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  • Jessicats

    Great article! I wanted to let everyone know that General Assembly also offers an 8 week Visual Design course where you can learn design principles and photoshop.

  • OneR

    Iv always wanted to be in the graphic design industry. I was one of the top art and design students back in high school even won some national art after I was done in high school I told myself and others that Im going to study graphic, But you know what happened? I listened to the wrong people, some family members, and society who told me that its not possible to have it as a career. Questions like "who is going to hire you?" and statements like "there is no market for that" were constant. So instead of me listening to myself I decided to go to business school to please my dad. Something I regret doing. Yes, business college was great, I met great and inspiring people but I was not in my element. I knew it but I was too chicken to change schools.

    So I just want to thank you for reminding me that I can get a second chance given that I dont have that much money to go to design school.

  • Nguyen Trang

    Thank you Karen for an inspiring blog. People don't need to follow exactly, just to know that there're many ways to nail it is already great to read. For me it's a little upside down, I learned PTS, AI first, when I had no idea about design. I studied IT and my only IT job is to deal with Linux server (which was far away from design, working most of the time with the mysterious terminal and command lines), then moved to a local non-profit organization. There I realized nobody was doing graphic design so fuck it, I would do that, starting last year, and now it gradually became my love.
    For me there're mostly two phases: when everybody was happy with my work and I was happy about them, phase 2 when everybody was happy with my work and I was unhappy with them. I started getting bored with copying some other styles and examples, simply putting some nice photos and easy typo together, I started drawing by myself (although it sucked), trying to think from the concept before jumping to in front of the computer, feeding my hunger by reading a lot about design principles and decided that I would love to spend more time on it, although it means less income (less time to work) and more expense (on books and other stuff). I'm not sure if I will become a good designer, but I love the world that I'm in now.

  • UsaRodriguez

    As a jewelry designer, i started a small business on the side teaching the fundamentals of construction, color coordination, materials and tools of the trade. I also implement books on the topic of self learning. My students appreciate not wasting time and money on materials that are irrelevant or repetitious. The case is that your article lends itself to a huge potential of different types of Designers. I wondered how many people out there are actually using these methods and learned that it's more common than not. I agree with your method (and mine). They work. Some of my students have created amazing works of art and many are on they're way to start their own small businesses. Love this article. I am a believer in sharing the knowledge.. Good luck, i will continue to read your articles. Highly Recommend it. Thank you.

  • ChuckFoo

    Real inspiring piece Karen, highly appreciated and many thanks. You've won a real fan today!

    Society loves to control, tell people how to do things. You need to do it this way or that otherwise you're not legit. Whenever you go against the grain (do your own thing), whether or not you are successful (however you define success...) you are most definitely guaranteed to find detractors. Mostly, if people feel their position is being threatened, you will have doubters. This is almost a universal truth. Probably some form of protectionism.
    Shake my head at that.

    I'm an electronics engineer via the college route. I often wondered however what is stopping one from finding a course curriculum from a highly reputable school for instance, acquiring the recommended texts then spending 2-3-4 years or so or whatever timeline one sets, studying those texts THOROGHLY, completing exercises, assignments etc. as if one was physically on campus? Absolutely nothing! Of course we all know the vested interest and big business that is the college education system and with all that money to be lost, then definitely these guys want you in that system! I mean, look at all the shade thrown at MOOCS, up to the point now that a lot of great courses from great providers are being dropped. Shame that.

    Anyway before I ramble on too much, KUDOS and really wish everybody a lot success. You just have to love the power the InterWebs has in totally breaking down the archaic!

  • Dawson Whitfield

    Great article Karen. I would almost argue that the last step (to really hit this one out of the park) would be to talk to someone 1-1 to really get the low down. My friend did this (he scheduled a call with Chris Eshnaur: and it was amazing.

  • arturmuller

    This is an amazing article. I am a designer myself and I have started exactly like this. Just sat down and learned one thing, which led to the next. In my experience, there are two things you really need as a designer:
    1. Ability to learn. The above article explains that well. Every project requires you to learn something new. Once you are comfortable with your skill set this will mostly involve learning your customers producs, strategy or targeting. But you will always have to learn. People who have learned themselves are much better at this (in my experience training junior designers in a studio in London).
    2. Grit. It is OK that people dont like your work. Learn from it, suck it up and keep going. Next time you will be better. I also find that people who have the ability to learn themselves are better at this beause they have to self-motivate all the time the entire period they are studying.

