The good news is regardless of whether you are exploring graphic design as a hobby or in a professional capacity- perhaps in a Marketing or an Events manager role,  the world of graphic design is infinite. You may be exploring graphic design career opportunities if you are planning on changing careers and enhancing career prospects. Whatever your reasons for studying graphic design you will be enhancing your personal and professional skillset in a way that resonates with many job descriptions in today’s modern digital world. There are plenty of career options available and for many in the UK, the novel corona pandemic saw just how important the online space is. Perhaps you trained many years back and feel out of touch, but not sure what you need to do to join the fast-moving graphic designer train?

Step aboard and let the experts at Blue Sky Graphics explain the different routes and qualifications needed. 

For many, graphic design is now considered an essential job skill and there are often a plethora of current job roles utilising an abundance of graphic design and web design jobs. This is commonly the case across marketing, e-commerce, online, entertainment, creative, digital and print industries, where knowledge of graphic design software is a prerequisite. According to the UK authoritative body, The Design Council,  “as advanced economies across the world transition from being capital-intensive to knowledge-intensive, the importance of intangible assets such as design is growing”.

Graphic designers are needed to fuel the demand with an increase of new products, online services, digital processes, organisational forms and practices which allows for a positive impact on economic growth.

So to understand what is exactly needed in terms of portfolio work, qualifications and entry getting into graphic design, it is useful to understand what exactly a graphic designer is and what they do.

What does a graphic designer do?

In simple terms, graphic designers are communicators and visionaries for a wide variety of purposes, from advertisements and websites to exhibitions and product packaging. They create visual branding, adverts, logos, books,  flyers, brochures, newsletters, magazines, website designs, product packaging, posters, billboards and both printed and digital displays. It’s not just about creating something that looks stunning. It’s about really understanding what will catch the attention of your target audience and make them act in a certain way. As a graphic designer not only will you be the one to shape the visual aspects of all of the above, but as a graphic designer you would be discussing the requirements of the project (also known as the brief) with clients and colleagues.

A graphic designers role often extends belong discussing briefs to undertaking tasks including:

  • producing rough sketches to show the client
  • using Adobe computer software to prepare designs (Mostly Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign)
  • producing a layout of illustrative material with specifications for typefaces, letter size, colours
  • working to budgets and deadlines and indicating the costs for the project
  • choosing the most suitable materials and style
  • developing concepts, graphics and layouts for product illustrations and websites
  • preparing rough drafts of material based on an agreed brief

Of course, there is also what looks like a typical list of employers that use graphic designers which include:

  • Advertising or media agencies (the primary function is creating images and
  • advertisements for companies to help them sell their products or services to consumers)
  • Book, magazine, newspaper and journal publishers
  • Packaging companies
  • Multimedia companies
  • Brand agencies
  • Signs and Printing Companies
  • Book, magazine and newspaper publishers
  • Multimedia companies
  • Television and broadcasting companies
  • Publishers  Brand agencies
  • Marketing agencies
  • In-house graphic design services (think large branding agency )
  • Universities (they are businesses too)
  • Just about any other business, you can think of (they may employ or outsource)

For a more detailed description of graphic designer duties and responsibilities take a look at the article.

What do I need to do to become a graphic designer?

Firstly you don’t need qualifications to become a graphic designer. That’s right, you do not necessarily need a qualification to work in graphic design. If you put  10 random graphic designers all into a room you may find that 6 out of ten may not even have a degree let alone a graphic design qualification. To help you get started, what you will need, however, is a portfolio that shows your creative ideas and mouthwatering designs, skills and work experience.  To become a graphic designer, you will need to have IT and drawing skills. You’ll need to be able to find practical solutions to problems and have excellent communication skills. You will make mouthwatering designs in an up-to-date portfolio of work to demonstrate your creativity and design skills, so potential employers have something concrete on which to base a hiring decision. An employer will be as interested in your design skills and creative ideas as they are in your portfolio too.

Do I need a degree to become a graphic designer?

There is no doubt that you can become a graphic designer without going down the usual degree route. Many companies hire entry-level designers based solely on their portfolio and experience, rather than if they have a degree.  A degree is fantastic and a lot is to be said for academic theory and historical perspectives, but studying for a design degree isn’t without its own challenge and negative sides either – not least the fact it will take in most of the cases up four or five years of your life and cost a large amount of money.

Increasingly people are not sure if the investment of studying for a degree will be justified at all. Successful people tend to never stop learning and in today’s world learning is more accessible than it ever has been and does not require going to a red brick university. While a degree in-itself cannot make you a great graphic designer without learning carefully the theory and practice or taking a comprehensive graphic design course. Potential employers and customers are looking for great designers with software knowledge, vision and skills.

