How I Became a Graphic Designer Without a College Degree

Posted on April 29, 2010


When I was 8, I remembered looking through a volume of encyclopedias (yes, way before the days of the internet). After going through page by page of pictures and information, a picture of a skyscraper had caught my eye. The colors of this picture where so vivid and crisp, while the shapes of the skyscraper where geometrically flawless. I thought that the artist had a technique that was so perfect; it mimicked life at 99.999% accuracy but yet remains artistic. As any child would do, I went to my mom and asked her “what is this?” She replied “That was done by a computer and it’s called computer graphics.”

In that brief moment, my passion was born. Prior to that day, I was already an artist using whatever I could find; from crayons to markers and from water based paints to spray paint (yes I was a graffiti artist also). After seeing what computer graphics can do, I just had to have access to a computer.

7 years later while in high school, I got involved with computer graphics in all its varieties; from computer aided drafting to desktop publishing and eventually into graphic design, and 3D modeling and animation. Everyday, I was voraciously experimenting with the tools each program had to offer. In AutoCAD, I was designing 2D floor plans, elevations, and isometric views. In 3D Studio (before it was 3DS Max), I created my first Indy race car. In CorelDRAW/Photoshop/Illustrator/Aldus PageMaker, I created fliers for parties, freelanced for various non-profits, and created graphics for the school’s yearbook.

As my passion took me into new heights, my two teachers observed the amount of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm I had exhibited. Both had invited me to become a tutor for both of their classes.

During the my last quarter in high school, I entered a 2D floor plan for a single story house contest in the Del Mar Fair in San Diego and won 1st place. As for the graphic design competition, I submitted a corporate identity package and won 1st place as well.

“Everything seemed to be in place.” I thought. The college I chose had accepted my application and my major was set. Then one day, everything I had planned for had come to an abrupt halt.

My parents had supported my efforts in becoming a graphic designer and offered to pay my tuition in full, as long as I had good grades. But the money set aside for my tuition had been diverted to my parents own interests. They decided to invest the money into a new home instead. They felt heart broken but they did it for the benefit of the family. I understood their intentions in time, but for that moment I was very upset.

By this time, I had just turned 18. I’m an adult now and I should not be complaining. Up until now, I have done everything on my own. My passion has taken me this far. Why should I stop now? I knew that to achieve my own greatness, that I will attain a mastery of the graphic arts, I had to dive into the industry head first. So, I did some question asking on my own and I started calling businesses and trade associations. After a week of calling 5 hours each day for 5 days, I had a list of 21 to interview.

After interviewing professionals and industry insiders about the process of getting a job doing graphics, the top reasons for getting hired were a combination of having a great portfolio, having a sharp design sense, how well your communications skills were (written and verbal), and an intense passion for this art. I already knew that I had these qualities because of my experiences before and after high school, but largely because of what I did outside of school. When I was outside of school, it was hand drawn art, computer graphics, and graffiti art. That was all I cared about; besides girls, partying, and video games.

Now after doing all this research, the only thing I had to do was just to apply to these businesses. And… since I already contacted these businesses from the past week, I sent out my resume and sample portfolio to the people I had interviewed. I was excited that all the work I had done will payoff soon… and it did! A week later I got interviewed by 5 of them and got offers from all 5! I chose the offer that gave me the most growth but not necessarily the highest pay. At $10 an hour (at 18, this was a big deal for me), I was happy and got hired as a production artist at a service bureau.

After everything that has been said, thought of, and done, it all boils down to passion.


Posted in: Do it yourself