How did you break into design as a career? What is your education background? How much formal training do you have? I’m interested in hearing from those who are self-taught, as I can’t attend college.


April Sadowski • I went to school for graphic design but I am self-taught when it comes to web. I learned everything on my own without books. I have a mechanical mind – I understand when I see a completed product and then cut it away until I understand how it was built.
January 1, 2011• Like

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Ken V. • Great. Thank you. Did you use any tutorials that you’d recommend? Did you get a degree? Where did you study?
January 1, 2011• Like• Reply privately• Flag as inappropriate

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April Sadowski • I have a degree from the School of Advertising Art (www.saa.edu). When it comes to web – like I said I learned by deconstructing websites (looking at the CSS and using browser developer tools to see how the CSS worked). I didn’t view any tutorials.
January 1, 2011• Like

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David James • I too have a traditional art school basis, and a BA in graphic design, and built up my own small agencies using traditional techniques long before the internet was available. I started leaning HTML from the earliest days, using notepad and the original text based browsers. From then on it was just a case of continual learning, for the past 12+ years I have concentrated solely on web design & development, but you never stop learning. Currently looking into Objective C & development for the iPad/iPhone.
January 2, 2011• Like

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Traci Stoddard • Ken, I am self taught and mentored my some incredibly talented artists. My strong points are not the ‘wow’ factor that will make others post links, but I make a living and hope to improve upon my skills.

I did html when it was code strictly and design when we had to have plates burned. Deconstructed a few sites, but never did a full site design. Time for this woman to upgrade her education as far as digital goes to leave it to the pros. I am a print designer.
January 2, 2011• Like

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Blueline G. • Degree in accounting, but pursued traditional illustration/graphic design on my own. Excited by how technology totally super-charges traditional creative skills. Traditional art classwork at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). For graphic design and web design, self taught and use Lynda.com and Adobe tutorials as a primers for learning new stuff (ok but tutorials tend to lack depth and are pricey). Full time job is in IT support – don’t consider myself a code jockey, so I prefer to work on a platform that I can tweak for my clients (mostly Mom and Pops). For me it is Joomla! CMS all the way. RC 1.6 just released on 12/14. Very reliable, CSS/MySQL based site building platform that quickly enables solidly built, scalable, customizable site. Tons of plug in modules. Most major hosts even offer turn key installation tools for it now on their C-Panels Very strong OS community behind too. My 2 cents. Oh and if you don’t use one, get a Wacom… like trying to be a carpenter without a hammer… word.
January 2, 2011• Like

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Blueline G. • We have a Lynda account thru my day job so I don’t pay for it… it’s OK for a basic introduction to something you might not have used before, but the depth of the tutorials is not that great – I find myself continually send them e-mails stating this – ha. w3schools.com has some good tutorials (more in depth). I just downloaded Joomla! RC 1.6 but I have not set it up on my local XAMPP server yet to play with it. I found this on Joomla!’s Wiki for the new features in 1.6:

http://docs.joomla.org/What’s_new_in_Joomla_1.6

As someone who is not a code jockey, Joomla! has worked really well for me. Here is one of my client web sites I built with it:

http://www.housemedicsllc.com/
January 3, 2011• Like

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Ken V. • I enjoy using Adobe Total Training, and have for almost three years. It isn’t very expensive, but is very helpful.
January 3, 2011• Like

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Graham Conway • Hi Ken,

Lynda is pretty good and I also learnt so much about CSS and coding, though I have to say at times I would much rather just design, but thats part of it in this day and age.

I have worked with some seriously great designers when I was freelancing all without any training and they got most of their skills on the job. As far as I am concerned and this is only my opinion, if you have a visual brain, know the basics of layout, type and pay attention to detail then you are half way there, I also learnt every mac skill in my first job 16 years ago, though I have to say I was petrified of going near a Mac but had an eye for creative and design…
January 3, 2011• Like1
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Kayode Olorunfemi • Got a degree in town planning (never worked a day with it) then I noticed all my friends hassling me to help with their logo design so I went for a diploma in graphic design and started out as a graphic designer. While working in a collective one of the web designers kept on telling me to learn HTML which used to scare the hell out of me, still does actually, but was forced to learn when web designers kept saying my ideas could not be pixel perfect (now developers say that to me). I am more stubborn than smart which makes me stick with something till I grasp it; this helped me transition into web design with all the XHTML, CSS I hard to learn. Lynda.com has been invaluable for getting the technical knowhow as I learn from being shown rather than being told, I know their courses are mostly basic but thats why I like it because I need enough to gain my interest and I can then learn the rest by banging my head around the place.
January 3, 2011• Like

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Khurrum Waheed • I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. I learned Graphic designing through tutorials on utube and other web sources and read some books about basics of graphic designing. I am still learning and making myself better. I guess its the determination to learn that gets you through the most difficult initial learning stages. Once you start making something on your own, it feels really great.
January 3, 2011• Like

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Alex Wijnen • I switched careers in my mid-twenties and got a two-year degree from our local community college but really only did one year full-time (I was able to transfer some basic stuff like math and whatnot from my 4-year degree).

