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Getting started in graphic design

Hi guys, first post and all

it took me the best part of five minutes figuring out where to post this, and I finally came to the decision that if there was any place, this is the one. Anyway, I'm 22 I have a couple a-levels in English and Film and for the last three years I've been working in admin

But for a while now, somewhere deep inside me,it's been a dream to become a graphic designer. I was studying it at AS level but I had to leave the class as the teacher and I almost came to blows one day.

Anyway- where should I go from here? studying full time is not an option for me, but I've been researching the hnc in graphic design, a course I can complete in one year via home learning. This appears to be something that will teach me the graphic elements, as well as the front end web design stuff and it also looks like employers like to see this qualification on a resume

Or should I should I just go all out already and apply to as many design studios in the area (Birmingham) and see if someone would give me a shot as a trainee or apprentice of sorts while I attain the htc?

What are my options guys?

I'd appreciate any help



Active Member
Hi Aaron,

Welcome to Design Forums, sorry it took so long to decide on a relevant forum section, I'm planning on a re-think of all the forum sections in the New Year!

I think you would find it tough to get a trainee spot with a design company, as it's so competitive, especially for entry level positions. Looking for work experience, either as a few weeks block or a day a week over a longer period would be good, it would help you see how a studio runs and whther or not this is the career you'd like to pursue.

You mentioned design at AS level, did you get as far as assembling any form of portfolio of design work?

The other option would be to look for a job in a related industry then try and move into design tasks, for example I worked at a signmakers on the vinyl cutting machines, so then had the opportunity to work on basic sign designs and logos, tha's what got me interested in graphic design and then a Uni course. Other options might be printers or media/newspapers?

Hope that helps, as for the home learning HNC I'm not too sure, I don't know anyone who's done a distance learning course for design so can't comment on that really..

i would try both mate, phone email as much studios as you can, and practice like fook. make up briefs to do, to keep you on your toes. its hard to break into, it took my just under two years to get a job as a designer, i kept being told i have talent but no experience. its a catch 22. in my opinion experience is the name given to your mistakes.lol
some in my design course was self taught he went straight into 2nd year of digital art. his work was great. if you have the drive for it. then go for it. just dont give up after the first hurdle
thanks for the swift responses guys

from what I've read the hnc pretty much covers all bases and at the end of it you walk away with a respected qualification, it covers photoshop, illustrator, InDesign as well as html CSS and javascript.

Greg- I did create some form of a small portfolio but nothing spectacular, neither would I be able to get it back now due to how things were left with the teacher and want not..would being a printer or getting some kind of gig at a paper/magazine be hard to get? Is experience needed for that kind of thing? know any places I could look?

mick- what kind of education did you take to help you? I'm guessing at the end of the day you found someone willing to take a chance on a fella without experience but a kickass portfolio?
Ive got an HND in graphic design mate and a BA in digital art mate. i got a kick up the arse when i was 21 mate,i suffered from me meningitis b. i had to drop out my course due to my ill health. and i came back with a fire in me not to give up. i spent every day learning new tricks n techniques, then phoned up wsu askin if they had any openings in their course and without applying to the course they viewed my portfolio and i was accepted in the 3rd.

experience is a killer, i did we bits of freelance work to help me along the way. it always helps to have some experience.
Haha awesome man

so would you say you could have gone straight from the hnd into a junior graphic designer? Would you have learnt enough to get you through?

This idea of getting into it via the printing route is really interesting. any tips on how I can do that guys?
yeah 2-3 in my course went straight into junior roles with an HND. like i said if you hav the drive then go for it but be willing to accept rejection, but dont let it put you down. use it to push yourself to be better and prove the people who didnt have faith in you, that they were wrong!!

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
I'm Birmingham based so can give you a list of local design/ marketing and PR companies if you like. It is tough as although the Midlands creative industries are growing it's still no where near London scale. I think the main issue you may have at this stage is your level of experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, DreamWeaver, In Design etc. Don't get me wrong it's not all about software ability, far from it, but to get a foot in the door anywhere they will expect a level of competence so they don't have to baby sit.

You will be up against loads of recent graduates who are looking for placements, (I'm a freelancer but still get 15-20 emails a month asking me for any work experience opportunities) so you need to be able to compete with them.

I'd recommend some form of formal course but also invest in a subscription to a tutorial site like lynda.com so you can work on your software skills at your own pace.

