9 Things Self-Taught Graphic Designers Don't Know They're Missing (2023)

9 Things Self-Taught Graphic Designers Don't Know They're Missing (1)

Do you really need a degree to be successful today? It’s easy to wonder when prominent figures like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have become wildly successful despite dropping out of school—even if you know they’re the exception to the rule.

If you have hopes of becoming a lawyer or a surgeon, bypassing a formal education isn’t really an option. But if you dream of being a designer, you’ll inevitably ask the question sooner or later: Is a graphic design degree necessary?

The honest answer is no—it’s not absolutely necessary. There are certainly exceptional self-taught graphic designers who have launched careers without a formal education. While it’s true that it can be done, that doesn’t mean it’s the best route for you. There are several overlooked advantages of a formal education that you should consider before trying to stake out on your own.

We spoke with a handful of graphic designers with degrees who insist their formal education has played an instrumental role in their careers. Our panel of pros revealed nine things they never would have acquired without earning their degrees.

9 Things self-taught designers commonly miss out on

There is no shortage of graphic design blogs, tutorials and resources out there to teach you standard software skills, but our experts agree that there are several important elements and experiences that self-taught graphic designers commonly lack.

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1. A network

Networking so often tops the charts for career essentials—and the world of graphic design is no different. In a deluge of online portfolios, LinkedIn resumes and online job applications, the designers who have connections to a company tend to rise to the top of the pile. Anna Kate Bryan, senior graphic designer at Made Outside, believes this was part of how her graphic design program paid off. “In addition to all that I learned, I have been able to land multiple jobs and projects through the connections I made with other students and faculty.”

Self-taught designers can feel isolated and restricted to the more formal avenues of job hunting. But one of the joys of a graphic design program is a facilitated network of mentors and peers who can introduce you to others in the field.

Additionally, many design companies recruit from the universities their employees attended, according to Victor Ng, designer at the Ford Foundation. Most design schools will also organize events bringing employers to campuses to connect with students—and offer career-priming services like resume workshops or portfolio reviews.

2. Graphic design history & fundamentals

The graphic design field has been around longer than Adobe Photoshop™—and there’s more to it than knowing how to use the tools at your disposal. While knowing your way around common design software is an asset, that doesn’t mean you have the background needed to know how to use it well. Knowing the history of the craft and mastering basic design concepts help you build a solid foundation on which to form your entire career.

“Self-taught designers are generally looking for which buttons to push to get the job done rather than learning from the ground up with design principles,” says Ashley Schwartau, creative director at The Security Awareness Company. She says she can often pinpoint self-taught graphic designers’ portfolios because of their disregards for basic design fundamentals.

3. Freedom to fail

“The one thing I took for granted most in college was the freedom to fail and to fail spectacularly,” Ng says. Failures in the real world result in dollars lost, customers angered and brand sentiments tarnished. But in school, the worst outcome is a bad grade and a bruised ego.

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Ng says he’s grateful for the opportunity he had to be experimental with his designs in college. He was able to worry less about the finished product and focus more on the actual process, which helped him develop into the professional he is today.

4. Proper treatment of files

Many self-taught designers are unaware of how to properly set up clean files for professional printing, says graphic designer Anita Magaña. Design courses will teach you when to use a JPG versus a PNG versus a TIFF. You’ll also learn the difference between bitmap files and vector files and how to properly check files for color and CMYK separations before sending them to print.

“I consistently have to fix files from the previous designer [at my company] who had no formal training,” says David Block, entrepreneur and seasoned graphic designer. He frequently encounters files that have no regards to bleeds, improper image sizing and inconsistent margins—all things he claims a formally educated designer would never do.

5. Presentation skills

“Being able to present your designs to someone—whether it’s your art director or a client—can be really daunting because it carries with it the fear factor of public speaking,” says School of Design Dean Jennifer Ayotte.

She says the ability to confidently articulate the rationale behind your color choices, font selections, art elements and overall layout is a sign of a true professional. Formally educated designers have plenty of opportunities to perfect their presentation skills in order to stand out when it really counts.

6. Critiques & feedback

“It takes a lot of practice to not take criticism personally,” says designer Andrew Le. In a competitive and collaborative industry like graphic design, it’s important to have thick skin. He says learning how to talk about design objectively helped him advance his vocabulary and detach himself from his work.

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Ng says his college critiques simulated real working environments where people often have strong, opposing views. He describes the evolution that occurs between freshman and senior year—the timeframe during which students go from saying, “Is this good?” to “Tear this apart!” His formal education taught him to grow from the negative feedback rather than dwelling on it.

7. Perspective

It’s not often that you have the opportunity to be surrounded by individuals who are just as passionate about design as you are. In its most basic form, graphic design is about solving problems. The beauty of it is that no two designers will solve the problem in identical ways.

