Insider’s Guide: How to Become a Professional Graphic Designer

Aamina Suleman Khan
6 min readDec 4, 2017


If you’re a graphic design noob, you’re probably always dreaming of becoming a full-fledged designer, geared with spot skills to create spectacular and inspirational designs. Nevertheless, this is a struggle, and it is a part and parcel of this never-ending journey.

No doubt, aspiring designers wander in all places for guidance. I am sure many of you have searched the internet for “how to become a self-made graphic designer” or “how to become a professional graphic designer” or even “how to become a graphic designer without a degree”. If you want to upgrade your skills and knowledge about graphic design, here are the simple steps you need to follow in order to become a pro at design.

But first of all…

Who is a Professional Graphic Designer, Anyway?

Let me start with the ‘all graphic designers are not professionals’ statement because you need a lot more than a computer, software and basic skills to be called a graphic design whizz. Whether you’re a self-made designer or own a certificate from a good university, there’s more to professionalism in graphic design. Follow these steps to ace the subject.

Step 1: Learn Design History

Not many people like reading about the past, but in graphic design, "history" plays an eminent role. It shares how the industry has evolved, who the key players were, and discusses how each design movement affected the world of design. An amazing yet long-winded book to read is Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. To be honest, although history is a dry subject, you will enjoy this book if you’re enthusiastic about learning and also if you’re truly passionate about graphic design.

Other than books, there are many great resources online to learn about graphic design history. My favorite one is Design History because it is concise, systematic and it elucidates the design evolution from a branding, advertising, and digital perspective. If you like watching instead of reading, then Lynda videos can help you quickly grasp the history of graphic design.

Step 2: Observe & Take Inspiration

Before developing your own style, it is important to observe what’s happening around you. Look at how different communication channels portray graphic designs and what impact they have on them. See the ways in which designers from all over the world use elements of graphic design to tell a story, share a message, and inspire people to take a particular action. And don’t stick to your own culture or region, instead, go beyond that. If you’re British or American, then explore what is happening in the Eastern part of the world. It is also important to know that observation and inspiration is an ongoing process, so just keep moving. There are three main things to takeaway:

1 Look at graphic designs on different communication media

o Newspapers and magazines

o Television

o Billboards and signage

o Website and social media

2 Explore the works from various countries and cultures

o Chinese written language

o Indian religious symbols

o Geometric Islamic art

o Mexican color schemes

3 Examine the works of different designers and their styles. For example:

o Paul Rand

o Andy Warhol

o Shigeo Fukuda

o Steven Harrington

o Michael Bierut

o Jessica Walsh

Step 3: Get the Latest Equipment/Tools

Before you start practicing graphic design you need the right software and gadgets. If you take courses online or in school, you need your own supplies to do the homework, assignments, and projects. Even if you’re learning graphic design on your own, you need your own gear. The question, I know, is where to look for help regarding graphic design tools and equipment? Well, for a start you can take tips from Creativebloq for example.

As far as software is concerned, the industry standard is Adobe but some graphic designers also prefer using Corel Draw, especially for illustrations and vectors. Whatever software or computer/laptop you use, always keep yourself up to date on new gadgets.

Step 4: Learn to Draw

In order to become a graphic design master, you need to learn the most basic yet essential skill: drawing. Professional graphic designers know how to sketch their ideas on paper, which are later refined on screen. In a 4-year degree, students are made to create typography by hand. So make sure you learn how to:

o Draw mundane objects

o Work with perspective

o Add light/shadow to design

o Experiment with textures

o Design typeface on grid paper

o Illustrate people, places, flora, and fauna

You can learn these skills either via a local course offered in your area or online. You don’t need to be like Marcello Barenghi, but you need to learn drawing, enough to be able to make original designs rather than downloading paid/free stock images and manipulating them.

You can also have a look at the drawing courses on Creative Live and Skillshare.

Step 5: Master Design Skills

You may have a basic understanding of how to work with the different tools in let’s say Adobe Illustrator, but you need to experiment and get better at it. Design is like math, the more you practice the better you get at it.

By the way, you don’t need a degree to be a graphic designer because there are several amazing YouTubers that make online lessons for you. I would recommend Terry White, TastyTuts, Will Patterson, Spoon Graphics, Phlearn, and Creatnprocess among others.

Step 6: Make a Portfolio

Once you have mastered your skills, put your designs in your portfolio so potential clients and employers can see your work. The best way is to create a website for your portfolio. Another way is to share it on platforms like Behance, Tumblr, Instagram, and Dribbble. You can also share your work on social media groups, but make sure you watermark it because some sleazy people can do nasty things with it.

Step 7: Socialize

Don’t be a loner when it comes to graphic design in this day and age. Connect with other professionals on LinkedIn groups and Facebook to garner tips, share insights, and exchange ideas. You can also start discussions on Reddit — that is where the famous 7-Eleven logo controversy started where a designer pointed that the “n” in the name is small while other letters are capital. You can simply have a discussion, ask a question, or even set challenges. You can also participate in Twitter chats like #adobechat or if you are leaning towards branding then interact in #brandchat.

Just don’t spam!

Step 8: Experience

My dad says, “experience is one thing education can’t give you.” And it is true. You can put your head in books 24/7, but the real challenges and opportunities begin when you get down and dirty.

You can work with startups, small businesses, or multinationals, and each abode will offer you something different and spectacular. You can also become a freelancer and get projects through crowdsourcing websites.

Final Tips

If someone says you can become a graphic designer the easy way then they’re wrong because nothing comes without hard work.

First of all, this industry never stays stagnant. There are always new techniques, trends, and tools in the market. So keep learning.

Secondly, you need to evolve and develop your skills and knowledge. You can’t pretend you know everything.

Thirdly, never give up. If your heart is in graphic design then make it all happen!

So how do you plan to hone your graphic design skills?

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