How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career (2023)

Thinking about a career in design, but not sure where to start? As a self-taught designer, I came later to the game than most, and I did my fair share of exploring before landing on design research.

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How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career (1)How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career (2)How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career (3)How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career (4)

The good news is, no matter what stage of your career you’re in or how far afield your background may seem, if it’s something you aspire to, it’s entirely possible to find your niche in the design world.

Here’s my quick cheat sheet on setting yourself on the path to calling yourself a designer.

1. Understand the Designer Landscape

Newsflash: Design isn’t just about how a thing looks. Your first step as you forge down the path toward a career in design is to understand the kinds of roles out there and decide what kind of designer you want to be.

UI, UX, visual, interaction, motion, research: Which do you want to pursue? If those titles put you in a tizzy, it’s time to understand them. There’s no one-size-fits-all primer, but you can start here to get a taste of the differences.

If you’ve done your research and still aren’t entirely sure which role will best suit you, fret not: Ignore the job title for a minute and focus on the design challenges that are most intriguing to you. Your focus will naturally narrow itself toward answering questions specific to one of those roles. For example, if your biggest questions are about why people use a thing, or how, a research role might be for you.

If you’re still not finding an obvious fit, know that the lines among these roles are changing every day, so go for the design challenges you enjoy and see where you land from there.

2. Make, Make, Make: Practice Makes Perfect

It used to be that there was no go-to spot for design learning. When I first started digging into design work, there wasn’t a strong centralized place for learning about it: I spent a lot of time—too much—culling and curating resources. Lucky for you, years later and this has changed: You don’t have to build your own curriculum anymore, because there are plenty of great ones already out there!

Here are the top teach-yourself-to-design resources to dive into:

  • Design Tuts+: This is the Holy Grail of practical design lessons, covering everything from graphic design to Photoshop to web design to drawing theory.
  • Gibbon: Gibbon has a wealth of “playlists” for learning. Read up on storytelling and copywriting (yes, those are design skills, too!), or create and share your own set of resources as you go on your own design-learning journey.
  • Hello Designer: Remember when I said I’d spent too much time curating resources for learning design when I first started out? Enter Hello Designer, the fruit of my labor. I did the hard part of putting those resources together, so now you don’t have to. (You’re welcome.)

3. Think Like a Designer

Thinking like a designer doesn’t happen overnight or through a single tutorial. Understanding mental models, recognizing core interaction flows and design patterns; these are skills that are built up over time. So, start now! The more you know and can talk about design, the more you build up an archive and a repertoire of knowledge to work through, return to, learn from, and iterate on.

How do you learn how to think like a designer? Scour websites like pttrns and lovely ui and start keeping track of what you like and don’t like. What details are you noticing and why? Then start unpacking why you have those preferences.

If it sounds intimidating, it shouldn’t—it’s likely you already have an instinct for a particular aesthetic if you’re interested in pursuing a career in design. You probably have a sense of what makes a thing well-designed or why certain designs work—you just have to learn to tap into that.

Can’t pin it down? Try this next step.

4. Talk to Other Designers

You will learn things you didn’t know you didn’t know by talking to other designers. So find people in your network in the field, or reach out to designers at companies you admire, and see if you can pick their brains. Ask them why they think something is good or bad or great. Notice the details they notice and understand why. Learn what they look for and where.

Understanding their thinking patterns (and yours) can help you improve your own skill, collaborate with others, and gain insight on the decisions distinguishing competing products in the design world. Talking to designers is also a great way of building your vocabulary and beginning to formulate how to defend your (or someone else’s) work. Articulating why a design works or how it fails is a skill not everyone has: Talking to people who live it day to day will help you exercise that muscle and stretch in the right direction.

Think of it as catching up on all the design critiques you missed by not going to art school.

5. Take a Class (in Person)

Don’t have a bunch of designer friends you can start bugging? You can also take a class. There are many reasons taking a class in person will give you a boost and lots of local courses to choose from. For in-person classes, aim for subjects that are harder to learn and improve upon on your own. It’s easier to do solo reading on design thinking than to design and iterate on typefaces or app flows alone—those exercises may be better served when discussed in a larger group than created in a vacuum.

You can find classes at specialized schools like Tradecraft and General Assembly, or check out continuing education classes and workshops offered at your local college. The latter is often a better bang for your buck, but do your research and see what’s best for you.

