How to become a self-taught designer


Becoming a graphic designer does not necessarily mean that you have to go the four-year Degree route, this is an art that can be learned by anybody who is willing to put in the effort and the time that it requires. For me, it is easy to go the self-taught route.

To me, graphic design is all about showcasing your skills which are unique and impressive. People take different routes through their career journey. Been a self-made graphic designer may take various paths to reach the same destination, the school way, and the self-taught through-way.

Many people are not ready to seat in a classroom for that long period waiting for a credential of a graphic designer, am not trying to disapprove of the importance of joining a designing school, all am trying to say is you don’t have to go the long route of getting the same skill that you could have gotten by yourself. Joining a design school has its own main advantages that come along with it like for instance you are able to get the credits of having the certificates which are added advantages when you are applying for some jobs, though as a graphic designer you don’t have to work for anybody but for yourself. If you are willing to do it on your own, then this article will be of great support.

Let’s now see what it takes to be a self-taught graphic designer;

  1. Understand the basics principles of graphic design 
  2. Build your designing skills
  3. Acquire the right tools.
  4. Find your style
  5. Explore
  6. Build a good portfolio.
  7. Build your foundation.
  8. Start your career right now

Understand the basics principles of graphic design.

This is the most important step for anybody who is trying to dive into this field; this is where you internalize the basic designing rules that apply to any design.

Designing principles affect every design you create since graphic design plays a key role in brand-building, that’s why you don’t want to mess with your customers’ brand. There are so many principles of graphic design, but only a few of them are useful enough to any graphic designer.

The major designing principles include;

  • Balance
  • Alignment
  • Contrast
  • Proximity
  • Harmony  
  • White space
  • Balancing in graphic design means keeping a coherent visual pattern (e.g. color, shape, space), this is an aspect that is based on human senses and perception of weight and proportion.
  • Alignment is the process of keeping the design objects inline (not only vertically but also horizontally and in a linear plane), this means that one design object positioned with respect to another element within the same frame.
  • Contrast means distinguishing by comparing and creating the differences, this involves the use of contrasting colors, sizes, and shapes. This can be clearly explained by using different styles of fonts in the same design.
  • Harmonizing the design means that, the graphical elements are working in harmony with other individual parts of the design to come together as a visually compelling and meaningful design.
  • The proximity of a design means that the graphical elements are close to other individual design elements; this shows a good connection to the design. Proximity guides the viewer to different parts of the message.
  • Repetition in graphic design is the act of repeating a sequence having it occur more than a few times, this creates visual consistency in page designs. Excessive repetition may bring boredom and uninteresting compositions; hence you should be very careful when it comes to repetition.
  • White space applies where there are margins, gutters, spaces between lines of type and any other part of the page that is empty.

These few principles are very important to any graphic designer; hence you should take your time to make sure you master each principle for effective designing.

Build your designing skills

This step needs time and patience accompanied by hard work to accomplish. To build a skill is like acquiring a new ability and it takes time to master the ability. Learning a skill is progressive process not just a sudden change.

In order to keep up with the changing tools and maintain industry standards one has to continually learn.

At this stage you choose your path in graphic design and decide on what you want to major in, because graphic design is a wide field with several professions. The following are some of the specialization and jobs for graphic designer;

  • 3d animator
  • Video game designer
  • Multimedia specialist
  • Interior designer
  • Production designer
  • Illustrations artist
  • Computer animation specialist

Building skills is a very important stage for any graphic designer because it determines the type of job you will have. Any type of specialization in graphic design is highly valuable; research shows that designer jobs opportunities are increasing every day.

Using the right kind of software is a key aspect of this stage. Adobe plays a key role in the graphic designer because it has the best designing software and it keeps updating them to make it easier for anybody who wants to use the platform.

Acquire the right tools.

