP, and I feel relatively comfortable with Photoshop, learning more all the time.

I feel kind of odd asking here, as my sister is currently majoring in graphic design, and I have another relative who does that kind of work on the side, but they’re both younger than me and don’t have a very realistic perspective on life yet. I’m not exactly ancient myself at 30, but I’m old and crusty at heart. :stuck_out_tongue:

Steps I plan to take are:

  • Purchase some books and read up (recommendations very welcome)
  • Talk to several coworkers, etc, who are already in the business
  • Continue practicing and learning on my own
  • Grab a domain and start building a portfolio

I also want to get some formal training as I’m completely self-taught, but I’m not sure of the best way to do it.

  • Do I need to go back to school full time? (I’d prefer not to do this…)
  • Should I take courses at the local community college?
  • Or should I look into some sort of weeklong training/certification thing?
  • Something else entirely?
  • What software do I need to learn? Which topics would be most beneficial?

And the big question: how to get started? I don’t want to do freelance except as a side thing to a regular job with the usual benefits (insurance, etc). I don’t mind starting waaaaay at the bottom but I worry that I’m too old (30) to be an intern or something similar. I could suck it up without benefits for a while if needed as my health is good, but I’d be nervous doing that long-term.

As for samples… I have a few things I can share, all websites and site templates, but I would prefer to do so through private messages. I don’t want to post too much identifying information in a “public” area like this.

Questions, suggestions, thoughts, advice? Maybe what I’m interested in isn’t called graphic design at all? Tell me!

All of the designers I work with have formal education in the field. You might want to check around at your local community colleges or continuing-ed programs to see if they have anything applicable; that would let you get your feet wet without being too much of a risk.

Re “is what you want to do called graphic design or something else”–can you elaborate a bit on what you’re thinking you might want to do? There are different types of design that call for different aptitudes and approaches.

Where do you live? Are you wiling to relocate?

Hunter Hawk - What sorts of courses/topics would you recommend looking into as a first step? The local community college has a graphic design program but it seems to be targeted at full-time students, so I’m not sure which courses are the absolute essentials and which could be passed over for now.

Right now I’m most interested in web design, but I’ve also enjoyed creating posters and newsletters, or taking someone’s rough notes and turning them into a visually pleasing process map. I think at this point I need to learn more about what’s out there so I can choose something to focus on.

Shalmanese - I’m in Houston and not willing to relocate at this time. I’m not totally against it, but we just bought a house and SO has a relatively stable, reasonably well-liked job here. Is Houston not a good location for this sort of work?

Study. Practice. Apply.
Seek Criticisism. Evaluate and Revisit your creative decisions.

ad infinitum.

Formal training is very important, but the knowledge is out there for the taking. The greatest value in formal education in a creative field is the feedback from peers and teachers - which can be found on the web as well via design forums (fora?).

The other thing that formal curriculum offer are an additive progression through underlying concepts and skillset - which core elements of design, typography, media, composition, presentation et al. require more prerequisite knowledge/skills than others?

The best thing you can do is get on the web, get involved with forums and websites dedicated to your field, read lots, say little…learn the basic components you need to learn about, and then pursue that knowledge through actual books and coursework wherever you can find it.

Learn your tools. Learn your concepts. Train your mind and work habits to maximize creative output and minimize problems of execution.

And copy others. You learn by doing, and by reproducing the works of others, you absorb the lessons intrinsically as well as academically. It’s not cheating, it’s not copying…it’s training. Just don’t pass the concept off as your own work.

Learn to love criticism. Good and Bad. There’s a grain of truth in every comment.

Be a sponge. Seek out the canon of the genre, the work of your peers, the work of the greats and the merely adequate. Learn what separates them.

Most of all, work harder at it than anything you’ve ever done in your life.

Thanks picker, I appreciate all your wonderful advice here. I’ll start exploring the ideas I haven’t, and keep pursuing the ones I have. I’ve learned everything I have so far by attempting to imitate others, reading tutorials and other information, and then applying that to something of my own. Having a clear idea of what the end product should look like is so much more effective than poking around without much direction.

It’s encouraging to know that the information is there, I just need to go after it. I’ve been afraid to really chase it down until now, content to stay where I am and daydream. Now it’s time to do some real work.

I have no actual graphic designer advice, but about your community college: It is entirely possible that the classes are targeted towards full-time students, but teachers are always happy to get students who are motivated and excited about the topic. Go talk to them. Ask them whether the class will be appropriate for you, even if you can’t be a full-time student. They may say no, but they will probably have useful advice for you even if they do.

Graphic Design is undergoing somewhat of a sea-change at the moment. Sites like 99Designs and Crowdspring have democratized the market and commodified the low end of design. For commodity design, you’re now competing against talented, hungry designers from the Philippines, Romania, etc. all whom are willing to work for substantially lower wages than you could afford.

Houston also doesn’t have the industrial base to support a large enough community of bespoke designers who benefit from being local to their clients. You’re going to find it a tough market to compete in and I wouldn’t recommend entering into it.