How to Get Started as a Designer

I’m by no means an expert in starting out as a designer, I’m still only starting out myself. But now I’ve overcome the first hurdle of actually getting going, I thought I’d share how I got started in the hopes that it helps someone who wants to have a go but isn’t sure how.

 

TOOLS

Having the right tools can seem like it’s a big barrier to starting as a designer. You don’t need anything to start at a very very basic level though, you can start to learn a load of the skills you need with a pencil, some paper, a laptop and some creative use of pages. But to properly get started, the only two things I would highly recommend you purchase are Affinity Designer and a tablet. I’ve spoken at length about Affinity Designer, and done a full review, but it’s a really powerful design tool that’s cheaper and easier to pick up than illustrator. It’s very rare that I need to do something that it can’t, and if you’re starting out I can think of no better companion. Adobe Creative Suite remains the gold standard as a design toolset, but it’s a huge investment if you’re just starting out and includes a whole host of things you won’t need and requires a bigger learning curve. The moment I bought my first tablet it changed my world. That might be too far, but it opened a lot of options up for me and made everything I did easier and quicker. You can’t really go wrong with Wacom. You don’t need of their more complex offerings if you’re just starting, I still use the Intuos Pen and Touch. I would recommend going for one that’s around A4 size (usually a Wacom Medium), anything smaller and you don’t get as much creative freedom, anything bigger can be hard to lug around and will obviously be pricier. I think my first tablet was only £20 second hand from eBay, and you can get similar ones today for well under £100. Of course it’s nice to have a camera and a scanner, but those things aren’t essential and you can normally work your way around needing them.

 

PRACTICE

This should be obvious but just make stuff on your own. It develops your skills, allows you to create a style and start to grow a portfolio. Working for yourself is a pressure free way to find out if you actually like designing. Practice tasks you could have a go at are: designing yourself a logo, creating a book cover for your favourite novel, creating an illustrated map of your area, or designing a poster for a band you love.

 

GETTING OUT THERE

I was very lucky that when I decided to get started I was at Uni, so there were loads of things I could get involved with, without having to have very much experience. But if you’re not in such an obviously opportunity rich environment there are still loads of things you can do. First, work on your portfolio – read just make some stuff and get better. Second, there are loads of small projects that can be designed that you don’t realise. Is your work having a social? Ask if you can design the invite. Do you have a friend who has a blog? Ask if you can help them create content. Basically ask people if you can help them, and I promise at least one of them will say yes. Post your work on social media, and try and build a following. Once you’ve got a few of those kinds of projects under your belt try reaching out for bigger things like offering to help charities on Pimp My Cause or bidding for work through sites like 99 Designs.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR FIRST PROJECT

Every project is different so this is going to be pretty general, but I feel like there are some things you should be prepared for:

  • You’re probably going to go through more redesigns than you expect, this doesn’t mean you’re not doing well, most projects take a few goes to get right.
  • You might not be instantly inspired. Going from working on your own stuff to project for someone else is a bit of a change, not least because you might not instantly be interested in what you’re working on. But taking a breath then having a good google and a brainstorm normally solves that.
  • It’s going to be time intensive. If you’re still developing your technical skills things are just going to take some time to do.
  • It’s not all going to go to plan. As with the first point, this doesn’t mean you’re not doing well. There are always external factors you can’t control that can affect a project. You’ve got to be prepared to adapt to whatever happens and deviate from what you thought should happen at the start.

 

JUST DO IT

My final thing is just to have a go. It’s so easy to say “I’m not good enough” “There are too many other people with more experience doing” “It I don’t have this I don’t have that” “I’ll start when I have more free time”. As Walt Disney said “the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”

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8 Comments

  1. November 8, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    This is super helpful as i’ve had to get involved with design during my part time job and i have no experience!

    Abigail Alice x

    • natalieharney@yahoo.co.uk
      November 8, 2016 / 11:56 pm

      Good luck! Hope your first foray into design goes well, if you need any advice give me a shout

    • natalieharney@yahoo.co.uk
      November 9, 2016 / 10:21 am

      Thanks so much Kit!

    • natalieharney@yahoo.co.uk
      November 9, 2016 / 10:22 am

      One of the easiest to say but one of the hardest to do!

  2. August 22, 2017 / 4:15 pm

    I just found your blog through Pinterest and your content is high quality stuff. Everything is so thorough and I love your illustrations and writing style. Keep it up! Will be reading all your posts. 🙂

    • Natalie
      August 22, 2017 / 4:26 pm

      Thanks so much Cassandra! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it so far

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