A large number of graphic designers, creative directors with successful careers in design don’t actually own a qualification including the likes of Tibor Kalman (a famous graphic designer) and fashion designer guru Coco Chanel to name a few. Whether or not you have a degree, you will need to have a good grasp of design software- Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are common design software tools. You will also need a good working knowledge of desktop design software,  Illustrator, InDesign, or and image-editing packages like Photoshop. You can do courses in these at colleges, private training providers and through self-study.

While there are some designers that have a qualification such as a foundation degree, HND, or degree in graphic design for many the expense and time of going to university versus the possibility of taking a shorter industry-aligned course is more practical. Certain schools and colleges offer graphic design courses like the 0110 Graphic Design Course or 0220 Web and UX-UI Design Course which is offered at Blue Sky Graphics.

Image Credit:

For those that want a paper that says what they’ve studied there are qualifications.
Level 3 qualifications are:

1. A level
2. access to higher education diploma
3. advanced apprenticeship
4. applied general
5. AS level
6. international Baccalaureate diploma
7. level 3 award
8. level 3 certificate
9. level 3 diploma
10. level 3 ESOL
11. level 3 national certificate
12. level 3 national diploma
13. level 3 NVQ

A qualification is not necessary. With that in mind and in summary, there are a few things you will need as a graphic designer without a degree:

Becoming familiar with technology – you will need to use software and Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are essential for any graphic designer.  You will also need an amount of raw creative talent and the dedication to learn several critical skills.

Most importantly you will need an impressive delicious, mouthwatering engineered portfolio that is going to convince employers to take a chance on you as a graphic designer. You must have an up-to-date portfolio of work to demonstrate your creativity and design skills, so potential employers have something concrete on which to base a hiring decision. An employer will be as interested in your design skills and creative ideas as they are in your portfolio too.  Please note the graphic designer portfolio is perhaps the most important in the job-hunting process.

What is a portfolio? Why do graphic designers need a portfolio?

At Blue Sky Graphics we like to think of a portfolio as a window into your world through which we and your potential clients can see your skills, personality and potential. It’s an accumulation of work exhibiting how your creativity has developed over a period of time. It will variegate depending on the level of study you’re applying to it and will likely develop over time – both in content and format. It shows your ability to work with different materials, subject matter and techniques, including how you research, develop and plan your ideas. Consider your audience Instead of the chronological order of work to new clients.

A useful comparison analogy is to liken yr portfolio to a piece of music or a good book: an impaction beginning, interesting middle and a punchy end.

When studying at BSG all our courses come with a portfolio with an emphasis on working with the correct graphics composition, using colours according to the colour theory and maintaining the design rules to provide you with a commercially driven portfolio. This prepares our students for working in the real graphic design world. Our in-house Affinity Certification outlines each Adobe module studied and the learning outcome, but as mentioned the main important result is the portfolio which is included in the price of the course. At BSG we have been passionately teaching graphic design for just over 15 years and pride ourselves on our high standards of teaching, a rage for creativity and effectively making future skilled graphic designers.

Preparing a portfolio is an exciting opportunity to select your strongest work and present it in a personal, professional way. It’s your work, so give it the best possible chance of making a good impression. When you apply to a course in a hands-on subject area, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to submit a portfolio. Your portfolio will ideally show a range of relevant work, from initial sketches and ideas to contextual references as well as some finished pieces. It is your work, your name and your portfolio. It’s a living, breathing thing that wins hearts and captures minds.

What career path and progression is there in graphic design?

You could become a senior designer, creative director or move into management. You could go freelance or start your own design agency. Another option is to move into teaching or lecturing.

Talent and personal contacts (networking) are very important for getting work. Unpaid work experience, holiday jobs, and internships will give you the chance to develop your portfolio, make contacts and impress employers. You could also create a website to showcase your work. 

Salaries are competitive at entry levels and increase considerably with experience. More information on graphic designer salaries can be found here.

Competition for jobs is strong and quite often is the case that not all jobs are advertised, so as well as building contacts, as a recommendation, you could perhaps approach companies and design agencies directly. A good start might be to check for design agencies in the design directory of the British Design Innovation website and then contact them. You may be able to become a junior graphic designer through an apprenticeship scheme. You will need to check which schemes are available in your area.

What can a career in graphic design lead to?

There is a lot of work out there. In basic economic terms, demand is huge and supply is needed. According to The Design Economy 2018 “The design economy generated £85.2bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK in 2016. This is equivalent to 7% of UK GVA.” Once you have trained and have an ‘outstanding’ portfolio (and there’s a lot of competition for graphic design work so you’ll need a really good portfolio that shows your creative talent to help you get started- check out examples of our student portfolios. Fast track your career in graphics design and study with Blue Sky Graphics through a one-to-one course and qualify in just months! The senior leadership team at BSG is comprised of design leaders in the graphic design field in conjunction with senior professionals in the graphics industry. Free up valuable time instead of wasting time and money travelling when all our classes are online and live in real-time. Study at your own pace whenever and wherever you are. Have access to a tutor who will provide prompt and encouraging support.

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