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Getting into Graphic Design


Junior Member
I'm new to this forum, so hi! :D

I would be really grateful of some advice! I am in my 5th year as a Primary School teacher - a career that I fell into after doing quite a general degree. I have tried to make a go of it, but really lack any ambition as my heart isn't in it. I've always regretted not doing a more vocational degree in Art and Design. After much thought I've decided its time to try and make a career change and would love to get into graphic design.

Clearly I need to get some good training in order to achieve this, but I can't afford to do another undergraduate degree - it would take too long and be too expensive. I have found lots of HNDs and HNCs which I could study part time. I'd like to know if employers generally respect these qualifications, or whether they really require a higher level of qualifications?

Any advice you could give me would be fantastic, thanks!


Well-Known Member
I'm not an employer, but I'm lead to believe that they go more by the quality of your portfolio than the qualifications you have on paper. However, the work done to attain these qualifications are what makes up the lion's share of most start-outs' portfolio content. I'd suggest learning everything you can about good design and go for any affordable course that's appropriate to the area of design you want to peruse. And practice. Lots.
Erm, stick to your job!

It's extremely hard to get anywhere, even an unpaid placement. Plus even as an intern you'll be expected to have a wide range of program knowledge. You have people in their late teens who know all the programs and will design for fun.

They're important factors, I mean, do you have, use (and know inside out) the latest Adobe CS? Do you wake up and start designing?

It's such a saturated market. I'd never leave your job without something lined up, which will be hard.

Send out your C.V. now to jobs and see what response you get. That should give you a good indication of how you'd do.


Well-Known Member
Well yes, there is all that to consider aswell. You ideally need to already be into design for fun to really be in with a realistic chance to get somewhere with all the talented competition that's out there.


Junior Member
You make a fair point Tony, I know I must seem crazy when I have a secure and well paid job. I don't regard graphic design as an easy route at all - I know that jobs are scarce and there's a lot of young talent competing for them already. The problem is if I've got upwards of 35 years left of working life I think it might be worth the time, effort and struggle to get into something that I'd really enjoy doing, rather than sticking with something I really don't like!

If I did work up a portfolio and knowledge of Adobe CS that could compete with all the younger talent out there, do you think that previous (even if not related) work experience would help? After all I'm no stranger to a 13 hour day, I work well as part of a team and under my own initiative, and am used to working under pressure, which is all experience your average 16-19 year old could not have gained yet?!
By all means go for it, but you really have to go for it!

I don't know how old you are but you'd probably be working under people younger than you as well for a fair few years. That's something to consider too.

It's not what you know, but who you know... Knowing someone can help a lot too.

Start having a go at a couple of project and see how you get on. Maybe even online competitions.


Staff member
I'd suggest going to your local college, see what evening courses they do, they may do some intro courses etc...

I'm also going to say it - wanting to and being able to do design are 2 completely different things... don't assume that just because you have a passion for it that you will be a good designer.

edit: we have some old comps that may be worth having a go at further down the forum :)
Seriously i wouldn't bother.

Giving up a well paid job on a guarenteed increased pay scale for a potential job with limited job security in an industry with so many people desperate for jobs they'll work for free is in my opinion total and utter madness.

You'll be at a major disadvantage, good design students have spent 3 years building up portfolios, work placements, contacts in the vain hope of getting jobs / placements / freelance opportnities with no secure work on minimal pay.

If you've any bills over £100 a month i wouldn't bother.

Is there no way you could pick up the graphic design in your spare time, just learn it, get comfortable and confident, whilst maintaining your salary as a teacher. It's tricky because when your hearts not in something its so exhausting, all you want to do is go home and sleep and the idea of working more seems horrifying.

But from personal experience, I would try and keep my current paid job, and work on the side. It's so tough right now, so, so tough, and I'm trained, with a degree and have a ****-tonne of experience under my belt.

Unless you know someone who owns a company who'd let you work. Nepotism will always conquer over experience and skill, despite how **** and borderline retarded people are.
This is what I think:

Firstly, never take advice from someone who doesn't know the difference between your and you're.

Get yourself a few books, anything by Edward R. Tufte (the authority on effective visual information design); The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst (the typographer's bible and a surprisingly good read) and The Art of Looking Sideways byt the late great Alan Fletcher and I'm sure there are many more other people may choose to recommend.

If, after reading and digesting these, you're still hungry, then try doing work in your spare time. I would start out small before tackling some competition briefs as someone else suggested. It could be anything—redesign the sleeve of your favourite book, film, record, etc. Design some posters for fictional events, or indeed real ones. Remember you don't need real clients/jobs when practising out. Find a visual problem and solve it. Then move on to competition briefs, search for D&AD, YCN, RCA briefs, and/or check the ones on these forums. Again, you don't necessarily have to enter them.

I'm not sure what rules there are at your current place of work, but you have a very interesting audience at your disposal. Are there any teaching materials that could be visually improved for the benefit of understanding? Maps, alphabets, multiplication tables... it could be really interesting work.

As nearly everyone else has said, it's very hard out there, and this is an especially oversaturated industry. Everything I've suggested is free apart from the books, so scope it out and try some self-teaching and self-initiated briefs before investing serious time and money, you may find out it's not for you. Post work in progress at places like here and fiftytwonetwork (and there are plenty more) for advice and feedback.

As for software and hardware, I'm assuming you have a computer or a laptop already, remember it's just a tool—mastering technicalities and workflows is important, but not nearly as much as good ideas. Adobe will give you a fully working version of the entire creative suite for free for 30 days, then you may be able to find some kind of loophole to get a serious discount because you work in education. Whatever you do, don't buy it before April/May, the new version, CS6, will be released around then.

Good luck.


Yeah, and you don't use comic sans in your avatar.

Ok but on a serious note, I think before you go any further, you need to sit down and evaluate your position. Everyone choosing this route will face different scenarios and have to over come different obstacles with their own resources and skill sets. What may have been an issue for halbuiltrobot, might not be an issue for you and vice versa.

This is where a business education comes in handy, you need to know what your environment is like. How many other companies are out there doing what you want to do, are they all struggling to find work? If so, what makes you think you'll be able to get work where the established market leaders can't?

What can you provide that they can't? A great customer service? Do you know about great customer service, what it is and isn't and more importantly if you have the ability to provide it. Really think about your position and explore the variables that could lead to your failure before you give up your day job.

I would definitely echo Matt's advice, get a feel for the job you want to do - but do it in a manner that isn't going to ruin your life or put you into considerable hardship. Buy some books, find resources on the internet, get to know your stuff in your own time, whilst benefiting from the financial security of your current job. It will be difficult, you will have to spend less time doing 'fun' things - but if you're (aha I can do it) ever going to make it in the freelance world then you will need to have a strong interest in graphic design. You can't just see this as another job.