Graphic Design: Routes into the industry

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A degree will certainly help kick-start your career in freelance graphic design, but talent is probably more important, as are organisational skills, how you work as part of a team and whether you 'fit in' with the other people in the agency/department.

If you are trying to get your foot in the door with a client, but lack a portfolio and/or experience, there are things you can do. Design things for your friends: posters for events, logos or even t-shirts. Offer to re-brand your Uncle's dry cleaning business; make potential employers/clients know that you understand the fundamentals; take a client brief and present your ideas in an attractive and organised way. Invent a bogus company and design a complete set of stationery and a company brochure; design a website and think up an online marketing campaign. Contact a local agency and offer yourself for work experience during the summer holidays. Ask to sit in on client/designer meetings, ask for a 'real-life' brief, go away and come back a week later and present your work to the art director and his/her team. It’s unlikely that they wouldn’t want someone around who is hungry for experience, who's willing to help out to get ahead, and they may call on you for future paid work if you impress them too.


Networking is key. Go to design conferences and talk to other designers/exhibitors/guest speakers, go to the local club/art-house cinema/gallery/bar and meet the local movers and shakers. Go and see the best local bands/DJ's in your town - chances are there'll be lots of like-minded people in the audience. Target small to medium-sized businesses when you are starting out, contact them and find out what their current/future graphic design needs are. Infiltrate the local art/music/independent film scene and follow up any good leads with an email or telephone call as soon as possible afterwards. Remember that everyone started somewhere and even the top designers/art directors still need to network.

LinkedIn is a useful networking tool and is considered a professional platform to connect with other working professionals, it can therefore be a helpful networking tool for freelance graphic designers and here’s how you can make the most of it. Make sure to complete your profile so it has the most up-to-date information and can reflect your personal brand. By adding more information to your profile, you can transform it from a beginner to an all-star profile where you will be better recognised on the platform. On LinkedIn, you can connect with anyone who has an account so don’t be scared to connect with relevant contacts such as past clients or those you want to target for future work. The more connections you have, the more visible your profile will be for others to connect with you too. Your connections can also endorse your skills which will benefit your reputation as a freelance graphic designer and make you appear as a great choice to prospective clients. Networking is also a great way to reach out to other freelancers in case of future opportunities to collaborate. When collaborating with other freelancers, include them in the whole creative process as their passion for the project will shine through and can generate better work for both of you. You can send messages on LinkedIn so why not reach out to freelancers with complimenting skills and offer to collaborate.

Your portfolio

If you have lots of copies of your work and you don't mind losing a few along the way, then leaving your book isn't a bad idea. If you only have 'one-offs' then don't. It’s a great idea to create a blog or a website as a way of showcasing your work. A website can help you be found and if it’s well designed, it will show your talent and skill itself. You can also showcase your work on social media too, as a freelancer having social media profiles is key. If you work in creative fields such as graphic design, you can use Instagram to create a portfolio of your work.

In your portfolio as a freelance graphic designer, it is important to be concise and demonstrate your best work rather than all of your projects. When creating your portfolio, you should highlight your key work experience and skills. You should also personalise your portfolio to your potential clients where possible, and give examples of what you specialise in, especially if it is particularly relevant to their business or project. Specialising in a particular area allows clients to see your UVP (unique value proposition) and it can make you stand out from other freelance graphic designers. Adding your previous clients to your portfolio can show you as a reliable freelancer and show your target audience.

A productive way of showing your portfolio is through a listing on the Freelance Directory where you can add your details and your creative work for future clients to see. This is a great way to collaborate with other freelancers or connect with clients who are looking for a particular area of expertise. You can add blogs, your own website, or even photos to your portfolio to make you stand out.

Your own branding

As a freelance graphic designer, your branding needs to be perfect. As you work in the creative field and will potentially be helping businesses create their brand, yours needs to be great. Your branding should reflect your skill and talent, therefore make sure you invest time and money (if required) in making it the best.

Good branding consists of creativity, direction, and defining a target audience. Being creative is one of the most significant parts of branding, which is the first thing that the client sees and can define you as a person and a business. Whether you are branding for yourself or for a client’s company, it is important to have a good visual direction of what you want your branding to achieve and how to achieve it. Your brand should be presented clearly and above all be memorable, making it easier for prospective clients to keep you in mind for future work and also to spread the word of your freelance business if they have had a good experience with you. Make your brand relevant to your specialty so your skills are easily identifiable to prospects, and remain consistent with your branding across all of your business materials.

What skills and training do I need?

There are essential skills you’ll need when becoming a freelance graphic designer which include creativity, time management, and communication. Proficiency in software skills will also be beneficial to you in future job roles, but if you don’t have experience in these, then there are a range of training courses available online. Perhaps you might also consider taking a foundation year in one of the following degree subjects:

  • Graphic Design

  • Textiles

  • Photography

  • Art and Design

When becoming a freelance graphic designer, it is important to know which software to use and if it is compatible with what you are using e.g. laptop, tablet, etc.

Here are 10 popular software skills you may need as a freelance graphic designer:

  • Adobe Illustrator

  • VistaCreate

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • Canva

  • Adobe Instructor

  • Adobe Creative Cloud

  • InDesign

  • Sketch

  • GIMP

  • Lunacy

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