“It’s uncommon in a professional setting to have dozens of peers in the same room working on the same thing in drastically different ways,” Le says. He adds that each project is a lesson in perspective, whether it results in idea envy or disdain.

8. Cross-specialty collaboration

In a graphic design program, you are learning more than one skill, emphasizes Alison Kellner, founder of Beolio. “Graphic design is made up of a number of different specialties, and by joining a great program, you are able to workshop both on your own and in teams to accomplish various tasks like building a website, branding, typography and even motion graphics.”

Kellner says the other major benefit to this exposure is working in a team with people focusing on different areas of specialization—and learning to balance the design collaboratively. “While you can always freelance on your own, if you plan to work for any type of agency, you'll need to learn how to cooperate with different designers that have different styles, skills and specialties. Getting practice with this early really makes a difference, and it helps you to see problems from new points of view.”

9. Well-rounded soft skills

“The ability to work as a designer is much bigger than our respective hard skills,” Bryan says. “In addition to design skills, you will be expected to have the same soft skills that design schools give you: the ability to show up on time, the ability to finish an assignment in a timely fashion, the ability to take critiques and implement them, etc.”

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In this way, Bryan says the learning environment directly mimics the experience of working as an employed designer. When prospective employers see formal education on your resume, they can well expect that you are coming into the position with this type of preparedness and professionalism.

After her design program, Kellner noticed that she was able to get more creative with problem solving than before. “Ultimately, my education helped immensely with my time management. I started my own agency about four years ago, and it was like a dream come true.”

For self-taught designers and beginners alike

Our experts have made it obvious that there is a lot to gain by earning a degree in graphic design. That being said, they also agreed that formal education is merely the starting point. Every great designer needs to be a self-taught designer in a certain way because the industry never stands still.

“Unlike self-taught graphic designers, I can say without a doubt that I didn’t miss out on anything by going to college,” Le says. Take his word for it—it’s time to take your graphic design career to the next level!

If you’re ready to ditch the tutorials and become a true professional, the Rasmussen University Graphic Design program can provide you with everything you need to get started!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.

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FAQs

Can you self teach yourself graphic design? ›

While you don't need a formal education to become a graphic designer, you do need to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. This means getting yourself primed on the principles of design, learning how to effectively use elements like color, contrast, hierarchy, balance, and proportion in your work.

Is graphic design is a dying career Why or why not? ›

No, graphic design is not dying. However it is changing at a rapid pace and though the industry is set to grow as it recovers from the pandemic, it is estimated to shrink by 4% by 2029. Graphic designers are concerned about DIY design programs like Canva or Wix and the decline in demand for print and publishing design.

Can I learn graphic design in 3 months? ›

While the field of graphic design is constantly changing and relatively competitive, it is possible to learn fundamental skills and start building a portfolio of work in just a few months.

Can I learn graphic design in 4 months? ›

Yes, you can grasp the basics of graphic design in 2 months, but it takes several years to master it. In fact, you'll learn that even decades later you can keep improving your skills.

Is Canva killing graphic design? ›

So while Canva may be changing the landscape of design, it's not killing off designers altogether. In fact, it may even be helping them to become more efficient and productive in their work.

Is Canva ruining graphic design? ›

However, it is important to remember that the platform is just a tool. It is up to the user to create something that is both beautiful and effective. In conclusion, while Canva may be making it easier for people to create designs, it is not ruining graphic design.

What is the least you can make as a graphic designer? ›

Graphic Design Intern – $25,291. Graphic Designer – $38,310. Senior Graphic Designer – $55,149. Senior Designer – $83,312.

Why is graphic design so stressful? ›

Graphic design is stressful for those who struggle with merging their passions with their work. Your art is directed by the visions of other people, constricted by deadlines, and subjected to constant criticism. These factors don't phase some people, but can make it stressful for others.

What makes the most money in graphic design? ›

According to Indeed, the 5 highest-paid graphic design jobs are Product Designer, User Experience Director, Front End Developer, Creative Director and Digital Designer. As you can see from this article you're reading, there are many more ways to make money as a graphic designer, but those are the top-paying positions.

What do Graphic Designers struggle with? ›

That said, there are a few common sources of stress for graphic designers: Keeping up with deadlines. Navigating conflicting creative opinions. Producing creative work on demand.

What are 5 essential traits of a successful graphic designer? ›

10 essential traits of a successful graphic designer
  • Communication. ...
  • Curiosity. ...
  • Passion and Drive. ...
  • Openness. ...
  • Ability to Take Criticism. ...
  • Problem Solving. ...
  • Self-doubt. ...
  • Patience.
23 Oct 2015

What are the 7 elements that a graphic designer uses? ›

The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture.

