25 Graphic Design Career Preparation Tips

The Graphic Design Career is a fast growing career that is becoming more and more competitive with every passing day. People are realizing how much money is available and how flexible the graphic and web design career really is. You can work full-time in house in a small studio or large agency. You can earn extra money on the side, you can freelance full-time from the comfort of your own home or you can even use your skills in design to you accomplish business projects.

The bottom line is its a great choice for creative people looking to express themselves and earn a decent and comfortable living at the same time.

In order to survive in such a fast growing and competitive field though it is essential you do everything you can as early on as you can. I started in college, but I know people who are freelancing and running businesses and websites at age 14 and even younger! The age aspect should not discourage you, but should rather inspire you to get your butt into gear before other graphic designers leave you in the dust!

So no matter what age you are or what stage you are in, we have created a list of things you can do to get your dream graphic design career going in the right direction.

Graphic Design Career Preparation Tips

1. Major in Graphic Design

Going to college and getting a graphic design degree is an outstanding accomplishment. Many employers weigh this heavily and you will have a much better chance of getting a full-time job with a degree in design, but there are always exceptions. If you have an extremely strong portfolio, good references and freelancing experience you can still get a great job, but if you can get the degree go for it!

2. Figure Out Your Specialization

Many jobs in graphic design tend to be specialized, such as identity design, packaging design, magazine design and so on. Its good to find the specialization you like best and work on it, but also make sure you are well rounded and multi-talented designer.

3. Plan Your Credits Carefully

Lets face it, college can be a pain in the butt, especially when it comes to planning out your classes. You need a certain amount of credits to be full-time, core classes, required classes, electives and you are trying to get a decent schedule so you can hold a job at the same time! Planning your credits out carefully and registering as soon as possible will help ensure you get the best schedule possible so you can complete your degree quickly and have free time to work and relax.

4. Take Advantage of Your Counselor and Teachers

Your counselor and teachers are incredibly valuable assets while going to school. Get your counselor to help you plan out your schedule and keep you on the right track. Ask your teachers for extra help when needed. Most teachers are available outside of class and will critique work for you. Your teachers have years of experience and knowledge of the field so tap into it.

5. Take Advantage of Career Services

Career services is an often overlooked resource at most schools. If you are looking for a job, projects, help with your resume or anything else, take a trip to your career services department if your school has one.

6. Become Involved in School Events

My school had many great events, and when I look back, I wish i had taken more advantage of them. There were trips, get-togethers and incredible guest speakers. We even had our own museum on campus! So if your school has similar opportunities make sure you don’t pass them up.

7. Develop Friendships With Your Classmates

You are all working towards the same goal, so developing friendships is an excellent idea. Not only is social interaction healthy, but as friends you can help each other out to achieve these common goals. Plus most of you will be working in the same field in the future and you never know when a friend could come in handy in a bad situation.

8. Get an Internship

Internships are just as important as freelancing experience and many schools can help you find an internship. Even if you don’t get to do much design work, its a great way to network, get your foot in the door and become comfortable working in an office environment with other people.

9. Get a Certificate in Graphic Design

If you don’t have the time or money to attend a 4 year school, there are many schools which can give you a great crash course in design in one year or even online. I still recommend the 4 year school over this, but getting a certificate in design or individual programs can help a lot if you have no other schooling.

10. Practice Your Photography

This is a talent I plan on mastering in the near future. I love photography and its also great if you are a graphic designer. Having the ability to shoot your own projects in real life can give you a real edge when it comes to displaying your portfolio. Great photographs of projects can go a long way and its another super skill to throw on your resume.

11. Learn HTML, XHTML and CSS

Web design is mixing more and more with the graphic design career. I have seen many graphic design job listings ask the designer to have at least some web design experience and many jobs require you to know how to code a site very well. So this is a great skill to pick up and will help you with your own portfolio site and landing a job in the future.