6. Get to Know People

To be a good designer, you have to understand people. Get to know them and try to feel their pain points. What are people motivated by? How do they make decisions? What delights them and frustrates them? What experience are you creating for them, and how will that make them feel?

No matter which part of the design process you’re interested in, all roads lead to designing an experience for people, so make a point of learning everything you can about them. Work on your listening skills and on building empathy for others to really get at the core of what people are feeling in different experiences. Listen to those around you and try to feel what they’re feeling and why, and think about how your designs might impact and improve their experiences. The nice thing about empathy is you can build it any time, anywhere, so get started!

7. Run With a Project

This can be the scariest part, but the best way to learn design at this point is to just start doing it. So find a project and get going! It doesn’t have to be a paid gig—in fact, a side project is probably better at this stage in your design education—the important thing is that you just start working on something.

Interested in visual design? Design a logo. Interaction? Prototype an app. Design things you will in six months be embarrassed to show anyone else—it’s OK, that’s part of the process! We’ve all been there. Start with the basics and go.

8. Show Your Work

Don’t be afraid to start sharing your designs, even when you don’t think they’re good enough. Guess what? They might not be! But it’s important to get feedback on them, to have someone tell you about an existing pattern you didn’t know existed, to join a community that will help you grow long down the road, to show and share your work, and iterate bit by bit with the help of others.

Over time, you’ll notice that the feedback you seek changes, too. As you become more seasoned in your craft, you may seek feedback that is more detailed and specific, right down to the smallest pixel. And you may find yourself more strongly debating (or even discrediting) feedback from others. That’s great! It means that you are transitioning into a being a designer with informed opinions, confident in your talents and understanding of what makes a design successful.

If you feel strongly enough to defend your own designs, you’re likely at the point where you can help others in their design process, too. Repay the favor and give feedback to other designers, just like they did for you. The feedback cycle never ends, no matter how senior a designer you become. Embrace it!

Photo of colored pencils courtesy of Shutterstock.


How to Become a Designer at Any Stage of Your Career? ›

On top of spending time in school getting a bachelor's degree in Theatre, future set designers need to have a lot of hands-on experience. This means volunteering for on-campus productions and working on the sets, as well as getting internships or jobs with community and professional theatre productions.

How do you become a stage designer? ›

On top of spending time in school getting a bachelor's degree in Theatre, future set designers need to have a lot of hands-on experience. This means volunteering for on-campus productions and working on the sets, as well as getting internships or jobs with community and professional theatre productions.

Can you become a designer with no experience? ›

Take an online graphic design course or earn a certificate

If you want to become a graphic designer but have no experience, taking an online graphic design course is a great way to get started.

Can I become a designer at 30? ›


The mature person also has the ability to learn new skills but also add previous skills which are a fantastic mix for creative and unique ideas. Obviously, you need to have a passion for design in the first place to allow you to take new things on board.

Can a designer be a millionaire? ›

To answer this question, we should evaluate in a generous view and as a graphic designer, you can definitely gain a million dollars. Many do. But it's challenging. Yes, you can.

Do designers make good money? ›

The average designer salary ranges between $45,000 and $97,000 in the US. Hourly rates for designers in the US typically range between $21 and $46 an hour. The average designer salary is $99,369 in Washington, $91,918 in Hawaii, and $78,743 in Oregon. These are the three highest-paying states for designers in the US.

What qualifies you to be a designer? ›

The career demands strong communication skills, an ability to collaborate, and a detail-oriented outlook. Hard skills like the ability to use design software, clothing construction training, and a deep knowledge of textiles and color also help designers.

Who is the most famous stage designer? ›

1. Tim Yip | Set Designers. Tim Yip is a world-renowned artist famous for his multidisciplinary works in clothing, theatre, and movie sets.

Can anyone become a designer? ›

You may have a picture in your head of who a graphic designer is and what they look like. Though, forget the stereotypes and the clichés, a graphic designer can be anyone and anyone can be a graphic designer. The design industry is full of people from all walks of life.

Can you be a self taught designer? ›

There are certainly exceptional self-taught graphic designers who have launched careers without a formal education. While it's true that it can be done, that doesn't mean it's the best route for you.

Can you make a living as a designer? ›

These days, most full-time graphic designers make money from freelance on the side. But the simple truth is that you'll almost certainly make more money as a graphic designer if you go freelance full-time. Doing the 9-5 limits the time you have to freelance to evenings and weekends.