How do you know if you'd be good at graphic design? ›

Would I be a good graphic designer? 9 Signs it could be right for you
  • You're communicative. You like people. ...
  • You're committed to continuous learning. ...
  • You're a master multitasker. ...
  • Creativity flows through you. ...
  • You're constantly curious. ...
  • You're punctual. ...
  • You've got thick skin. ...
  • You are collaborative and open to new ideas.
14 Mar 2022

Why is graphic design so hard? ›

Graphic design requires learning the necessary tools, as well as understanding and applying the principles and theories of design. Graphic Designers need to constantly be practicing and improving their design skills, which takes time and effort.

At what age should I start graphic design? ›

Graphic design is not a field restricted to adults only, you can get started in graphic design from 11 – 12 years of age till the end! It is a field that relies on a person's creativity and you need proper mentorship to channel that creativity.

What should a beginner graphic designer learn? ›

As a designer, you'll need to learn the basics of the Adobe Creative Cloud (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop) and Sketch to learn how to work with them together to create everything from a logo to a poster or a book. By mastering the essential design programs, you'll be able to tackle client briefs with ease.

Can I learn graphic design with no experience? ›

There are many graphic designers out there, all offering their services. Even if you have zero experience, there are still plenty of opportunities for you.

How long does it take to master graphic design? ›

It's your choice how you want to learn, how much time you are able to give to learning and how much you want to get yourself a job. Though, ultimately, the time it takes to become a graphic designer can be anywhere between around six months to five years.

Is it unprofessional to use Canva? ›

PRO TIP: Canva is a great way to make professional looking designs, but be careful not to overuse it. If you use Canva for everything, it can look unprofessional. Use it for things like flyers and posters, but leave the more complex designs to a professional.

Why did Canva delete all my designs? ›

PRO TIP: If you are seeing a message that says “Why are all my Canva designs gone?” it is likely because you are not logged in to your account. Make sure you are logged in to your account by going to https://www.canva.com/accounts/login and entering your email address and password.

Is Canva a virus? ›

Canva is not a virus. It is a legitimate website that is safe to use. However, some users have reported receiving spam emails from Canva that contain links to malicious websites. PRO TIP: Canva is not a virus.

How many hours should a logo design take? ›

Granted, some steps can be reduced or even eliminated, but in general, a solid logo can take anywhere between 10 and 30+ hours. Most of the logos I personally do fall in the 15-20 hour range.

Is it legal to use Canva graphics for commercial use? ›

What is allowed? All free photos, music and video files on Canva can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use. If a photo, music or video file contains an identifiable person, place, logo or trademark, please ensure you check the image source or contact us if you're unsure.

What happens to my designs If I cancel Canva Pro? ›

Your plan will be canceled after your current billing period. You'll still have access to paid features until then. Your designs and your Brand Kit will all be saved so you can use them as soon as you upgrade to Canva Pro or Canva for Teams again.

Can you live comfortably as a graphic designer? ›

Unless you are among the lowest-earning graphic designers, you stand to earn a reasonable amount of money as a graphic designer. It is definitely possible to earn a comfortable living as a graphic designer. Obviously, anyone would want to be in the 90th percentile of salary earners.

Which type of graphic design is most in demand? ›

Motion graphics designers are most in-demand at AI companies, the entertainment industry, startups, marketing firms, and creative agencies, digital journalism organizations, e-commerce platforms, and the automotive industry.

What is typically the highest paying design job? ›

HIGHEST PAYING DESIGN JOBS AND SALARIES
  • Creative Director Salary: $134,582 per year.
  • Furniture Designer Salary: $61,352 per year.
  • User Experience Designer Salary: $92,666 per year.
  • Architect Salary: $86,514 per year.
  • Advertising Designer Salary: $67,100 per year.
  • Fashion Designer Salary: $60,918 per year.

Are graphic designers introverts? ›

Graphic designing is the art of creating designs that communicate ideas and is one of the best jobs for introverts. It is one of the most competitive job profiles and is a suitable job role for creative introverts.

Is graphic design a talent or skill? ›

However, there's a lot more to graphic design than most people realize. From understanding how to navigate complex tools like Adobe Photoshop, to being able to communicate complex ideas to clients and team members, graphic designers are multi-talented professionals.

What does a day in the life of a graphic designer look like? ›

What does a graphic designer do every day? Every day, a graphic designer creates concepts and design ideas, brings those ideas to life, communicates with clients, sets up meetings, and delivers on deadlines.

Who is the No 1 graphic designer? ›

1. Benoy Sarkar. Benoy Kumar Sarkar was born in 1938 in Kolkata. He is a man with a great sense of design and has done admirable work in the field of graphic design.