12. Take Some Business Courses

Taking one or two business classes can prepare you much better for freelancing and running your own studio if that’s one of your dreams. All knowledge is good knowledge and the more you know about business the better off you will be financially.

13. Master the Adobe Suite

As a graphic designer you will be using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign on a daily basis. Mastering the programs will make you a more productive and creative designer. Most jobs also start you at running speed and don’t have time to teach you how to use the Pen Tool! Be sure to master keyboard shortcuts as well.

14. Stay in Touch With Your Roots

Its easy to become totally wrapped up in the computer and lose touch with your roots. By this I mean its important to sketch things out on paper once in a while and think outside the computer box. Don’t be afraid to pick up a pencil and use the environment around you.

15. Express Your Creativity

Design can be very “corporate” and restricting at times, and designers are naturally creative people. This is why its good to express your stretch your creativity muscles once in a while. Create personal work, non profit work or other projects that will allow you more creative freedom so you don’t feel constantly trapped and restricted.

16. Create a Portfolio Website

Time is precious and the web is becoming more of an industry standard. This is why you need a web portfolio. Many employers don’t even have time to look at print portfolios and will ask for a website URL or email with a PDF of your work. If you plan on freelancing, your website will be even more important and the sooner you get it up the better off you will be.

17. Create a Print Portfolio

Even though a web portfolio is becoming arguably more important, don’t under estimate the power or importance of a print portfolio. In additionl to your main portfolio you should have some disposable print portfolios you can hand out to potential employers.

18. Create Your Own Personal Identity System

Having your own business card, resume, letterhead and so on will give you a professional edge and show you really care about your career. Spend a lot of time on your identity system because its a direct representation of yourself and your skills.

19. Create a Resume and Cover Letter

You will need this sooner or later so you might as well start working on it now. A well-written and nicely designed resume is going to be a great ally in your job finding battles.

20. Research Job Requirements

Job requirements are changing constantly and every job has unique requirements. Some require more than others so its important you have a good idea of whats expected of you. How can you prepare yourself properly if you don’t know exactly what employers demand skill wise?

21. Start Freelancing

Freelancing builds up incredible experience, especially when it comes to dealing with actual paying clients. You will quickly learn how to deal with clients who have different personalities, how to protect yourself, how to muti task and so on. This is where the business classes come in, but with a little planning and research before hand there is no reason you cant jump right in and start freelancing early on. I landed my first paying freelance gig while I was taking my first Photoshop class!

22. Take Advantage of Design Contests

There are tons of design contests on the Internet; many of which offer incredible prizes! This is a great way to gain exposure, build up your portfolio and win some sweet swag and money in your free time! Following design blogs is a great way to learn about up and coming design contests.

23. Build Up Your Vault of Free Design Resources

The web is filled with an insane amount of free resources including, free fonts, vector artwork, textures, patterns, design elements and so much more. Start downloading, check the usage rights and keep all your graphic design resources organized, because you never know when you might need them.

24. Get the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook

This is a fabulous book for any designer that is packed full of great tips and resources; especially for designers interested in starting their own business or freelancing career. They releases a new version every so often, so be sure to get your hands on the latest one.

25. Start Networking

Networking may be 25 on the list, but in terms of priority its probably number 1. The more people in the business you know the better off you will be. Keep in touch with your network of contacts. Don’t consider some one in your network if you never communicate. A phone call, business lunch, or email once in a while is required.

Help people in your network and they will help your in return. So keep expanding your network of contacts and be sure to keep in touch on a regular basis.


I Hope you all find this article on preparing yourself for a career in graphic design useful. Feel free to add your own suggestions and comments in the comment section below!


40 comments on “25 Graphic Design Career Preparation Tips”

  1. Brandon Cox Reply

    If I could add… don’t blow it and mess things up! Keep your head on straight as far as your long term vision goes, and don’t throw away your future on an ethical failure. Aim straight.

