How to get a design job without going to design school

“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares, as opposed to ugly things. That’s my intent.” – Saul Bass

How to get a job as a designer without going to design school?

There are many talented people who cannot afford to go to a fancy design school and get a design degree. This might be due to life circumstances that cannot be changed. Thankfully, we are living in the information age and anything is possible. If you want to become a designer, there are a lot of online resources that will help you do that. All stated above should not be taken as an encouragement to people not to go to a design school. Being in such is a great and life changing experience  as it makes you open your eyes and cope with situations, events and paths that are appreciated for a long time after graduation.

This article aims to help people who for some reason cannot afford to spend three or four years to study design and they have the urge to become designers and make a living out of it.
So if you do not have 4 years and $100K cash here is what you might want to consider if you are serious about your decision.

#1 – Start with the foundation

Most designers would advise you not to jump to the computer tools right away. Learning Photoshop, Illustrator or Dreamweaver does not make you a designer. Design is much more than that. If you buy paintbrushes, are you an artist?

Drawing: It will help you open your eyes to objects, colours and positioning. For example, you have to create a book illustration in Adobe illustrator. How will you do it? Are you browsing Google to see an image with the exact look you want to create in illustrator or you are just putting a book in front of you and do a little sketch to see what works best? The second option is better as you will teach yourself to think about object in space, how it is reacting to other objects, to the sunlight etc… Drawing does not mean drawing a naked figure in a studio with other artists. It does not mean being really good at it. Not at all. Being able to sketch your ideas roughly will help you immensely.

Some Books that will help you:
Drawing for the Absolute Beginner: A Clear & Easy Guide to Successful Drawing
You Can Draw in 30 Days: The Fun, Easy Way to Learn to Draw in One Month or Less

Design theory: There is such thing and it is pretty interesting. Learning about colour, typography, grids, golden ratio, white space etc. will give you great boost in becoming a designer. Colour combinations are crucial to designers. There are examples of good design pieces with terrible colour palettes. Good typography is also important. Positioning of elements, rhythm, space make sense in design. If you are a construction engineer, would you create an apartment with a tiny kitchen with a ridiculously spacious living room and no stairs to the second floor? In design everything matters and you should be able to determine the importance of elements, the size and colours of them. Design theory is a very interesting subject and you will enjoy it.

Some Books that will help you:
Universal Principles of Design
Color Fundamentals
Thinking with Type
Making and Breaking the Grid
100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design

Learn some basics in user experience: Design is communication. You communicate with people and you are conveying messages, sharing ideas, create urges, influence choices. You should know how users perceive these and how they interact with them. The Design of Everyday Things is a wonderful book that will give you a lot of insight about your potential users.

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Some books that might be useful:
Don’t Make Me Think
Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences
The Design of Everyday Things

#2 – Know the tools

The basics: There are many online places where you can learn how to do things in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign… Allocate some time for studying to see what’s possible with your software. But do not start with advanced tutorials as you may lose confidence really quickly. Start with the basics again. If you want to know Illustrator start with pen tool, shapes, selection tools.

If you are learning Photoshop again think about how you can use grids, typography, blending modes, etc. When you know what all these things do, you will gain some confidence and you will be able to do complex things. The best way to become better is by doing. Start creating your own stuff such as T-shirts, mobile app mockups, business cards etc…

#3 – Steal from others

Study from the best: As you are still a novice in design, you should have a look what the experienced designers can do. Go to Behance Curated Galleries and check out great designers portfolios. Study how they use colours, typography, grids etc. Stealing from the others does not mean to copy them in your projects, steal the skills. For example, if someone created a kick ass logo, think about how will you do it or do try to do it and see how it will turn out.

#4 – Start building portfolio

Show your best: A designer without portfolio is like a bird without wings (a cheese metaphor I admit). As a designer you should have a portfolio, especially if you are determined to get a job as a designer. You can create a Behance profile and put your stuff there for people to see. This will totally help you to grab the attention in the initial stage of job search.

But when it comes to an interview, you should have a good physical portfolio with nice printed materials. People like to feel things with their hands and if you are creating posters, try to have them in at least a few in A4 paper format. It is not the same the view work on the computer and on paper. This does not mean to print anything you have. Be selective, put only the best things.

#5 – Kill your artwork

Be your own killer: Being a designer is not fun at times. You should be prepared that some of your will suck big time. You should be able to kill some of your work or all of it. The sooner you learn to do that, the better designer you will be. There are times when you have to accept the fact that something went wrong and the work is not good enough. This is time when you should start from scratch.

#6 – Ask for feedback

Get another pair of eyes: Feedback is always good, especially when you are criticized. Ask people who care about to have a look at your work. Ask also people who do not care about design, even people you do not know. You will be surprised how insightful and beneficial it will be. I think that you will notice things you haven’t seen before. Listen carefully and do not feel offended.

#7 – Go and get a job

The time is now: After all your efforts, it is time to go out and find a job. It might be difficult at the beginning. Try also to learn some HTML and CSS. You should be able to work with other people in the filed such as developers. This will increase your employability. If you are keen on mobile apps, learn how to create the interfaces, have a look at some tutorials on how they are created.

You can consider using professional social networks such as LinkedIn. There are many professionals that are using it and there are many people who used it to find work. Make connections, as connections will help you find a job. Research some companies that you are interested in. See what they do and be prepared to express why you like their work.

#8 – After you got a job

Keep learning: Design is changing all the time. You should be able to keep up with the latest trends and learn new things all the time. Keep an eye on what other designers do. Go to places such as TutsPlus, Cousera, GeneralAssembly, Treeshouse, Open2Study and keep learning and keep developing your skills…

“There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”
Milton Glaser

Good Luck!

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