explorer valley

So you’ve just graduated from a design related university course… or perhaps you haven’t. Either way, you have a talent for illustration and you’ve decided that design is the career for you. Where do you start? Look for a job? Become a freelancer perhaps?

There are a lot of questions that might be hovering over a newly fledged graphic designer. I remember those feelings well, and have decided to share some of my tips for getting started…

Build up your portfolio

The most important, and powerful piece of graduate designer advice is to focus on your portfolio, don’t expect to land a good design job without one. One of the most common complaints I hear from people is that all of the employers are only looking for experienced individuals. Whilst this isn’t strictly true, there is no reason why you can’t create your own experience to help build up a good portfolio.

The best way to do this is to work for your friends and family for free. Let everyone know that you need to build a portfolio, and speak to those people. Who knows, if you do a good job they might pay you anyway! One of my very first portfolio projects was a website for my dad’s furniture business, and whilst I made no immediate financial gain I have had more recent paid work in this industry as a result.

Working for free is only a short time solution to fill your portfolio. Once you’ve got 2-3 good pieces to show off, get the portfolio together and use it to start getting you paid work. If your a website designer then you’d be crazy not to build something yourself, however if you are not looking to become a developer you can build a portfolio online using services such as Behance or Carbon Made.

Don’t be swayed by trends

When you are creating a masterpiece, ensure that you make the client’s (or friend’s) requirements drive the graphical style. You might have been seduced by the recent “flat design” trend. However, trends come and go quickly whereas brands are established and timeless.

Make sure you show some variety in your portfolio, if you use the same graphical style for everything then it will look as though you cannot adapt your skills to different scenarios. Try and do something outside your comfort zone. If your into punk rock and love dark colour palettes, I challenge you to build a pink and fluffy website for your local cupcake store!

Get creative with your CV

CVs are boring. In the world of design you don’t have to conform to the black, white, and Times New Roman format despite what your careers advisor may say.

It is true that recruiters, and some management types, do prefer the traditional format. So you should have a “normal” format CV as well as your designed one.

Have a look at some examples online here but make sure your version reflects your own personal style and personality.

Don’t jump straight into freelance, if you can help it

Freelancing is great, and I did it myself for a few years, but I can safely say I would not be the designer I am today without the experience gained working for others. Finding a job to start out will give you the opportunity to learn from other designers, and you might even be lucky enough to get a peek at how the business works too.

If you can’t find a job straight away, freelancing could be a good option, however it will be a struggle to convince potential clients to sign up to your services. Much like an employer desires experience, so do many clients.

If you do decide to go for it though (I admire your confidence!) you can find some great resources online at sites such as Freelance Folder or Freelance Switch.

Many designers choose to take a job and do freelance work in their free time. This can be a great way to earn some extra funds, but if you do it for more than three months you should contact HMRC and register as a sole trader to declare your additional earnings.

Good luck!

I hope this post has been useful to you in some way, please let me know your thoughts or shout at me on Twitter @chrisdaaaaay.