Ask LH: How Can I Become A Graphic Designer?

Hi Lifehacker, I am a hobbyist graphic designer and I have dreamed of doing it as a job for years. The problem is I don’t have a portfolio and I have the habit of leaving work unfinished or deleting it. How can I ever hope to be less critical of my work, finish my projects and have a portfolio to show potential employers? Thanks, Design For Life

Designer picture from Shutterstock

Dear DFL,

You’re being held back by a mixture of perfectionism, procrastination and fear. The brutal truth is that you have to ditch all of them if you want to pursue a career in this area. Graphic design is a competitive industry, especially now that online marketplaces such as 99designs and Freelancer mean that anyone seeking out someone to work on a design project has the entire world to choose from.

I can’t tell from an email if you have sufficient passion to overcome those obstacles. But I can suggest these four simple steps to get started:

  • Buy a large external hard drive to store all your projects on. That way, you can’t use “I’m running out of space” as an excuse to get rid of unfinished work. This isn’t an expensive investment, and doing it suggests you’re serious about your design ambitions.
  • Schedule regular time on your calendar to work on design projects. Having a regular commitment means you’re not just indulging in design when the mood takes you. (Nothing wrong with that for pleasure, but it’s not a good basis for a career.) Make appointments in your calendar and stick to them.
  • Set a deadline to complete an individual project. In the commercial world, you can’t dither over a design until it’s done; you’ll have deadlines to meet. Set yourself a deadline and try to stick to it. If procrastination is a problem, check out our archive of tips on how to beat it.
  • Recognise that criticism makes you a better designer. Criticism can hurt, but it’s an essential part of the process. No designer gets everything right the first time (and every designer has to live with choices they didn’t want but the client did). If you don’t want to hear criticism of your work, you’re not ready to pursue a design career. If you’re ready, set up an online portfolio or find another way to share your work online.

Those steps won’t guarantee you a career in design. However, if you can’t commit to these, then I’d argue it’s not the right path for you. If readers have additional suggestions, we’d love to hear them in the comments. Good luck!


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