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Tips to Break into Graphic Design

How to become a graphic designer | Spruce Rd. #designresource #graphicdesign #learn #freelance

How to become a graphic designer | Spruce Rd. #designresource #graphicdesign #learn #freelance

I have received a few emails + questions about what to focus on when learning to become a graphic designer. This is such a loaded question, and absolutely not just one answer, but I thought I would share a few tips + resources that might help you as you start this journey! Whether you are a design student, shifting careers, or already have a foot in graphic design, I hope these resources will guide you to the right path.

Stick around until the end of this post to download a free bonus: Freelance Blueprint! This PDF will tell you where to start, to launch your graphic design path!

To give a bit of background about my journey, I earned a BFA in graphic design. If you have the opportunity/time/funds, I would highly suggest studying graphic design at a university. If you don’t, here are a few resources to help you get your start in the design world.

Where to begin

I firmly believe that a good sense of typography is what sets you apart from other designers, or anyone with a mac + Photoshop. No matter if you are designing for web, print, or branding, an understanding of typography will take you far, my friend. What fonts pair well together, hierarchy of type, and what your typeface is saying about the design are all important factors.

Color plays an integral role in graphic design. It helps evoke a certain mood you are tying to portray. Certain colors also trigger a psychological response to the brain, eg. calming, cheerful, bold, etc. Cultures carry different meanings to color as well, so it is great to keep this in mind when designing. With that said, it is best practices to start out your design in black & white, so that you can focus on composition first and foremost. Then add color to give it depth.

Inspiration vs. Imitation: It is important to note that when breaking into the design world, it is tempting to imitate a design you enjoy, and call it your own. This should go without saying, but don’t do it! Just say no! Sometimes this happens subconsciously to designers, as we are surrounded by design inspiration. But do your best to come up with your own designs. This is not only the ethical way, but also will produce something that is unique for your client and best fits their needs.

Start with sketching. To prevent imitating other designers, I always start with a sketchbook. I am not the best at sketching, but I don’t let the loose sketches get in the way. You can always refine the sketch later. Sketching works great for all aspects of design: wireframing a website, logo sketches, postcard layouts, etc. This will help solidify your design prior to starting on the computer, as well as let you come up with a unique creative concept first.

Less is more. This is a tough lesson to learn when first starting out in design. Your instinct might be to show off all of the new design skills you picked up, but sometimes this adds an unnecessary layer of distractions to your layout. I am drawn toward minimalist + refined design style, however this can be hard to pass off to the client. They might encourage you to add more “flare” or to “jazz it up”, but really this can do them a disservice. This quote by Sidecar sums it up nicely, “A veteran designer will look to remove distractions rather than add more.”

Online Classes

Share-worthy Design: My complete blueprint to take your freelance design dreams to full-time status! You’ll learn the ropes from an experienced freelancer, as well as my in-depth design tutorials. Your one stop shop to mastering freelance graphic design. Lynda is a great resource for understanding the design programs. goes through an in depth overview of the Adobe programs, among every other software out there! All of the videos are very professional, which I appreciate. I would invest in a membership here for a bit, so that you have all of your questions answered, without searching endlessly on google to find out how to use a specific tool in Adobe.


  • Creative Inc.: find it here
  • Blog Inc.: find it here
  • Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age: find it here
  • Thinking with Type: find it here
  • Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines: find it here

Inspiration Websites

Site Inspire: Web design inspiration.

Dribbble: A platform where designers can showcase their work-in-progress designs, and receive feedback from design friends! Great for logos + web/interactive design inspiration.

Behance: Great resource for design inspiration. I find a lot of editorial design inspiration here.

Pinterest: This is the most obvious inspiration site! Here are a few design pinners I follow, who pin quality designs: Veda House, Jenna McBride, Stephanie Schlim, Jill De Haan, and you can follow my pinterest here!

Podcasts / Inspirational Talks


Connecting with other creatives:

Getting involved in a graphic design organization, or with fellow graphic designers, is a great way to grow in your 

skill-set + confidence, as well as make friends along the way! There are so many ways to get connected, so I will just list a few that have helped me.

Blogs: I would suggest following other people’s blogs, and commenting on them if you have any questions or thoughts about what they are posting. Don’t just comment to comment, but if you are trying to build community, this might be a starting place! You don’t have to have a blog, but of course, as a blogger, I would recommend it! I have made so many new online friends that I wouldn’t have had connected with otherwise.

Social Media: Twitter + Pinterest are great for this too, especially if you don’t have time, or don’t want to blog! Twitter chats have been a great resource to meet others, as well as learn a bit about them.

