Are you interested in graphic design but feel unsure of the best steps to jump-start your career? Graphic design is a vast field, meaning there are various paths one can take to break into the industry. In addition to training classes, graphic designers need to build an impressive portfolio and stay current as practices evolve each year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be over 250,000 graphic design openings each year through 2030 and may continue to increase as more companies build an online presence.

While it’s common for graphic designers to seek full-time employment, another popular route is to work on a project by project basis as a freelancer. Freelancing typically entails working on projects directly with clients, which can help provide experience and portfolio content. Regardless of which career path you pursue, there are some crucial steps you can take to help get your feet off the ground and transition seamlessly into the graphic design field. 

1. Take Training Classes

One of the first steps to take when starting a graphic design career is to obtain an official degree or take a graphic design certificate course. It’s a common misconception that students need a four-year degree to work in graphic design and can deter some from pursuing the career path. There are many education options available, like immersive bootcamps or workshop-style certificate classes. This type of training is often less expensive and time-consuming than traditional college degree programs, which is why more people are opting for these shorter training options.

It’s important to note that while traditional in-person classes are a popular option, there are various remote options available for students who cannot commute to a campus location. This means that people who work while taking classes to switch careers can learn from the comfort of their homes.

2. Master the Software

While graphic design classes have an immersive curriculum that teaches the fundamental skills needed to understand the field, software, and technology constantly evolve. This means that it can be helpful to take additional classes dedicated to specific software or work independently on projects to gain experience using the industry-standard apps.

The most common software used by graphic designers is found within Adobe Creative Cloud and features apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. There is a subscription package available that features photography apps that includes all of the creative apps, along with Photoshop and Lightroom. If learning all of the different software is overwhelming, it is helpful to start with one app instead of struggling to learn everything at once.

3. Secure an Internship

With the vast field of graphic design, it can be beneficial to secure an internship while taking classes or looking for a full-time position. During an internship, interns typically learn new skills while supporting the team and overall company goals. It’s common for graphic design interns to work with an in-house designer to understand standard practices within the industry better. Working in a professional environment is also an excellent way to learn project time management and how to communicate with clients.

Students currently enrolled in graphic design classes should check with their institution to determine if there are any internship programs offered through the school. Another popular option for students is to secure a spot with a professional company like the New York Times Summer Internship Program. You don’t need to be a student to secure an internship position, as there are many roles for those who hold a certificate in the field or just want to gain more professional experience.

4. Work as a Freelancer

If you are looking for a full-time graphic design position or are unsure which path you want to take within the industry, it’s possible to work as a freelancer on your own schedule. Essentially, this involves independent marketing and working directly with clients on projects. While freelancing provides freedom and control over project execution, stressors like financial pressure and motivation should be considered.

Before starting to freelance, there are some crucial factors to consider, including any self-employed tax obligations, local/federal laws, and health insurance coverage. Be sure to research any requirements in your area related to self-employment and working from home. Working as a freelancer also provides excellent experience with real-world projects and balancing workloads.

5. Build a Portfolio

One crucial element to consider when starting a career in graphic design is building a portfolio to showcase skills in the field, especially for those looking to freelance. There are ample benefits associated with building a well-developed portfolio, including increased networking opportunities, the ability to secure interviews/clients, and showcasing your unique style.

While building a design portfolio, keep in mind the potential audience and provide a wide range of work to showcase various skills. Be mindful when picking a platform to host your portfolio and build your brand, as this is often the first thing clients see when considering designers. One popular software option professionals use is Adobe Portfolio, which offers hosting and unlimited pages to showcase work with no coding knowledge needed.

6. Network with Peers

Collaborating ideas and networking with peers is vital in most industries, especially those rooted in design or other creative outlets. Networking and meeting other professionals in the industry is an excellent way to meet potential clients and designers that can provide advice or support with complex projects. Working as a freelance designer, many assume that others in the industry are “competition,” but those views are not conducive to a successful career.

Some graphic designers choose sites like LinkedIn to collaborate with designers or clients, while others prefer social media sites like Behance to reach their target audience. Another great way to meet other professionals in the industry is to take refresher software courses or training classes in your area.

7. Stay Current Within the Industry

With a creative field like graphic design that uses the latest software to complete work, it’s no surprise the standard processes are constantly evolving as technology advances. There are various ways to stay current with industry trends, including social media sites, continuing education courses, magazines or articles, and checking out design blogs.

Taking additional courses in graphic design is one of the most efficient ways to stay current on trends in the industry, as it provides updates on software and standard practices in the field. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has many workshops, lectures, and events throughout the year for designers to learn and connect with other designers.

8. Enter a Design Competition

If you are struggling to build your portfolio or secure a steady flow of clients, consider entering your work in a design competition or award scheme. This can provide valuable feedback on your work from professional judges and provide quality content for your portfolio.

The Adobe Design Achievement Awards target those who are new to the industry and want to build their portfolio and earn recognition for their work. The content provides incredible exposure for those who win, along with the opportunity to make Adobe’s Top Talent team.

9. Join an Organization

There are many graphic design organizations across the globe that work to connect professionals in the field so they can network and collaborate with one another. If you are new to the industry or looking to develop professional relationships with like-minded people, joining an organization like AIGA is an excellent way to make connections.

AIGA is one of the oldest professional design associations and hosts members from across the globe. Joining the organization provides professional development tools, education classes, and leadership opportunities for members to utilize.

10. Stay Consistent

While this tip may seem straightforward, it’s essential to stay consistent with projects and build your brand if you want to start a career in the design industry. Keeping a positive attitude when faced with deadlines or rejection can help you overcome these challenges and build solid relationships in the design field. Continue to work on personal projects, market your work, and develop your brand to help reach your target audience.

It can be challenging to start a new career or learn new design skills, but overall, the industry is an excellent choice for those who enjoy creating art. If you are new to the field, it’s essential to consider graphic design classes to help teach the fundamental skills needed to pursue a career in design. It’s not necessary to obtain a four-year degree to work in the design industry, as there are many live online graphic design courses available from schools like Noble Desktop. If you want immersive, well-rounded training on the field to jump-start your new career goals, search for graphic design bootcamps in your area to find the best options.