As a side I've heard some very good things (and seen some very good end of year shows) from Matthew Boulton College, Sutton Coldfield. They have great facilities and a good reputation with local design companies, don't know if they do part time or evening courses but may be worth looking in to.
RussellHall said:
You will be up against loads of recent graduates who are looking for placements, (I'm a freelancer but still get 15-20 emails a month asking me for any work experience opportunities) so you need to be able to compete with them.
Agreed - the marketplace now is flooded with recent graduates and those that have been made redundant.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news - but i reckon you'll be very lucky to compete with people of a similar age who a) can use industry standard software to a professional level b) have a level of taught understanding of graphic design

Echoing the words of RussellHall any design studio won't really want to 'spoonfeed' someone into the real basics of how to be a designer. Its different with a graduate because they have had 2/3 years or more behind them earning the programs and learning how to think.

Honest opinion from me - go to college or university get a good qualification get some experience get a portfolio and want it more than anyone else.


Staff member
I'm going to suggest you speak to your local college(s) and see if they do any evening/weekend courses. I know mine do plenty of evening courses and in my view, having a tutor teaching you the basics will always be better than trying to get it from an online course, even those with video link up etc.

I'd also suggest putting a new portfolio together, if you want it online use something like coroflot or deviant art etc, you will at the very least need a printed/drawn/photographed version of this to get onto a college course, my btec (and degree) was based mainly on my portfolio, my other qualifications meant very little.

PS. don't assume going to uni at 22 is a bad thing, I went a couple of years after a-levels (so 20ish) and there were plenty older than me on the course. The extra couple of years also got rid of the partying all the time mentality (before you say it - yes I left time for it but in moderation) that some have at 18/19 having just finished a-levels etc
Hi Mysterion,

I'm in a very similar position myself. For the past 3-4 years I've been in charge of IT for a company but always known it wasn't what I wanted as I too always dreamed of being a graphic designer. The following are probably the basic steps I went with.

First thing to do is act on it as a hobby, something to do in your spare time, but I'm sure you may already be doing this. Whilst doing this work hard when you get the chance on strengthening your skills and try and establish an area that you can exceed in i.e. print, logo, 3d etc. As you work on little projects for your self look at your work with a critical and slightly harsh eye, and of course post them on here to get some criticism. When you find that a piece of work is being received well and that you are fully happy with it yourself, stick it in a portfolio. So this step really is about working hard in your spare time and building that crucial portfolio.

Once you have a good portfolio (doesn't have to have hundreds of images, just some real solid pieces with variety), think about establishing yourself as a freelancer. This is probably the most important project you will ever create, a project to promote yourself. Give yourself a bit of branding, research other designers, talk to guys on here, don't go it alone, ask for advice on where to go next at every point especially at the beginning.

Get online! If you don't have a lot of web design experience don't worry, there are plenty of sites out there that give ready made template, but to be honest it might be worth learning a bit of web design to make it easier for you in the future. I've learned basic web design over the last year and created my own website and dabbled at a bit of SEO, so don't think you need intense courses to learn it as I certainly didn't. Get your portfolio on your website and include all the necessaries, contact info etc.

Once you have given yourself a solid foundation start marketing yourself. Get on freelance sites such as peopleperhour to find jobs and also try getting in touch with print, design, publishing companies, telling them about yourself and what you can do for them, don't be too pushy, might even be best to start with by sending out emails or even letters to promote yourself. Letters have been found to be quite a good one especially if your try and add a bit of your own creativity, make it into a small portfolio for example with a few images.

Final advice, whilst doing all this, stay in your full time job. Until you have a good amount of experience or more work that you can cope with, stay in full time employment. Getting recognized and getting work can be hard but just stick at it.
Russell and Ross are spot on.

It's a flooded and very competitive area, with even unpaid work hard to get.

I'd keep your job and see what you can learn around it. If it is a real passion, and I mean passion, then that will help drive you on. But I'd look around for competitions and see what you can come up with. See if you can produce a standard of work that is on par with the other entries.

Also, as said, design houses won't want to baby sit people, they'll want help not a hinderance, so software knowledge will be a must. Not that working as a junior is a lot of fun, you can end up with menial tasks. It's not all designing Olympic logos for £500k lol.

Google 'Designers are wankers'. That maybe useful for you.
gran smith said:
photoshop CS3 (CS4 is coming out soon)
and or illustrator CS3 both in adobe.com

just look for photoshop tutorials on the web or you can go to lynda.com and they'll teach you the essentials
Er...CS5 is out now my friend.
Hi i'm just coming back to this thread after what, 6 months. i'm starting my HND in graphic design via distance learning next month as I need to work full time (getting married next year).It's a 2 year course, in your guys honest opinion will a two year know qualification like this, 2 yrs experience and a good portfolio at the end of it, be enough for me to start applying for graphic design jobs? obviously with plenty of passion and luck along the way..


Well-Known Member
Good luck, you're obviously driven, which will serve you well. There are no guaranteed answers to the question, but they're all steps in the right direction.