School is one thing. Education is another. And these two don’t always overlap.

In some cases I’ve been working with other designers on the same project (once managed them) but mostly I’ve been the only designer at companies, so I’ve been doing a pretty wide range of things such as UX, visual and interaction design, print, web, mobile design and front-end web development. I got my first job as a designer without going to any design school, and I’ve been working hard since to be better and better every single day. I was asked many times if it’s possible to get a designer job without qualification. I’d say it certainly is. Here is my thoughts on how to become a designer without going to design school because you can definitely teach yourself. Steps you need to take:

  • Learn to draw: I hear people saying they can’t draw, they aren’t artistic. Here is the thing, everyone can draw. People aren’t bad at drawing they’re just bad at observing. You can learn how to see things differently. Here is a few great books that teach you to draw and most importantly to see, one from Betty Edwards and another from Mark Kistler. You don’t need to be amazing at drawing, just learn the basics so you aren’t afraid to sketch quickly some new ideas on a whiteboard in front of people. Practice 20-30 minutes every day.

  • Understand the principles and theory of graphic design: There are a few graphic design principles that affect every project that you’re going to do. You need to learn about layout principles such as balance, rhythm, movement and proportion while considering scale, position, value and color using line, shape, texture and space. I remember first reading about these design principles, and they seamed so foreign to me. It took me some time to get comfortable with them. Get familiar with typefaces and learn about designing with grid. Read books and do tutorials. You need to spend about 2-3 hours on these topics every day. One of my favorite collections is this 50 free lessons on graphic design. Also books that are worth to check out.

  • Learn some basic User Experience Design(UX): Many many books on the market, lots of them aren’t easy to read I think. I have a few that I’d recommend to start with. One is from Steve Krug, another from Don Norman and my all time favorite is Lean UX from Jeff Gothelf. To get into a junior design job, you really need to learn the basics about UX design.

  • Learn how to write: For me, this is the most challenging aspects of the job as I’m not a native English speaker. After a few years, it’s still challenging and I’m sure I still make mistakes at writing. But it’s also one of the most important parts of being a designer because every idea needs clear communication. You need to choose your words carefully, you need to write plain English (or any other language you use) and also forget academic tone and jargon. The tone you’re going to use is always all about your users and the product you’re designing. Voice and Tone is a great site to check out, and also this Smashing Mag article. There are many books available on the topic, also the internet is full of example just search “voice and tone in design”.

  • Learn Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop: Now, the fun part. Start with Illustrator then learn Photoshop. Illustrator is the only tool which allows you to create anything but at the end you need both. While these softwares are designed to be easy to use from the start, they are very feature rich and will require a great deal of focused effort to master them. However you can pick up the basics fairly quickly by following online tutorials then you can be better and better by practicing. You find tutorial on YouTube for free however I’d recommend going to Lynda.com. And if you only do two courses one for Illustrator and one for Photoshop, you’ll be just fine in your first design job.

  • Learn special things: This is the time when you need to check different areas of design. Learn a bit about logo design, web design, app design, print design, user experience design etc. Explore all and choose one that you’re mostly interested in and learn that in detail. Keep in mind that graphic design as a discipline doesn’t exist in isolation. Also, graphic design is often part of another field for instance you can be a much stronger web designer, if you have solid graphic design skills.

  • Learn HTML and CSS: Now, I’d mark this as optional because it depends what kind of designer you would like to be. If you want to learn just to get a sense how to build a website, you can have a look at Codecademy which is a free online resource or go to Code School for more in-depth tutorials, it’s not free though. If you wanna work in print, you don’t need to worry about it however if you’re planning to do web, app or interaction design then you have no choice but to learn these too. Designers who can code are in high demand at the moment.

  • Create a Portfolio: This is not optional. You need to build up an amazing portfolio because remember you don’t go to school so you need to impress potential employers only by showing your portfolio so you won’t be asked whether you have a design degree or not. You don’t necessarily need real projects, here are a few example how to build up your portfolio: look for poorly designed websites and redesign them; pick a couple of apps and start redesigning them; design business cards; enter competitions; design posters for events; design T-shirts and logos. For inspiration go to Dribbble, Behance, The Loop, Deviant Art, Coroflot, Pttrns, Pattertap, Template Monster. Also, if you want to have some free mockups and templates go to Graphic Burger however I’d highly recommend to do everything from the scratch to practice more. Resist the temptation to put all of your work in your portfolio website, only the best ones should be there. Don’t be afraid of stealing moreover steal like an artist, and show your work. Find some collaboration project where you get a chance to work with other people especially developers.

  • Get your first design job: Searching and finding a job without having proven work experience can be daunting. Here is how to get that first job: go to as many creative workshops as you can. Join Meetups and find some groups. Don’t limit yourself in design groups, you should look for techie, developer meetup groups too as you’re going to work with developers. Tell everybody you’re looking for a design job because you never know who’s looking, 50% of the jobs aren’t advertised. Look for design agencies, other companies you’d like to work with and reach out them. Connect recruiters on LinkedIn. I’d rather make a call than send an email because they get hundreds of emails a day, so you can stand out with just one phone call.

I believe you can teach yourself design as you can for everything else in life. If you have enough diligence and patience you can learn any skill by using online resources that available to you.

Even the bests were all beginners once. When you land in your first design job, keep learning. This is one of the jobs that will never bore you. There is always so much new to learn and to improve on for example new tools on the market, updates on older software. Never stop learning. This is the only way to keep your knowledge sharp and give yourself an edge in order to differentiate yourself from other designers on the job market. Just study, grow as a designer and never give up. Make sure you have fun along the way, or else what’s the point?

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