    My recomendations for learning material: Anything from A Book Apart (Design is a Job is especially good). Read the classics — The Elements of Typographic Style (Robert Bringhurst), anything from Paul Rand. I recommend older books by "famous" authors as opposed to the "summary" books. Even if you are planning to do digital or web design, it is still essential to know how this conceptually ties to the core philosophies of design.

    For those wanting to code (yes, yes do it!) I recommend Code School. I tried all the online courses and my preference lies with them.

  • iwantchange

    pretty much inspiring blog..thanks :)

  • hmac

    Did you only write this so you could make commission from amazon or do you really think reading all those books rather then stuff on the web is the way forward?

    • rsidneysmith

      I think you're mistaken. None of the Amazon links are affiliate commission links.

  • Joftware

    I liked this - did you teach yourself how to blog too?

    I'm a self taught mobile developer and recently launched an Android app called Visioneer for customizing and deploying your own apps. Visioneer is free to download, but it costs $30 to publish your own app in Google Play. Which is lower than most of the other guys ;) so anyone interested in deploying an app within 24 hours give it a spin!

  • Yasmin Choudhury

    Excellent post. I want to veer away from graphic design and talk about other aspects of design. I recently became a self taught handbag / jewellery designer - handcrafting leather, making bags, purses and jewellery plus bracelets all with a social mission. When people discover I am serious, and there is a higher agenda. they eagerly offered to help me. The human spirit is full of generosity, idealism. From the lovely, expert gentlemen at my leather yard, who share their tips and point me to new places to the everyday suppliers who rush about trying to fast track my order. Youtube has helped me to too. My Open University. I mean I even learnt the guitar - and that is the power of Internet. So I stuck it out and learnt. Alone. Up at nights. Toiling away. So much so, that a few days ago, I was able to launch Lovedesh™, a new design brand for '3rd' World and even my own 'DO' on this site (see ) - and ask for help to change how we use and see 3rd world countries. I am now achieving this mission through a Kickstarter fashion project and wonder, had I tried to do what I am doing 10 years ago, it would have been impossible. Thanks for sharing. And, one more thing. It is never too late to learn or follow your dream. Do it, do it, do it. Look at me. If I can do it, anyone can.

    • UsaRodriguez

      You should be very proud of yourself, I, too believe in free information. In fact,.i only charge for the necessities and small fee, for larger space rental if needed. I won't lie and say i don't charge for the class but it's super inexpensive.

  • thisnoblesavage

    Being a formally trained graphic designer and a graphic design instructor (intro to graphic design and typography), I find this article helpful but is missing two very important aspects of being in the design industry. Yes I think there will be a special few who read this and go through the process and will find work as a designer. But going to a design school isn't just about learning the art of design. It is also about learning how to collaborate with others and teams of individuals. As well as also being able to communicate your ideas and thoughts. I don't think these skills -which are standard on any application- can be developed by learning or being on your own. Finally the other important part of going to a design school are the future peers, partnerships and connections you'll be making while there. Anyone who expects to be successful in this industry has to know how to make connections and network. And I don't think you can make these connections as easily when you're learning all by yourself. Learning how to design is just the start.

    • AshleyRose

      Learning to collaborate with others is something we learn starting in Kindergarten. I don't think anyone should be paying $100,000 to learn something they've already had 18 years of.

  • jacquiwrites

    Can you become a designer without going to design school? Sure. But how good of a designer do you end up being without critiques, guidance and inspiration from your peers? And how employable in the end? One of the most incredibly talented designers I've met recently just graduated from a state school. So while there is a ton of good advice in this article, the ultimate proof is in the portfolio. Because if you end up as a dime-a-dozen designer, that's ultimately what you're paid.

  • adiie123

    I read your answer yesterday on Quora. I this this is aweasome as many people feel this way, not only towards a carreer in desing. But you know... this inspires people!

  • Jonnie5

    You left out the biggest point.... HAVE PASSION! Hack!!

  • Darrel Dressel

    Great advice. I'm a self taught developer who got tired of being in sales (and going nowhere with it), and this has inspired me to refine my design skills.

  • mbstrawn

    This is SUCH a good guide! Thank you, Karen, for spending so much time putting it together in such depth and detail!

  • Angela Malone

    i just started trying to teach myself design and i didn't really come up with a structured plan so this helps a lot--thanks!

    • getgoodatsomething

      Thank you Karen for a thoughtful and detailed post! I came to this post via UnCollege. It is easy to find resources online to hack your education. It is much more difficult to do is lay out a learning plan with the best available resources in logical sequence so that the skills developed are really competitive in the job market. Thank you for sharing your experience here. And just to throw in another resource useful for learning design- is an excellent podcast.