So, you want to be a graphic designer?

18th February 2019

Last Wednesday we went to Claire's old school (Bassaleg Comprehensive) to attend a career fair for students choosing their GCSE and A-Level options. As well as chatting to prospective graphic design enthusiasts we also had a snoop around the corridors for nostalgia purposes, checked out the 2019 gossip on the toilet walls and pretended we were 'down with the kids' for a few hours. (It's safe to say, we weren't fooling anyone).

Looking back to when we were young students, we remember the many emails sent out to studios asking for work experience and any advice available. Claire sent out her CV in the post and still has her response letters filed away (to refer back to the letterhead designs). In fact, both myself (Lauren) and James got our jobs working at Parade from work experience opportunities.

From creatives willing to share their experience and advice to useful books and websites, we've all had our fair share of help on our paths to becoming graphic designers. So, whenever there’s a chance to help out the next generation of creatives, we like to try and give back as much as possible. As a result of this we created a short guide to help you get your foot in the graphic design door:

What does a graphic designer do?

If you've clicked on this blog post, chances are you already know what a graphic designer does. But just in case: A graphic designer creates visual concepts to communicate ideas for various print and digital mediums including brand identities, advertising, websites, social media, product packaging and posters among others. Graphic designers are expected to successfully meet a brief given to them by their client so excellent communication skills are a must. A creative flair and an up-to-date knowledge of current industry standard software are also essential.


A relevant BA Hons degree is desirable when it comes to working in the graphic design industry. A relevant degree will give you an understanding of the key principles of graphic design. It will also massively develop your software, time management and writing skills as well as show you’re able to commit to something for three years. A degree, however, isn’t essential to bag yourself a job in graphic design. At the end of the day, if you’re able to demonstrate these skills alongside a great portfolio of work, you won’t be overlooked. Most people just need a structured course to push them along through the learning process.

Many creatives also complete an art and design foundation course before deciding what they want to specialise in.

Don't forget graphic design has many different specialised areas such as brand identity design, advertising and marketing, user interface design (UI), user experience design (UX), publication design and motion graphics. Some of these subjects have their own specialised course so keep this in mind when deciding what course is for you.

Work experience

Reaching out to graphic design agencies for work experience can give you the opportunity to get a real feel of what graphic design in the real world is all about. It can also really boost your appeal to potential future employers. Learn as much as you can in the time you’re on work experience and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Your portfolio and CV

One of the most powerful tools that a graphic designer owns is their portfolio (and we’re not talking about those giant A1 cases that hold sketches and turn you into a paraglider in the wind). A killer portfolio whether print or digital can give an amazing first impression to a potential employer, which could separate you from other designers. A concise body of work that shows how you have approached and completed the project can give the employer an insight into how you are able to solve problems and create clever and meaningful work. Don't forget to include a CV and covering letter if you're applying for work experience or a job. We see a lot of these that look similar, so try and keep things original and avoid following trends from Pinterest, and please avoid using pre-made templates!

Designer’s check list

Excellent communication skills - Dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis requires excellent communication skills. These skills will help you convey your own ideas to the client as well as understand theirs.

Knowledge of Adobe software - Adobe CC is the current industry standard of software for graphic designers. You’ll be expected to have good knowledge of InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat. Anything else is an added bonus, such as After Effects.

Time Management - Time management is important for business. You’ll be expected to manage deadlines professionally and keep track of your time working on projects.

Creativity - (obvs!)

Up-to-date knowledge and willingness to keep learning - It’s important to keep up with the ever changing landscape of design from current trends to software and technology. Being a designer, it's very rare that you fully switch off, as the world is full of inspiration. From a nice foiled menu to a beautifully bound book, there are no limits to what can spark creativity. You may also become a bit of a hoarder in the process.

An inner desire to touch and smell print - We're all guilty of getting a fresh batch of print work and having a feel of the paper stock and a sniff, it seems to be ingrained in us!

Problem-solving skills - Sometimes you just have to find a solution to fitting reams of text onto a small flyer for a client.

Relevant qualifications* - Qualifications are great, but not always necessary depending on the individual and their portfolio. With all this said, we do think the three years you spend doing a degree are pretty valuable and shape you as a person, as well as allowing you to dedicate time to what you enjoy doing with no guilt or distractions.

A killer portfolio - Whether it's print or digital, think about what's going to make you stand out to potential employers. If you haven't got enough work to show from your time in education or you're not happy with what you created why not think up your dream brief or visit Brief Box for some ideas!

A key understanding of basic design principles - Get familiar with the key principles of design such as layout, typography, hierarchy, colour etc. Some of this will come from experience, so don't expect to be an expert in everything from the beginning, but we'd recommend giving the books below a read to give you a basic understanding.

Added bonuses include an interest in web design, motion graphics and copywriting.

Bed time reading

A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone, David Stuart, Greg Quinton and Nick Asbury- One of our favourites in the studio. We love it so much we have two editions!

Start Me Up by Robert KlantenA gold mine of beautiful branding 

Make it Now! By Anthony BurrillSome approaches for thinking, communicating and creativity. An upbeat guide that anyone can use to help with the big and small challenges we face every day.

Oh Sh*t... What Now? By Craig OldhamA comprehensive and insightful guide to anything and everything that is of use to those looking to break into the creative industries.

Champagne and Wax Crayons by Ben Tallon - If you're looking for a super honest insight into the creative industries, but also want to have a good laugh, this book is for you. It's also great if you're interested in the freelance side of design and illustration. 


AIGA Eye on DesignA collection of the work by the world’s most exciting emerging and established designers.

It’s Nice ThatCovering everything from graphic design to advertising, animation and photography

Creative ReviewCreative insight, process, inspiration and leadership.

Awwwards - Get the low down of everything that's going on in the world of web design and have a browse of the top rated websites.

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