During that one year, I took only one software class (Freehand) and learned the other programs myself, especially InDesign (learned Quark first, then had to make the transition to InDesign).

Where I learned the most, though, was on the job! I was able to turn my internship into my first full-time design job and from there I slowly built my portfolio. Then 8 years ago (after working at agencies and studios for 8 years), I took the leap and went freelance.
January 3, 2011• Like

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Ken V. • This is great. Very interesting indeed. Please keep it up!
January 3, 2011• Like

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Emmanuel Turner • My undergrad study was in IT. I was working in IT when I started grad school part time. I completed my Master in Computer Graphic Design at the Wanganui School of Design in New Zealand.
Since I was seven I’ve taught myself how to do the technical side of computer programming. I got into the web in the mid-90’s, and pretty much learnt whatever technology I needed to get the job done. Although I’d been doing computer games and multimedia stuff since I was a kid I did recognise that I needed help aesthetically. Going to design school gave me that. Luckily I was able to do that part-time via a scholarship.

If I was to get the aesthetics of design down without going to design school…. I think the best thing would be to find a mentor or two that can critique your work. You obviously can handle the technical side of things fine on your own.
January 3, 2011• Like

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Jeff Vieira • My degree is in Fine Arts but an internship working for friends got me in the door. I learned all the software on the job and on my own. The industry practices I picked up from colleagues. Color theory, concept and composition all came from my education. But having said that, if you’re a good book learner that can be learned on your own as well. What you’ll miss out on though is the people. Many of my professional colleagues I met in college and without them it would have been much harder to get work.
January 4, 2011• Like

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Stan Alachniewicz • Ken,

I studied Art with an option in multimedia at CSU Hayward. I graduated, but my real education came from jobs and studying on my own. I do recommend books, tutorials anything you can get your hands on. Everything helps. There is so much to learn in today’s web design world that you are going to need all the help you can get. Simply learning HTML and CSS is not enough. There are so many more things like HTML5, CSS3, Flash, JavaScript, JQuery, I could go on.

You can’t know everything, but the more you know, the more jobs you are qualified for. I don’t think employers look at a degree. I think they look at your portfolio and the quality of your work, so don’t worry about not having an art degree.
January 4, 2011• Like1

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Arthur Nickerson • I am fairly new to web designing. With an IT background, I embarked on a journey to learn everything I could about web design and development. I learned almost everything from library books and youtube videos. First, I identified technologies that I felt would be beneficial to me as a web designer and set out to learn them. These included HTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, Photoshop, MySQL and just recently added Joomla. As I read and watched lots of books and videos, I solidified the knowledge I gained by building practice websites and applying new features and techniques as i acquire them.
January 5, 2011• Like

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Ken V. • I’m interested in innovative ways to parley design skills into a career, without a degree; where do I start and how do I apply my skills with graphics without a formal background? Has anyone switched careers without a college degree; and if so, how?
January 5, 2011• Like

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Larry Kaminsky • I come from a design background as well. I am currently back in school, studying Digital Media/Web Design. Last year Chicago started a program, called Chicago Career Tech. Chicago Career Tech is an innovative job retraining program that integrates classroom training, employer and service-based learning with a business and nonprofit organization to provide unemployed middle-income workers with the skills necessary for high-demand technology-based careers.

I was one of the fortunate ones to get into the program. They recieved 1600 applications and wound up picking 350 to participate. It is six month, six days a week program. In the end, I will be cetified in Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash. Although the program can be a bit of a grind, in the end, I am getting a free education that will set me on the right path for more opportunities in the years to come.
January 5, 2011• Like

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Stan Alachniewicz • Ken,

You’re probably going to have to start low. You need a portfolio more than anything to get hired by companies, and if you don’t have one, you need to build one. Start by doing pro bono work for local schools or maybe charities that need design work. It sucks having to work for free, but you need to do some stuff to show that you have the skills employers want. Sure you can make stuff up and do creative fantasy projects, ad campaigns for products that don’t exist. You can probably even make some nice stuff, but working with real clients, even pro bono, will teach you valuable lessons you can’t learn working by yourself, in a vacuum.

Also, and this important, look for design competitions. These are competitions where multiple applicants submit a design and the best design is chosen as a winner. Usually you get some kind of prize, sometimes a cash prize. This is important because you make money and you have valuable work to put in your portfolio. Plus, you can see how you measure up against the competition. Look on Elance for freelance work and sometimes design competitions.
January 5, 2011• Like

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David James • I find it hard to believe anyone would recommend wasting time on producing work for competitions on the offchance of winning a “prize” as a way of enhancing credibility as a professional. Most professionals I know are totally averse to doing free or “spec” work, it’s demeaning.
January 5, 2011• Like1
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Stan Alachniewicz • David,

If one has no experience whatsoever it is a way of getting some. I’m not saying if you have experience you do free work, I never would. But it sounds like the OP has none and so I am suggesting ways of maybe building his portfolio, like student work. Otherwise good luck getting a job. The job market is very competitive right now so without a portfolio I don’t see how he can get a job. Do you have any suggestions?