Want to revolutionize your life by becoming a designer? Your very first project, and undoubtedly your most important, is to design your own education in the field. Setting up shop as a graphic designer is an exciting prospect for anyone with a creative mind, but it is a competitive, cutting edge industry and if you want to make a splash, then you will need to equip yourself with the best tools, experience and qualifications around. Whether you are fresh out of high school or looking for a mid-life career change, if you are passionate about good design, you will want to get this part right.
Fortunately, there are myriad ways of learning how to design well, from traditionally recognized university courses to the latest in DIY Youtube tutorials. With varying levels of tuition, time investment, hands-on practice, and not to mention price tags, it’s a good idea to check out what is available to you before you go diving right in at the deep end. Of course, whichever method suits your style, you will want to know exactly how to access the latest knowledge and ideas from the experts in such a fast-paced and consumer-led industry, and to find the best way of absorbing that information fruitfully for yourself. That’s why I am here to explain the pros and cons of everything that is out there and available to you.
Traditonal Design Colleges
Traditional schools such as Parsons are the obvious choice. This is the way it has always been done, and if it has worked for all those who have gone before you, then surely they must be doing something right. You can research all of the best places to study in person at websites such as Top Universities, Learn How to Become and Niche.
For sure, such world-renowned institutions boast the most state of the art technologies around, and can provide you with the latest insights from leaders in the field on a one to one basis. You’ll be surrounded by other passionate students who will inspire and motivate you, and be able to use the school’s networking connections to establish a career when you’re done. However, this kind of luxury comes at a price. You’ll invest around a $100,000 in an education of this level and have to dedicate at least three years of solid studying in order to gain your certificate. It can also be difficult to gain admission to these types of schools if you haven’t had your heart set on becoming a graphic designer since the age of six. Entry requirements are manyfold, with most colleges asking for an artistic portfolio that demonstrates your pre-existing creative abilities as well as all of the relevant high school qualifications in courses such as graphic design. As such, this route can be difficult to access for mature students who haven’t specialized early on in life.
All in all, if you do manage to get into a Design School, you can be certain to come away with a comprehensive understanding of all of the basics, as well as a bulging portfolio of work to show off to your prospective employers. Curriculums cover a wide range of skills such as website design, motion graphics, printing techniques, studio art, commercial production and typography. You will learn all of the principles, theories and processes required to progress into a professional sphere, and possessing a bachelor’s degree will set you up for far greater potential earnings in the industry.
However, if you don’t have the time or money for all of that, or you want to focus on a more specific element of design that might not be a major part of a university’s chosen curriculum, then you’ll need to read on.
Don’t have three years to spare? How about three months? If so, then perhaps a design boot camp such as General Assembly or Shillington is the place for you. These are as intensive as they sound, consisting of around 40 hours a week of studying with one to one tuition and a group of like-minded individuals. Boot camps also cost considerably less than traditional schools, usually coming in at between 10 to 15,000 dollars. Again, they are a great way to forge business connections in the industry but understandably, the curriculums offered are generalized to suit all comers and sacrifice some of the experiences you would otherwise get for the sake of saving time. Employers are not unaware of this when hiring, so you would probably need to back your portfolio up with some extra projects once you have finished.
If you can’t make it to a physical class, many bootcamps offer online versions of their courses. Some good ones to check out are Bloc and SpringBoard, with a more extensive list of options available at Course Report. With these types of courses, you will be offered live or pre-recorded video tutorials to work on alongside other students, all guided by a design mentor. The duration and curriculum for these courses usually remain the same as if they were held in person. The only difference really is that they give you the option to fit your hours into your own schedule and all-importantly, can sometimes figure out slightly cheaper price-wise with the lowest budget offers coming in at $5000 but still topping out at around $15,000.
Other Online Courses
Online boot camps are not the only short-cut you can take to a successful career in design. A growing number of universities now offer light-weight versions of their courses online, as well as independent companies whose sole aim is to provide resources for this kind of market. If you cannot stretch to the demands of a boot camp, then places that allow you to study part-time such as Skillcrush, Coursera and Thinkful are the perfect alternative for finding structured programs with real qualifications to work towards while being guided by an expert. Treehouse also offers a huge range of specialized courses, but crucially for some, provides less support in the form of mentorship. As such, you’ll need to be self-critical, motivated and spend time applying what you learn to your own projects. While you will be working on your own, you will need to find ways to practice communicating and interacting with potential colleagues and clients, as this is a huge aspect of the graphic design industry.
Skillshare and Udemy are also well known platforms to be exploited here; the courses that they offer are not necessarily constructed by so many qualified experts, but they are always quality controlled by the site’s team and can be much more focused on specific skills. These courses are not only easier to fit in to your schedule after work, but far more affordable at as little as $10 t0 $300 per month. Obviously, you will miss out on the networking opportunities that real-life classes provide, but it is worth noting that you can involve yourself in online communities such as Designers Guild and job boards like AIGA’s instead.
If you crave hands on experience, take a look at what kind of apprenticeships your local design companies offer. Wellness writer Simone Hastings from Gumessays and Research papers UK, cites apprenticeships as “one of the best ways to turn your life around. Apprenticeships surround you with realistic role models who can teach practical lessons, all the while making you feel like you are providing a valuable contribution in return.”
Often apprenticeships are the most effective way of learning, but businesses will want to know exactly what you can offer them in return so if you don’t already have some kind of background in design, they may not be interested in taking a gamble on you, particularly if they are a small company. However, if you are confident that you can prove your worth to the company who takes you on, apprenticeships can often lead directly into permanent hires with the company that you have gotten to know. Failing that, a good reference from a real employer in the trade will send you well on your way to your next opportunity.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach
Last but not least, we live in an age where anything is possible if you set your mind to it and have access to Google. Personal development blogger Adrian Montz at Writinity and Last minute writing argues the case for this, claiming that “the ability to captivate a consumer with appealing design starts with creativity and shouldn’t be limited by stuffy and outdated qualification specs”.
For those who don’t mind working alone without the physical guidance of an expert in your presence, the DIY option is a viable route. It isn’t easy, but it is an option to teach yourself how to design like a pro if you really set your mind to it and structure your learning from reliable sources. There are hundreds of short, specialized courses out there online if you only need to learn a niche aspect of design for what you want to do with it, and much of what you can find is freely available. You can start as simply as downloading the tools you think you will need for your ideas, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, Sketch, Photoshop, Indesign or Illustrator. Some software product vendors even provide their own certification programs.
Just exploring these tools intuitively can be enough if you want to set up your own business, but will probably not be sufficient to convince a prospective employer of your talents if you are aiming on working for a company. It goes without saying that if you do choose to embark on this brave route, you will need to be a highly motivated and organized individual.
Ultimately, the best route for you depends on where you want to go with your design career. For some specific careers in design, employers can be very rigid in the type of qualification they require of you so it is worth researching what you need to do before considering how you would like to go about it. Otherwise, as long as you can figure out a way to effectively learn the skills that your new vocation will demand of you, you can go about building your portfolio any way you like. There are so many options to suit all kinds of learners, with all types of time frame and budget, that nothing is really impossible as long as you are creative, which all designers naturally are!
Written by the seasoned contributor to Finance Assignments, Henry Wiegand. Over several decades, Henry has helped businesses grow by guiding them towards the right decisions.