Face to face: You could also join your local AIGA chapter and go to some events to meet others. Conferences are great as well, though the cost adds up!

Take your time

Most importantly, I would suggest you take your time to really hone in on your design skills + aesthetic. A designer recently reached out to me, and she is making the transition to opening her own studio soon! She spent a year and a half sketching, and working on her hand lettering + design, prior to making this leap. I thought this notion was brilliant, and showed not only humility but a quality + patient approach to her upcoming design studio.

I know that if you are in design school, freelancing on the side of a day job, or thinking about transitioning to graphic design, it is tough! You are inundated with so much quality design inspiration online, and you crave to create designs at this level. I have been there! It may be challenging, but if you stick with it and are patient + persistent at this dream, you can get there too! Sorry to say that this is not an overnight skill you will pick up, but I want to encourage you to immerse yourself with these resources above, a design community, and maybe some college design classes if you can swing it, and you will be there in no time!


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  1. Yasmin

    I love what you wrote a lot of it we are learning in school too. I went back to school in September to study graphic design. I have loved graphic design for a while and have done a few designs. My problem now at school is that I can’t draw at all and all the other students with me can draw very well. I sometimes am not sure if I will be able to do it because I can’t draw. Although in my first semester I did well but I still worry 🙂

  2. Vitoria Neves

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  3. Best graphic designs

    This blog post is really awesome and helpful for the beginners. I love the best work in graphic designs. More you learn and better you become. Good luck for blogger!

  4. Julie

    Thanks for putting together all this great information. Do you know of any good resources that specifically address considerations when pairing typefaces? Thanks so much!

  5. Beatrice

    This post was great! Thank you for sharing! I’m definitely checking out the online classes websites you mentioned. I’m new to web design and I’m constantly looking for tips and information, so hopefully I’ll find good info there. And I might have to force myself to sketch, before creating my designs, since I tend to get frustrated at some point when I don’t know where I’m going, but I just get so eager to start putting everything together that I always skip that step lol. Anyways, thanks again!
    Regards <3

    1. Jamie

      Hi Beatrice! So glad this post was helpful for you! Sketching before designing has always helped me, so hopefully you will see a transformation in your work also!

  6. Noirve | A Visit With Jamie Starcevich

    […] wanting to be a designer and run their own business? Yes I do! In fact I just posted an in-depth blog post about this topic not too long ago. I would recommend to focus on concept + typography first and […]

  7. Brittney Lopez

    This was just what I needed to read! So happy I stumbled upon this blog. You couldn’t have given better resources or advice for young graphic designers, like myself. I am truly inspired! Thank you.

    1. Jamie

      So glad this was helpful for you Brittney! I peeked at your website, and it looks like you live in San Antonio too! Small world 🙂

  8. Nora

    SO HELPFUL! Thank you!! I never thought about sketching first to get more original ideas, but it’s so smart.
    I think I’m going to try to sketch a bit everyday to really get those juices flowing. Your blog and Elle & CO have both been a huge help as I get ready to launch my new site. Thank you for the great tips!

    1. Jamie

      So glad this post was helpful for you Nora! Sketching really helps me develop original + creative concepts, so I definitely encourage every designer to incorporate it into their process! Lauren’s blog is such a great resource as well!

  9. Creative Insights - Jamie Starcevich

    […] I do! In fact I just posted an in-depth blog post about this topic not too long ago. I would recommend to focus on concept + typography first and […]

  10. shaina longstreet

    I cannot get enough of your blog. This is such a treasure trove of links and concepts. You’re awesome!

    1. Jamie

      Ahhh your comments are making me so happy! Thanks for stopping by, and I am so glad these links are helpful for you! I’ll keep ’em coming!

  11. Alexis

    LOVE this post Jamie, needed that today. I’m only just at the start of my graphic design adventure and its wonderful to read inspiring posts like this.
    Alexis x

    1. Jamie

      Yay! So glad this was helpful for you! Best of luck as you start this adventure, it’s a fun one :)!

  12. Anjelica | One Day's Grace

    Loving these tips! I am deep in the “” phase right now, learning Web Design for CS6. Can’t wait to check out some of these podcasts and inspiration sites!

    1. Jamie is the best + professional resource for really understanding the adobe programs! Yes – def. check out those sites, they are full of so much goodness!

  13. Kercia

    this is an amazing post Jamie!! You hit on all the important parts of design and gave so many awesome resources! My favorite part are the comments about less is more and good typography. It’s easy to spot a good designer when these two things are implemented well! 🙂

    1. Jamie

      Thanks Kercia! I agree and really think typography is the key component of setting yourself apart as a quality graphic designer! And less is more is a tough, but necessary, lesson to learn!

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