Who is the number one graphic designer in the world? ›

Herb Lubalin

The famous graphic designer, typographer and advertising director Herb Lubalin was perhaps most recognised for his work on magazines published by Ralph Ginzburg. Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde.

What are the most common mistakes designers make in graphic design? ›

Graphic designers make common mistakes such as not understanding the instructions from the clients, not researching their business, raising their expectation due to loud promises, use of many fonts, colors, and end up making the design complex, and so on. It would be good if the designer keeps it simple.

Is graphic design a hard or soft skill? ›

Graphic Designers bring together art and technology, so they need a knowledge of design principles combined with a mastery of design software. Because they often work with clients and colleagues on various projects, they also need important soft skills like communication and problem solving.

Is graphic design a stable career? ›

Brings Financial Stability

Another perk to why graphic designing is a great career is the income aspect. You will have a steady income; even if the project is short, you will get compensation. You get paid as long as you are performing your duties.

What are the 9 principles of graphic design? ›

The main principles of graphic design are balance, contrast, emphasis, repetition and pattern, proportion, movement, white space, unity, and variety.

What are the 7 basic graphic design principles? ›

The fundamental principles of design are: Emphasis, Balance and Alignment, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion, Movement and White Space.

What is one thing most designers do wrong in their creatives? ›

Not understanding the brief

Without a clear idea of what the client wants you can end up making matters complicated for yourself. A lot of time can be wasted procrastinating, or working up design ideas that may not be relevant to the client's needs.

What are the five rules of graphic design? ›

5 Core Principles In Graphic Design – Rules You Must Obey
  • Contrast of size.
  • Contrast of width.
  • Contrast of light.
  • Contrast of color.
  • Juxtaposition.
28 Feb 2020

What personality do graphic designers have? ›

The average Graphic Designer tends to be warm and accommodating when interacting with others and thoughtfully cautious about making decisions. The average Graphic Designer probably prefers to follow a regular schedule and communicate consistently with others.

What are 4 important qualities of graphic designers? ›

In addition to having passion and drive, a good graphic designer should also believe in openness. They must be ready to take feedback and accept criticism with a smile. Patience and problem-solving skills are some other essential qualities of a graphic designer.

Can I study graphic design if I can't draw? ›

In fact, drawing skills generally aren't even a requirement in most graphic design job descriptions. In an analysis of more than 46,000 graphic design job postings, eight of the top 10 skills in highest demand are associated with design software.

Is it difficult to learn graphic design? ›

Is Graphic Design Hard to Learn? Learning graphic design is not hard, but it does require creative thinking, an aptitude towards art and design, and time and dedication. Graphic design requires learning the necessary tools, as well as understanding and applying the principles and theories of design.

Can I be a graphic designer without coding? ›

Learning to code for designers is not necessary. But if they know a bit about code, they can understand a developer's perspective. It doesn't mean that they have to be an expert coder. But it would greatly benefit them if they knew a little about how to code HTML and CSS, maybe a little bit of JavaScript.

What is the best way to self teach graphic design? ›

These are the 9 most important first steps you need to take as a beginner to teach yourself graphic design:
  1. Find your motivation.
  2. Get passionate about design.
  3. Learn the principles of design.
  4. Get started with graphic design software.
  5. Find and study design resources.
  6. Look for inspiration.
  7. Start working on a project.

How do I know if graphic design is for me? ›

Would I be a good graphic designer? 9 Signs it could be right for you
  1. You're communicative. You like people. ...
  2. You're committed to continuous learning. ...
  3. You're a master multitasker. ...
  4. Creativity flows through you. ...
  5. You're constantly curious. ...
  6. You're punctual. ...
  7. You've got thick skin. ...
  8. You are collaborative and open to new ideas.
14 Mar 2022

Do graphic designers draw by hand? ›

Hand drawing is the most important skill for a designer, says Janis Andzans. Janis Andzans is a graphic designer and illustrator mainly focusing on illustrations and identity work.

Can everyone be a graphic designer? ›

Absolutely anyone, with the right tools and skills, can become a graphic designer.

Is graphic design stressful? ›

Graphic design is no more stressful than any other field,” says graphic designer Ryan Mungia. “A lot of the stress depends on what kind of job you have and who you are doing it for.” That said, there are a few common sources of stress for graphic designers: Keeping up with deadlines.

What are hard skills for graphic designers? ›

Hard Skills for Graphic Designer
  • sketching;
  • freehand drawing;
  • typography;
  • Photoshop;
  • Acrobat;
  • Illustrator;
  • layout making;
  • InDesign;
16 Apr 2021

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