Graphic design has a lot of tools which make different designers stand out from the rest depending on what they are creating. The tools include;

  • A computer ( a desktop or a laptop with at least core i3 processor and 4GB of ram)
  • Optical mouse with 3 buttons.
  • Drawing tablet(optional)
  • A good working station e.g. a desk and a chair
  • Notebook for sketching.
  • Headphones( optional)

A fancy tool without a great design is just a crap. You can have the most powerful computer in this world and lack the ability to come up with an informative design. The above are just the essential entry level designer tools.

Find your style

As a graphic designer guru you don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades, you want to be a master of a specific niche.

A unique design distinguishes you from your peers, the difference between you and other designer makes you a self-made graphic designer s, your own styles is the only way you can communicate the message you want, doing the ‘you’ in graphic design is a vital skill.

Keeping a journal may e very helpful when it comes to building your style, it guides you to correct any mistake you have ever made. It also helps you to know what want you want to serve to your customers.

Having a role model in the designing industry is a good feature because they give you clues of success in this business. Find what your favorite graphic designers are doing and immerse yourself into building your own style from their inspirations.

Design style can only be gained by practice and also patient because it is an ability that we learn as long as we keep on training. There are several factor which affect the type of style you want to develop and they are as follows;

  • the message you want to pass across highly influences the style of your design, a poster done for commercial advert should have some style connected with the type of advertisement been done.
  • The type of designing software also greatly affects the type of style you are using like for example, 3D modeling software is used for creating 3D objects which makes one have the 3D modeling style of designing.
  • Level of skills is also another main factor influencing the type of style in many ways, this can be demonstrated by how beginners design and how pro designers create their art.


Let your mind wander around trying to find solutions. Don’t just jump into Photoshop because you have just installed it, to gain the skill you have to be ready to learn from the people who have been in the industry for a while.

Graphic designers are like researchers who are ever looking for the trending information around them. This means if you want to be a professional graphic designer you must be ready to explore new ways of solving daily problems.

Exploring throws us into the oceans of problems which need our knowledge to solve them; graphic designers learn their skills by solving such problems.

Try new things daily, this will improve your designing skills.

Build a good portfolio.

A good portfolio provides the employers with a complete and clear picture your abilities as a graphic designer; this adds some weight to your skills.

Creating a good portfolio is showcasing your best work, it should include the following,

  • Your experiences
  • Your accomplishments
  • Skills
  • Level of education
  • Your future goals
  • Interests
  • Professional objectives

 This helps people to recognize you better and see what you are able to do judging from you work.

Good portfolio will speak for yourself in a better language that your clients will trust you more. This shows your previous work and why the client should hire you to solve their problem.

Creating a good portfolio requires zero skills as long as you have social media accounts which you can use to post your work.

A website is the most efficient way of creating a good portfolio because your customers can visit your site from anywhere anytime. Note that, it is good to include your good stuff only.

Here are some of the tips for any designer who wants to build a strong portfolio;

  1. Collect the best examples/projects of your previous work.
  2. Include any info about prestigious and successful companies you’ve ever worked for.
  3. Demonstrate your skills.
  4. Stay organized with your work.
  5. Employ the fundamental principles of design to have a professional framework.
  6. Pay attention to fonts and grammar.
  7. Let the work do the talking.
  8. Give credits to any support you have ever received.

A portfolio is a living and changing collection of the records that show your attributes, skills and accomplishments.

Build your foundation.

Learn how to start, this is the hardest part but if you commit yourself into the task then it becomes easy to start. When you do your job well enough, it will take you to places I the industry.

Building a strong foundation requires time and efforts; you have to start with the basic. In design you have to start from the scratch.

Once your client trust you, it becomes easy for you to earn referrals.

Start your career right now

Always keep on creating, experience is very vital and nobody will want to give you a job without it. Use your free time to improve your skills.

Graphic design is also a good venture and you should want to learn how to run it and manage it effectively, even if you want to take the freelance route you have to understand the basic principles of business. This will help you to know how to price your work, write contracts, and how to invoice your clients professionally.

                                                      “Keep on creating.”

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