Becoming a graphic designer takes hard work, dedication, and years of schooling. For many individuals with a natural talent for design, the exact pathway and layout to becoming a graphic designer remains obscure. Graphic design is a broad field that offers a variety of different career paths for a motivated design-minded individual. Yet, getting your foot in the door in these fields can present some challenges.
In this article, we’ll outline how an individual with a talent for design can begin to build a career in graphic design. You might think that if you want to begin a career as a graphic designer then you must have professional design experience. However, transitioning to a career in design can be accomplished regardless of if you have professional experience. The first step in beginning a career of design is to learn the design skills and methods you’ll need to succeed in the real world.
The Road to a Design Career
Although there are many paths to becoming a professional designer, one of the most effective ways to do so is to get a higher education degree in a design-related major. A degree from a university is often the minimum qualification for individuals looking to enter a design field, even for entry-level employment. Many large employers use a degree requirement to limit the field of applicants to positions. This threshold makes it easier for employers to sort through the deluge of applications that come with job openings for a competitive entry-level position.
Pursuing a degree in the graphic design field is a great way to begin learning the art and design skills that you will need to become a professional designer. At the same time, a design program will offer you opportunities to build a portfolio of your work if you don’t have one. Keep in mind though that some design programs will require you to submit a portfolio of your work as part of the application process. If you have skills in design and are contemplating becoming a professional designer, you’ll want to start building a portfolio now if you haven’t done so already.
When developing your education plan and portfolio, be sure to always keep in mind what your ideal career path looks like. This includes what types of work in design you want to be doing and where you see yourself working in the future. The answers to these questions can give you insight into what type of design major to pursue and whether a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree will be required. With this knowledge you can take steps early to ensure that you are learning the skills you will need to be successful in your future design career.
Navigating the Transition to Higher Education
Whether you are currently working in a different field or you are a high-school student with aspirations to become a professional designer, chances are your path will take you into a higher education institution. Schools that specialize in design can be extremely competitive to get into, so it is especially important to begin researching schools early. You’ll want to find a school that prepares you for working as a professional designer from the outset. At the same time, you’ll also want an educational institution that aligns with your financial situation and has the curriculum and institutional outlook that will promote your growth and ideas as a professional designer.
Searching for the right school for you can be a daunting process given a large number of schools out there that have design programs. During this process, it is important to keep in mind that design programs at each school have different advantages and disadvantages. Some design programs may not offer classes in the particular design specialty you are interested in pursuing. Others may not have the resources to support your professional growth. You will also have to weigh the financial impact that your education will have on you. Higher education isn’t cheap, but it can be viewed as an investment in your future provided there are the support systems in place to help make your transition from school to the workforce fluid.
When assessing potential schools, you’ll want to look at the graphic design program or programs they offer. For example, NewSchool of Architecture & Design offers three different majors under the School of Design. Students who are interested in becoming a Design Researcher, Consumer Product Designer, or Brand Strategist might pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Product Design. Students in this program will learn how to design both traditional artifacts and digital products through an interdisciplinary approach centered around human-design and social responsibility.
Aspiring designers that want to work with interior spaces would probably benefit most from a Bachelor of Interior Architecture & Design. A few of the career options that are associated with this program include working as an Interior Designer, Interior Architect, Design Director, and Exhibit Director. The Interior Architecture & Design program emphasizes the use of technology and sustainability to drive innovation in the design of interior spaces. It is important to note that this program utilizes lecture classes alongside lab and studio classes, giving students the opportunity to produce work and create designs that will flesh out their portfolio.
Individuals who have a passion for communicating ideas through text, images, video, and other mediums should consider working towards a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design & Interactive Media degree. This program prepares students to work in a variety of different industries in positions such as a Graphic Designer, Creative Director, Web Designer, or Marketing Manager. If working in visual communication and digital media design is your passion, then Graphic Design & Interactive Media program is worth exploring.
The aforementioned programs all give students the ability to tailor their educational path to their specific skills and professional goals. It is important to find graphic design programs that give you the ability to do this. By choosing a program that provides you with the opportunity to build on your current design skills, you can excel in the area of design that you are most passionate about. This will not only help you become a better designer but will also allow you to create a portfolio that showcases your strengths to a potential employer.
Before committing to a program, you’ll want to spend some time researching the types of classes you will be taking. A program that isn’t designed to help you work professionally in your chosen field may not be the best choice for you. The Academic Catalog is a great resource to use to see exactly which courses you will be required to take for a given major. The catalog also provides detailed course descriptions, which can provide you with an outline of the skills and knowledge you will gain from specific courses.
If you have found a program you are interested in, it will probably be beneficial to set up a campus tour or attend an Open House. Scheduling a campus tour or attending an Open House is a great way to get a better understanding of the resources that will be available for you, from financial aid to internships and mentorships. These resources are invaluable tools for turning your design skills and artistic ability into a career, so ensuring that you will have the support you need prior to entering the program is always a good idea. To schedule a campus tour you will work with an Enrollment Specialist, who can also answer any questions you might have about the application process or degree program.
Submitting an Application
Once you have chosen a program that aligns with your professional goals, the next step is to submit an application. Submitting an application to college can be a time-consuming process, so preparing beforehand and taking it one step at a time is the best way to ensure that you complete all of the requirements. At NewSchool, applications are accepted on a rolling basis, meaning that you can apply for an upcoming term rather than having to wait for the beginning of a new academic year. There are application deadlines associated with each term, so you’ll want to become familiar with these and get your application started early.
You may consider submitting a portfolio along with your application. The three design programs at NewSchool don’t require a portfolio to be submitted for admission consideration. However, students may want to submit a portfolio along with their application for a couple of reasons. Students may consider submitting a portfolio if they have advanced design knowledge or an educational background in design. Their portfolio work may allow them to be placed in higher level studio design courses, giving them the opportunity to face new challenges. Other students may want to use a portfolio to supplement their application if they have a GPA below the admission requirements. Portfolio guidelines for the Graphic Design & Interactive Media program can be found here.
After You Submit
You might think that after you submit your application you should simply wait to hear back about whether your application was approved. However, there are a number of steps you can take during this period that can be helpful for your pursuit of a career in design. The first thing you should do is schedule a campus tour or attend an Open House if you haven’t already done so. You’ll want to become familiar with the campus where you will be spending the next four years pursuing your career in design. This will also give you an opportunity to meet with the staff and faculty you’ll be working closely with. Getting a sense of the space you will be working with is also beneficial as a means to reduce any stress associated with starting classes.
The second thing you should consider doing after submitting your application is submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The cost of attending a four-year university can be daunting, but the FAFSA application gives you access to Federal and State grants, loans, and work-study programs that can be used to help reduce your education costs. After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll want to make an appointment to speak with the Office of Financial Aid. Financial aid staff can help connect you with the resources you need to reduce your cost of tuition, including helping you find and apply for scholarships provided by your institution and outside organizations. As with your application to your degree program, both the FAFSA and scholarship applications will have application deadlines, so be sure to complete this step early to have the best chances of accessing outside funding sources.
Turning your design skills into a career doesn’t have to remain a dream. There are actionable steps you can take to make the transition into the workforce as a professional designer. Whether you have no experience but a passion for design elements, or have been working as a designer and want to build the skills that allow you to excel, pursuing an education in a design related field is one of the best ways to gain and develop the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to succeed in this competitive field. Through the course of your education, you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside design professionals and build the connections that can assist you in entering the field following your graduation. At the same, a design-centered educational path will allow you to populate your portfolio with the type of work that will showcase your unique skills and design-perspective, while also propelling you into the career path you’ve been dreaming of.