How to become a graphic designer in 2018: tips to help you get started

Things just ain’t what they used to be. And you know what, that’s a good thing.

Today I’m going to be tackling how to become a graphic designer in 2018, because as some of you might know the industry changes and evolves and that is happening more rapidly than it ever has and 2018 is no exception.

Every year I update post to help up and coming graphic designers or those who are practitioners in the field, understand basically the state of graphic design as it is today.

What many of you are probably seeing is that being a generalist is going to be more advantageous for you right now, I know a lot of you are preached niche down, be a specialist, etc.

But right now if you’re trying to start your career or if you’re potentially going to transition being a generalist with a specialty is actually going to be more valuable to you right now.

The employment market is super competitive. So right now it’s about positioning and it’s about delivering as much value for an employer as possible and diversity is a great way to do that when it comes to your skill sets.

Speaking of employment, right now I know that many of you are feeling discouraged or you might be struggling to get a full time job as a graphic designer. And this is really rough for a lot of you who are students.

When it comes to these nine to five jobs that you can do as an in house designer or even working in an agency, the landscape’s more competitive than it’s ever been. And they’re a lot of people reentering the job market that are already established and have been working in the industry for years.

So those of you who are students or just starting out in your career, might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the competition that’s out there, given that you might have a limited amount of experience. And while it’s not a popular opinion, I think that this is where spec work becomes important for up and coming designers.

Real world experience

There’s nothing like it. But the other thing is, speaking personally as an employer as someone hires vendors and freelancers. There’s nothing that is a better credential than having a reference.

References & Testimonies

Me being able to call another business owner and ask them about what working was like. Or getting a referral from another business owner is fantastic, I’m not saying work for every Joe Schmoe small business out there, I’m not saying work for exposure.

I’m saying that you should work strategically, to create leverage for yourself if you want to compete with somebody already has five or ten years and has a background where they have their previous employers that can refer them or they have a client list.

Having a real client list is going to be so much more valuable even than the credentials you have from a accredited art school or college you went to for four or five or six years. Speaking as a business owner, I’d rather hear it from another business owner than from a college professor.

Superb body of work

Your body of work is the most important thing that you have to market yourself as a graphic designer. You can’t just build a portfolio website and you know, do the build it and they will come thing. Being able to have a body of work that you can use to go out there and hustle for new business.

Being able to have a body of work that attracts new business to you and being able to have that body of work that represents real employers or real people that you’ve done projects for.

Do Spec works

If the idea of doing spec work for a local small business feels so abhorrent to you, I absolutely recommend that when you’re getting your start that you can consider doing work for friends and family and friends of family that you might already owe a favor to or that have been very generous with you.

There’s got to be somebody that you know that you can go out there and create value for, that you’re going to feel okay with and that there was some kind of exchange or that you already owed them something as a thank you or a show of gratitude.

Or you could do it for a local non-profit or charity that already is working in a cause that you truly believe in and that you respect. References and referral business are great for anybody whether you’re a creative or whether you’re someone in the business world.

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I speak from experience when I say that. To this day, some of my best client experiences, some of my best speaking engagements, all came down to referrals. When it comes to finding your specialty today as a graphic designer, don’t just think about from the perspective of what’s trendy right now. Trends come and go.

But what you actually have an aptitude for, what you are actually interested in, and where your skills shine the most, tends to be a bit more consistent and it’s also easier for you to sell yourself on that.

Speaking of selling, I highly recommend you consider developing some type of product model for yourself as a graphic designer today, in order to create another revenue stream. Consistent reliable income is very important but it just doesn’t come in the form of a nine to five job alone.

Being able to sell the work that you aren’t going to use or elements or assets in marketplaces like Envato or Creative Market or Adobe Stock or Istock is going to be able to provide you with additional revenue stream, give you a sense of control over how much money you make.

Even if you aren’t doing illustration or you’re not doing print assets, vector artwork, you can actually do this as well with your web design projects, in terms of WordPress templates or even email marketing templates.

These are some things that are very good to be able to sell in an online marketplace that can get you some extra income, as well as you get an opportunity to show this off in your portfolio.

If you’re getting sales to be honest, this could actually be leverage when you’re interviewing to either get a client or an employer because what it means you can show them that there are people who are willing to already invest money in your creativity.

Build a Professional portfolio website

When building your portfolio today as a graphic designer, make sure it is print, web, and mobile. Being able to show your work in the proper context is something I can’t stress enough.

If you have digital work, showing it on a digital platform really makes a lot of sense, but if you have print work, showing that in print media is going to be a huge advantage because again, it puts your work into context, I cannot stress again how important this is.

I love the idea of being able to see things digitally, if I’m in a position I can’t reach you or you have to email me something, but if I have the opportunity to have an in person meeting with you and you have designs that you’ve done that were meant for print, I’d rather see them in print than scroll through them and swipe on an Ipad.

Print in of itself is an experience and it’s not fully dead. It’s if anything, I’d say it’s ever-living. I don’t think that print is truly going to disappear within our lifetime. If I’m wrong about that so be it. But I would actually bet a considerable amount of money on that.


I guess my last bit of advice on how to become a graphic designer in 2018 is going to come down to education. Education is important but don’t mistake having a degree for being educated.

Education is a combination of having the proper knowledge and understanding the principles of your craft. But also matter of experience. Life is the best teacher and instructor you could possibly have.

I think that holds true regardless of your discipline, your profession, or your background. Acquiring the knowledge and the skills that you’re looking for has actually never been a more accessible and more affordable than ever.

There are alternatives to college. College is great if you feel that you’re self-aware enough to know that you lack discipline, you don’t have the access to resources, or that you truly need hands on guidance and mentorship from somebody, this could be fantastic for you, if you have the opportunity and you can afford it.

However, don’t think that that’s the end all be all of education, there are great platforms like Udemy,, Creative Lives, Skillshare.

There’s just so many things out there and there are great online courses that individual people offer and there’s a lot of wonderful instructors also in the Youtube community, like Nathaniel Dodson from Tutvid or Stephen Looney from Graphic Designers Tips or my great friend Shawn Barry or people like Will Patterson, Charli Marie, Karen Kavett, etc.

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