  2. graphic design Reply

    Thanks this is a helpful topic. I don’t full agree with point one, nowdays I find every employer goes straight to my portfolio when interviewed. Where I study if I study doesn’t come into play anymore. I think the industry has realised that talent no matter how you teach it, still remains within. And you either have it or don’t, going to uni/college doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether you can produce the goods, and if you can do it to a time line. But that is my 2 cents worth :)

  3. Logo Design UK Reply

    I certainly agree with point number 11 about learning some basic web design. It is advantageous for both building your own online portfolio and for gaining a placement with an agency as many graphic design jobs now also require web design skills. Nice post.

  4. Gino Reply

    graphic design – i still think a degree is important its still a big status symbol for many jobs, especially more corporate ones.

  5. H. Todd Duren Reply

    I agree with all of these, but would caution students about SOME design contests. Accepting a prize in exchange for rights to your work deprives a professional of a paying job and drives freelance rates down, which is bad for all of us. I’d say enter reputable contests (AIGA, HOW, PRINT, etc.) with existing work, and do free work only for recognized non-profits you believe in strongly.

  6. katherine Reply

    This article was very helpful. Although some firms want to see a physical portfolio. How many pieces are important to show in a print port? I have quality pieces but not many of them.

  7. peter soutullo Reply

    As a Design Instructor I think this list is a great resource for Design Students or – possible Design Students! Great job!

  8. Lupus Reply

    This is mostly really good advice. However I can’t seem not not cringe when I read the web design coding part. Let’s face it, if Graphic Design was Web Design a lot of us wouldn’t be designers.

    I have to disagree with learning coding to be a designer. I personally can’t stand web design and think it should be a totally different position. If a company expects you to be a great graphic designer they shouldn’t expect you to be a web designer as well. They’re often two totally different types of people.

  9. Rory Martin Reply

    Great tips for ALL designers.

    I personally feel that a Graphic designer should be flexible when it comes to the media they use. Being able to produce professional work for print, web, TV and all in-between will make you invaluable to your client. Just because you trained in one field doesn’t mean you can’t pick up another along the way, don’t get pigeon holed.

    Also make sure you keep up to date with whats current whether that’s film, music, TV, web. Knowing what’s going on in the world should keep your designs fresh.

  10. Sergio Ordóñez Reply

    Nice list though I think this is useful just for in house designers, if you really want to break into the design industry as freelance designer you can miss points 1-9, 19 and specially 22 (contests on the internet are ruining the design industry, just contest from reputable organizations).

    If you are freelance, save the degree, the resume and cover letter, the certificate… and spend that time on learning and developing your own style.

    If you need some class hire a good personal teacher to learn what you are really interested in.


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  14. Jessica Cale Reply

    I found your blog very useful. It has made me realize I need to change a few things, and add some more, to further my future in design. Thank you.

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  16. vannica svay Reply

    Hi I am going to college for a degree in Graphic Design and wanted to start freelancing in the process so I can gain experience in the industry. I also think it will be a great way to build my non existent portfolio, where do I start? Where will I find people who will take a chance on my designs and let alone pay me for it? Please help!

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  20. Chris Dudley Reply

    Wow, I rarely if ever comment on any blog’s but this one made me have to. This is a really great article, very informative especially to us “newbies”. I’m currently in a AOS (Associate of Occupational Science) Graphic Design program and I enjoy everything so far (I did freelancing previously, it’s been a long time / back just before CS versions of Ps/Ai).

    The part that really caught my attention was the mention of Specializations, can anyone elaborate more on this? I know when your designing for Web it’s usually a sRGB/RGB and Print is CMKY but the overall design stays the same with small changes that would be made.

    I enjoy designing I guess more Print than Web as I’m into Apparel, Advertising, Stationary, and so on. I also enjoy doing online Advertising, Branding, and so on… should I cut the list down to find what I really want to do or can being a broad area graphic designer work out?

    • Chris Dudley Reply

      I just noticed that the blog post shows 2008… did it get a refresh via Facebook? Or did I just raise the dead? heh

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