Heads up designers: It’s important you read this carefully.
We’ll be honest, your design career largely depends on your talent, creativity, and skillset, and not just the name of the school you attended. In fact, there are plenty of graphic designers who don’t have any kind of formal education but still work in the design industry.
But, while it’s not necessary for you to have a degree in graphic design to actually be a graphic designer, graduating with a degree in arts and design might be one of the best things you could do for your career.
A degree in graphic design might prove essential when it comes to:
Gaining the necessary knowledge
While it is true that without possessing certain levels of creativity and talent you simply won’t be able to produce a fantastic piece of design, it is also true that talent alone won’t get you far if you lack the basic knowledge and skills that’ll enable you to put that talent in use.
Participating in a degree program of your choice will teach you the fundamentals of design and provide you with comprehensive and profound knowledge you will need to master both theory and practice of the specific niche you’re looking to focus on.
There are many courses you can opt for, such as web design, animation, logo creation, drawing, digital graphics, typography, photoshop, and other tools, software, and many others.
In addition, learning from people who are experts in the field of graphic design is a truly invaluable experience. Yes, you can learn theory by yourself, but even if you kept your self-discipline and motivation levels high you couldn’t possibly acquire the same knowledge and skills that design professionals have. They can teach you not only how to create your best work, but also how to present it and how to talk about it.
Also, apart from teaching you valuable design skills and practices, your professors will focus on bringing out the best in you, in terms of both your knowledge and your talent.
Building a killer portfolio
Having a killer portfolio that works in your favor is what will help you land that awesome job you’ve set your heart on and jumpstart your career. Enrolling a graphic design degree program will give you a chance to meet and collaborate with some of the most well-known graphic design experts and professionals that will not only share their expertise with you, but also show you how to create a proper graphic design portfolio.
It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the know-how that’ll enable you to come off as a talented professional when presenting your work. By mastering the skills needed to create an awesome portfolio you are increasing your chances to get noticed, thus gaining competitive advantage.
Moreover, making sure your portfolio includes the names of your professors, lecturers, and other highly-recognized people you’ve had the chance to work with is sure to bring the attention of the potential employers or clients to you.
And that’s the sole purpose of a great resume, right?
Pro tip: If you truly want to stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of getting your dream job, consider creating a personal website (and we bet you won’t find anything more personal than a .ME domain) that will not only act as your own digital portfolio but will also enable you to build a strong online presence. Talk about a win-win situation!
Applying for a job
As a newbie graphic designer, your main goal is to land a prospective, well-paid full-time job. And the only way to make this possible is by nailing the job application process and ensuring that your potential employer or a client realizes you are the right person for the position.
As we mentioned earlier, having a great portfolio that’ll do you justice is what will get you noticed. However, sometimes having a college degree might as well be the factor that’ll determine whether you’ll get the job you’re after or not. The reason for this lies in the fact that the majority of larger businesses see a college degree as proof of an employee’s skills, knowledge, and commitment.
Companies see formal education as a major advantage when deciding who to hire – more often than not, a candidate with a degree can be seen as more knowledgeable, trained, committed and efficient, than a candidate who doesn’t hold a certificate of sorts.
One thing is certain – having a degree in graphic design is sure to give you credibility in the eyes of your employers and act as the springboard for your future career.
Earning a higher salary
Similarly to other careers, the salary of a graphic designer depends on several key factors, including their level of education, area of expertise, and years of experience. As you progress along your career path, your advances will probably include more difficult roles that are followed by a substantial increase in your salary.
Let’s take a look at these numbers – according to the research conducted by Payscale.com, a graphic designer who holds a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn around $52,000 a year, while those on managerial positions can earn up to $86,957 per year.
However, the important thing to keep in mind is that higher positions usually require some sort of formal education to be even considered as a prospective applicant. So, if you aim at becoming a creative director, product designer, or a design manager, you’d better hit the books and work hard to get that degree.
Still wondering whether college education really pays off?
If you’re still not sure whether formal education in graphic design is worth it, let’s take a look at some of the most successful designers worldwide who used their time at college to develop and harness their creative talents, which enabled them to reach the top of their career ladder and fulfill their dreams.
Chris Do is a renowned award-winning designer who used his time at Art Center College of Design to perfect his skills at graphic design, typography, lettering, image-making, and concepting. He used this knowledge to advance his career and hold various senior positions. He is today known as the founder and CEO of two successful companies: one called Blind, which focuses on delivering exceptional design solutions to fast-moving companies, while the other, The Futur, functions as an online educational platform that aims to teach the business of design to aspiring designers.
Aaron Draplin, a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the designer behind The Draplin Design Co., is a successful graphic designer who uses his skill and knowledge to make amazing merchandise and help brands create their visual identity. And that’s not all – he even published a book called Pretty Much Everything that sums up his vast knowledge and invaluable experience in the world of design. Moreover, Aaron shares some of his most useful tips, tricks, how-tos, and trade secrets in his online classes on Skillshare, which are a must for every budding designer out there.
Jessica Hische is a famous illustrator, letterer and type designer who attended Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia where she received a degree in Graphic and Interactive Design. After spending over two years on a position of a senior designer at Louise Fili Ltd, Jessica decided to focus on her freelance career and is well-known for her Love stamp design, an exciting project for the US Postal Service, the most recent MailChimp logo solution, as well as her Daily Drop Cap project. Some of the biggest names Jessica worked with are Nike, Samsung, Facebook, UNICEF, Apple, Victoria’s Secret, The New York Times, and many others.
Ellen Lupton is known for her many roles – she is an eminent graphic designer, critic, educator, writer, and curator. As a fine art student at Cooper Union College she discovered the power of graphic design, especially typography. Since then, Ellen has written numerous articles and books, as well as given many lectures on the topic of design. She is currently employed at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum as a contemporary design curator and at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) as the Graphic Design M.F.A. program director.
Make sure to test the waters first
Let’s face it – college education can be quite expensive, and it does take around 4 years to finish the majority of design programs. In case you’re not sure that being a designer is your true calling, maybe it would be a good idea to sign up for an online course first and/or try working as a freelancer, just to dip your toe in the designer waters and see whether the career in design is something you’d really like to pursue.
There are plenty of great, quite affordable (some even completely free!) graphic design courses available on the internet that will introduce you to the various design related topics, such as the design basics, elements, colors, typography, composition, design software, and so on.
For example, Skillshare is a platform that offers both free and paid graphic design lessons given by the biggest industry experts willing to share their knowledge and experience. Also, there’s Alison – an online learning platform with various free courses that can help you hone your graphic design skills and master the whole design process and elements. Don’t forget about Udemy and Coursera too, since these famous platforms have truly impressive design courses and mini-classes created for both complete beginners and advanced learners.
And when it comes to freelancing, make sure to check out some of the most popular freelancing platforms among graphic designers, such as Fiverr, Upwork, 99designs, Toptal, Dribbble, and DesignHill, that offer all types of design services, from designing business cards, logos and book covers, to designing the entire e-commerce website. Give these platforms a go and we bet you’ll find your first client in no time!
So what’s the verdict?
If you’re still not sure whether to take the plunge and focus on obtaining formal education, we suggest you ponder on this for a minute:
Most high-paid job positions will require you to have some sort of formal degree or a certificate, especially when a candidate lacks experience.
So, if you’re hoping to climb the corporate ladder, don’t let the lack of a degree hold you back in your career.