How to Become a Graphic Designer without a Degree

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Although a degree can help you get a job as a graphic designer, it’s not an absolute requirement. Discover how to become a graphic designer without a degree.

[Featured Image] Two graphic designers collaborating on a project, using in-demand graphic design skills.

If you have creative abilities, good communication skills, and a willingness to learn, you may not need a college degree to become a graphic designer. Explore how to pursue this career without a degree. But first, find out what a graphic designer does and what you can expect regarding salary and job outlook. 

Read more: What Does a Graphic Designer Do? And How Do I Become One?

What does a graphic designer do?

Depending on the employer's or clients' needs, a graphic designer creates visual designs for websites, print and digital ads, brochures, posters, and other mediums. A graphic designer might work for:

  • A company as part of an art department or marketing team

  • A design consultancy firm

  • Various clients as a freelance creator

Duties and responsibilities

Typically, a graphic designer might have many different duties and responsibilities. Some of the more common graphic design work tasks include:

  • Meeting with employers or clients to discuss design needs

  • Mapping a strategy for creating a graphic design and a timeline for completion

  • Creating designs using illustration, layout, and editing software

  • Collaborating with fellow graphic artists, art directors, and copy editors

  • Sharing design ideas with employers and clients in the form of mockups or mood boards

  • Making necessary changes to designs based on employer or client feedback

  • Proofing final designs to ensure quality and accuracy

Graphic designer salary and job outlook 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a graphic designer in the US makes a median annual salary of $57,990. The BLS predicts 3 percent growth for graphic design jobs from 2022 to 2032, which is about as fast as all occupations [1]. The growth rate equates to about 22,800 job openings per year.

How to become a graphic designer without a degree

Having a strategy is helpful when pursuing a career in graphic design without a degree. Consider the following valuable steps.  

Step 1: Develop essential graphic designer skills.

Graphic designers need two types of skills: technical and workplace. Technical skills include those that help you complete your specific graphic design work, including:

  • Drawing ability

  • Knowledge of typography

  • Familiarity with graphic design software


Workplace skills include those that help you work in a job with other people. In graphic design, these might include:

  • Communication skills

  • Ability to collaborate with others

  • Resilience

To develop both types of graphic designer skills, consider taking individual classes in your community. Topics to focus on might include:

Step 2: Engage in self-study.

To learn about graphic design independently, you can read books, take online courses, or listen to podcasts. Good introductory subjects might include:

  • Graphic design fundamentals

  • The history of graphic design

  • Color

  • Graphic design layout

  • Composition

  • Banding

Step 3: Get certified.

Earning certifications like the Adobe Certified Professional or AIGA Professional Design Certification credentials may help develop your knowledge and skills in graphic design and enhance your resume and portfolio. You can find options for graphic design certifications both in-person and online. Some benefits of online certifications over in-person options include schedule flexibility, lower costs, and constant access to lectures and other course materials. 

Step 4: Establish a professional network.

When you take classes or attend graphic design events, it's important to begin building a professional network. Networking offers many career benefits, including:

  • More job opportunities

  • Increased knowledge

  • Higher status and credibility in your field

  • New friendships or mentorships

Read more: What Is Networking? How to Grow Your Network

Step 5: Build a portfolio of your work.

Paired with a good resume, a portfolio can help you highlight your work and demonstrate your graphic design skills. Your portfolio contains real or hypothetical graphic design work you've completed. Without a degree, an excellent portfolio is essential to showing employers your skills and qualifications for the role.

When creating a portfolio include physical pieces like book covers, invitations, logos, posters, product packaging, and digital work like photos or videos. Remember to include only your best work to leave a positive impression regarding your potential and abilities.

Read more: Tips for Creating an Impressive Graphic Design Portfolio

Step 6: Get graphic design experience.

To gain experience in graphic design, you should consider freelancing. You can promote your work through a professional website that you create yourself. When developing your website, don't forget to include:

  • Contact information (email address and phone number)

  • A few sentences about your design philosophy and point of view

  • A short professional bio

  • A link to your graphic design portfolio

When you're ready, gain even more graphic design experience working for an employer in an entry-level job. 

3 entry-level positions in graphic design 

To understand more about working in graphic design, it helps to know where you might start. Explore three entry-level possibilities in the graphic design field: 

Read more: Why Graphic Design Is a Good Career Choice: Salaries, Requirements, and More

1. Logo designer

Median annual pay (US): $52,397 [2]

Job duties: Creates symbolic artwork that represents the name, type, and brand of a business

Skills to have: Sketching skills, familiarity with design software, and good communication, collaboration, and research skills

Possible career path: Logo designer → graphic designer → senior graphic designer → director of graphic design

2. Junior graphic designer

Median annual pay (US): $50,624 [3]

Job duties: Works under a senior graphic designer to create visual designs for clients that depend on the client's needs 

Skills to have: Ability to use images, fonts, color, shapes, symbols, and texture to create designs; skills in communicating and collaborating with colleagues; knowledge of graphic design software

Possible career path: Junior graphic designer → graphic designer → senior graphic designer → creative director

3. Junior web designer

Median annual pay: $66,921 [4]

Job duties: Assists senior web designers in designing websites based on client input regarding layout, style, theme, etc.

Skills to have: Expertise in design and various computer programming and software systems

Possible career path: Junior web designer → web designer → senior graphic designer → creative services manager

Next steps on Coursera

To start your graphic design career path, consider taking Fundamentals of Graphic Design offered by Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) on Coursera. This six-module course covers beginner-friendly graphic design concepts like color, rhythm, pattern, and how to incorporate them into designs. Upon completion, gain a shareable Professional Certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Graphic Designers," Accessed February 24, 2024.

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