Can I call myself a designer without a degree? ›

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Graphic Designer? While some graphic designers certainly use a college degree to enter the creative field, it's not a requirement. Many companies hire entry level designers based solely on their portfolio and experience, rather than if they have a degree.

How old is the youngest designer? ›

From Pune India, nine-year-old Vidhi Karva became the youngest fashion designer. She showcased her couture collection at the Dubai World Fashion Week.

Who is the youngest designer? ›

Synopsis. The nine-year-old was introduced as the world's 'youngest designer' at the event. DUBAI: Pune-based nine-year-old Vidhi Karva became the youngest fashion designer to showcase her couture collection at the Dubai World Fashion Week here.

What is the average age of a designer? ›

The average age of an employed graphic designer is 38 years old. The most common ethnicity of graphic designers is White (70.2%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (10.6%), Asian (10.4%) and Unknown (5.0%).
Graphic Designer Age.
Graphic Designer YearsPercentages
30-40 years35%
20-30 years24%
1 more row
Sep 9, 2022

Is designer a stressful job? ›

Graphic design is no more stressful than any other field,” says graphic designer Ryan Mungia. “A lot of the stress depends on what kind of job you have and who you are doing it for.” That said, there are a few common sources of stress for graphic designers: Keeping up with deadlines.

Can designers make 6 figures? ›

Many graphic designers don't think making six figures on your own is possible. Most graphic designers don't make that, and salaries are quite less than that, so why should they think that it's possible? Well, it is. But you have to get yourself into the right mindset.

Is being a designer a stable job? ›

However, with the right skills, portfolio, and adaptability, graphic design can offer a stable and fulfilling career path for those passionate about creativity and visual communication. Being a graphic designer can be a stable occupation.

What are the pros and cons of being a designer? ›

Pros And Cons Of Being A Graphic Designer
​1. Can Make Decent Money​1. Most Designers don't get rich
​2. Use of Creative and Analytical Brain Parts​2. Design is Subjective
​3. Appreciation for your Work​3. Everyone Thinks it's a Easy Job
​4. Highly Coveted Skills​4. Competitive Job
11 more rows
Jul 12, 2022

Which company pays designers most? ›

Top 10 Highest-Paying Graphic Design Companies
CompanySalary for {Professions}
Adobe Systems, Inc.$70,262
6 more rows
Feb 28, 2022

What not to do as a designer? ›

8 Graphic Design Mistakes to Avoid
  • Too Many Fonts. The first mistake that stands out when looking at a novice design vs. ...
  • Using Stock Images. ...
  • Not Proofreading. ...
  • Choosing the Wrong Colors. ...
  • Using Incorrect Hierarchy. ...
  • Designing for the Wrong Medium. ...
  • Saving in the Wrong Format. ...
  • Not Creating a Versatile Design.
Oct 11, 2019

How long does it take to become a designer? ›

Most formal fashion design programs take 2-4 years to complete, but your formal education as a designer may last longer if you decide to work while you study.

How many years of college do you need to be a designer? ›

If you include the normal education requirements to complete a college degree, then it takes 7 to 9 years years to become a designer. There are certain skills that you need to obtain in order to become a successful designer.

Who is Gucci's main designer? ›

Gucci has named fashion designer Sabato De Sarno as its new creative director, ending months of speculation about who would take on one of fashion's most coveted roles.

Who is Gucci's stylist? ›

Alessandro Michele
Born25 November 1972 Rome, Italy
OccupationFashion designer
Years active1994–present
TitleCreative director of Gucci
2 more rows

What degree is set design? ›

While a formal education is not a requirement to make it in this field, most set designers have bachelor's degrees and an increasing number pursue master's degrees in theater arts.

Are designers in high demand? ›

As far as creative skills go, graphic design is in high demand. Work marketplace Upwork recently released its projections for the most in-demand freelance skills in 2023, taking into account freelancer earnings and number of projects worked, among other metrics.

Is it too late to be a designer? ›

Is it ever too late to become a graphic designer? No, it is never too late to start a career as a graphic designer. There are several ways to develop the skills and knowledge for this role, and these are open to people of all ages.

Can a blind person be a designer? ›

I've made art my entire life ― paintings, illustrations, album covers, comics, fanzines, novels. People seek me out to create something for them, and I've got a client list that I'm profoundly proud of. The thing is, I'm an illustrator and graphic designer, but I'm also a legally blind illustrator and graphic designer.

