Can You Become a Designer Without a Design Degree in 2020?

...or why your portfolio weighs more than your diploma.

can you become a designer without a design degree in 2020
“Is it necessary to invest in getting a degree in order to have a successful career in graphic design?”

This is probably a question wandering in the mind of every enthusiast headed to a career in graphic design.

Well, today I’ll go deeper into the subject from the perspective of a person working in the niche and from the personal experience of our graphic designers here in the studio who are successfully practicing the profession with or without an actual professional degree in the field.


First of all, what’s the problem with getting a degree and why does it bother people?

Simple, money is a major setback. Signing up for a degree is quite expensive and in most of the cases, it takes up to 4–5 years to complete. People are not sure if the investment will be justified at all.

True. The competition out there is harsh and there’s no guarantee that the degree you’ve just signed up for will ensure you the career of your dreams. Does this mean you don’t need to have an education in graphic design? Certainly not.


Getting a degree is not equal to getting an education.

More and more people with successful careers in design don’t actually own a diploma — Coco Chanel (a fashion designer), Tibor Kalman (a graphic designer) and many more famous names in the industry.

Let me tell you this. While a degree cannot make you a great graphic designer, potential employers and customers are looking for great designers with vision, knowledge, and skills. So, let’s go back to the question in the title and formulate the answer like this.


Yes. You can make it as a graphic designer without a degree. But not without education.

Successful people never stop learning. And I’m saying this from first-hand experience. We’ve got an all-star team of graphic designers here in the studio and not all of them are professionally certified in the field. But all of them are educated and constantly learning. And by constantly, I really mean every day. From books, from videos, from good examples in the industry, from bad examples in the industry, from their own mistakes, from other people’s mistakes.


Being educated is an ever-going journey, really! But you have to start somewhere, right?

Luckily, we live in the era of information where knowledge is simply a click away and education — more accessible than ever. Coming from graphic designers who have walked the walk, the first essential step in building your career as a graphic designer is setting a strong foundation.

There are brilliant books written on graphic design and amazing online graphic design courses which can be taken from any location in the world and will give you the needed foundation to build up on. Both books and courses come with invaluable advantages for your future career. My advice is don’t choose one over the other. Grab a book, enroll in a course and results will show soon.

The great thing about books is that you can take them anywhere with you. You can always go back for reference, re-read chapters, highlight important paragraphs, write down notes. Recently, on GraphicMama, we’ve made a selection of several graphic design books — absolute classics containing the basic visual principles of design which remain constant and valid no matter of the changing trends in the industry.

Enrolling in an online graphic design course also has unquestionable benefits. Most online graphic design courses on the web give you the option to choose between free and paid plans, allow you to learn at your own pace, provide mentors who guide you and assess your work, and more. We’ve made a thorough research on the subject to come up with a comprehensive guide on online graphic design courses that includes various online graphic design courses available on the web right now and suitable for people of different levels of experience and knowledge.


All sounds good but what about the employers? Isn’t a degree important to them?

Maybe. Maybe not. Let me tell you a little secret. Good employers are looking for top talent, not for a sheet of paper. With that being said, the asset you have to invest in is your portfolio. This is where your talent and your knowledge show. And nowadays, recognizing top talent is among every company’s priorities.


And what does it take to become a recognized graphic designer?

Success is built step by step. Seeing how hard it is to get noticed among thousands of candidates, it’s normal to be unsure if relying solely on books and design courses will make the wheels turning for you.

Instead of doubting your chances of success in graphic design (because doubting your capabilities lowers your chances of success in any career path you take), I’d recommend that you redirect this energy to a productive work. How?

Practice. Learn. Improve. Repeat. And always seek inspiration along the way.


Here is a bit of advice from our designers:

“Make connections with other designers, join communities, exchange experience. Reddit, for example, is a great place to ask for feedback about your work. Behance, Dribbble, Pinterest are awesome must-follow social media websites for inspiration. Visit events, seminars, festivals, conferences for graphic design where ideas are exchanged.”

“Sketch, write, store ideas in your mind and apply them in your work. All of this will help you develop a graphic designer mindset and form your own unique vision of a designer. Because knowledge is gold but the way you apply it in your projects is what matters most.”


Should you follow the trends?

Yes… but wisely.
Following the trends is a great way to stay up to date with every new craze happening in the graphic design world. And often, this is what clients require – they want their project to look ultramodern. Just don’t go too far and don’t lose your identity as a designer. Trends that are peaking right now may fade in less than a year.

Balancing function with good looks is something you should always strive to.
Then, of course, there are way steadier trends that have been around for longer and mark the modern graphic design. Each year, we at GraphicMama thoroughly research the web to identify the hottest trends going on at the moment. Here is a quick roundup of graphic design trends for 2020.

To sum it up,

Signing up for a degree program in graphic design doesn’t make or break your success. Your efforts do. Know where you stand, work hard, follow your goals. And always give a little bit of yourself. Because the world is thirsty for innovators. Not for imitators.


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Iveta Pavlova

Iveta is a passionate writer at GraphicMama who has been writing for the brand ever since the blog was launched. She keeps her focus on inspiring people and giving insight on topics like graphic design, illustrations, education, business, marketing, and more.

  • Mackenzie

    Thank you! This has been so helpful to me.

  • milla resha

    Great , Thank you! Inspiring..

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