Is it hard to be a designer? ›

Becoming a graphic designer is not hard if you understand the basic knowledge and skills you need to master as a designer, have dependable and quality resources for study and reference, and develop consistency for practicing and improving from the very beginning. However, IT WILL TAKE TIME.

How do I sell myself as a designer? ›

Here are a few key ways you can promote yourself and your work to increase your annual earnings.
  1. Create a Website. ...
  2. Target Local Companies. ...
  3. Connect With Other Designers. ...
  4. Use the Web. ...
  5. Maintain a Regularly Updated Blog. ...
  6. Find a Graphic Design Niche. ...
  7. Target the Right Audience with Your Skills. ...
  8. Create a Physical Business Card.

How do designers make so much money? ›

Selling Our Time. The way most designers make money is by selling their time. We'll essentially trade a block of time—be that an hour, a day a month or a year— in return for cash. The amount of cash we get to charge is generally decided by the market.

How do designers make money? ›

Most fashion designers make a living by either working as employees for larger entities in the fashion industry or by starting their own fashion businesses. Here, we'll touch on both types of career paths—and the education, networking, and business smarts required to pursue them successfully.

Can I be a graphic designer if I can't draw? ›

Graphic Designers do not need to draw but instead need to create appealing designs using assets such as images, typography, illustrations. In contrast, an Illustrator will focus on drawing to communicate a message.

Is it worth going to college for graphic design? ›

With this in mind, is a graphic design degree worth it? Absolutely. In fact, the opportunity to work with, be inspired by and just be around a whole bunch of fellow creatives for a considerable amount of time is one of the biggest benefits of a graphic design degree.

Who is the youngest designer in Vogue? ›

At 16, Brocca was also awarded the prestigious title of Guinness Book of Records' 'youngest couturier'. “I've wanted to do fashion since I was seven and I took it extremely seriously,” he says. “When I got the title, I felt a huge responsibility to elevate the standard of construction in design.”

Who is the richest youngest fashion designer in the world? ›

Sara Blakely – $1 Billion. Fashion isn't all about eccentric, highly creative designers and their elegant or flamboyant collections. Sometimes, it's all about having an idea and solving a problem – which is how Sara Blakely began her journey to becoming the world's youngest self-made female billionaire.

Who is the bad boy of fashion designers? ›

Jean Paul Gaultier has been called the bad boy of fashion.

Which Kardashian is a designer? ›

Born on 18th April 1979, Kourtney Mary Kardashian is an American TV personality, fashion designer and socialite.

Who was the first designer? ›

Charles Frederick Worth is believed to be the first fashion designer of the world, from 1826 to 1895. Charles, who was earlier a draper, set up a fashion house in Paris. It was he who started the tradition of fashion houses and telling his customers what kind of clothing would suit them.

How is the life of a designer? ›

Working as a designer you will be dealing with a lot of cool looking photos, illustrations, fonts, colors which will stimulate your mind and keep you interested about your work.It is also fun because you can experiment, innovate and play when you do sketches, brainstorm and conceptualize a project.

What are the odds of being a fashion designer? ›

The superstar rise is an unlikely event, but it happens. Based on the number of “international star designers” in the last 10 years and the number of people who have entered the profession, the estimated odds of becoming an internationally famous designer are roughly 160,000:1.

What is the first step for any designer? ›

Discovery is the first step of the design process, where teams work together to develop an understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, and define the path they will take to explore solutions.

What are the stages of designers? ›

The short form of the design thinking process can be articulated in five steps or phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.

What are the 5 things a designer needs to think about before they start designing? ›

The five main steps in the design process are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Deliver, and Test. You might hear different names to describe these steps, but this is how most design processes unfold.

What are the 6 stages of design thinking? ›

What are the Six Stages of the Design Thinking Process
  • Empathize. It is important to empathize with the target audience and understand their needs in order to accurately address the challenges at hand. ...
  • Define. ...
  • Ideate. ...
  • Prototype. ...
  • Test. ...
  • Implement.
Nov 30, 2022

Why do designers quit? ›

Three reasons for quitting stand out: There was a lack of career progression opportunities. The UX maturity of the company was low. I wasn't happy with the work I was producing and I couldn't change that.

How many hours a day do designers work? ›

According to a recent study, the average work week for a graphic designer is 40 hours. However, many designers report working 50-60 hours per week, with some even working up to 70 or 80 hours. This is often due to tight deadlines and the need to put in extra time to get the project just right.

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