I wasn’t always a freelance graphic designer. I used to teach English to Brazilian businessmen but that’s another story. I started by working for newspapers and magazines so my background is in print. By a mixture of application and good fortune I taught myself how to create usable, aesthetic, standards-compliant websites and discovered how to get visitors to them by running this blog. So I’m lucky to be able to offer a large range of services to my many amazing clients.
I’m also lucky that commuting into work for somebody else is a distant memory for me. But I distinctly remember an aura of elitism that existed around senior designers when I was starting out. Maybe it’s because I never went to design school but I passionately believe that anyone can do this (or anything) if they want. Here is what you need to have this fantastic career:
Adobe CS is the only proprietary software you’ll need. Of this suite of programs I find Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are the ones you really need to get to grips with. Illustrator for vectors, Photoshop for photos, effects and graphics and InDesign for long documents. If you’re only interested in web design, you can scrub InDesign from the list. There are open source graphics packages such as Gimp but I would find things very difficult without Creative Suite.
I have an iMac at home and a Macbook for travel. You don’t need to go down the Mac route but it was what I started with so I’m hooked now. You will need a fairly powerful computer with a decent sized screen. You should also have external drives and a back up for when it all goes horribly wrong.
All designers need a knowledge of typefaces. But take it nice and slow. Don’t rush out and buy Helvetica Neue or download a million free fonts. Continuously ask yourself when you see design work whether or not the font works with it and why. There are some fantastic new free fonts out there but you will need several weights of the classics.
Imagery and graphics
We all the know the usual stock and micro-stock photo libraries but there are a lot of great free photography sites and lots of great free vector content out there too.
Web presence and host
If you want to be a freelance graphic designer, a freelance web designer or anything at all you need your own website. Do not waste your time putting your portfolio on a 3rd party site or indeed putting your details on a bidding site. You may experiment with these sites and social media later. The first thing you need to do is to decide on your web address, register it and get a shared server or VPS server to host your own personal website.
This is an added section due to a very useful comment I got below from Jonathan. You are going to need a network of people, other designers, photographers, artists, developers, etc., to help you. Sometimes it’s just great to be able to ask for help. So, join design forums, participate in relevant LinkedIn groups, leave comments on blogs and generally interact with people both on and offline to strengthen and expand your network. Help people and they will help you.
Jonathan’s comment below is a case in point. He has made an excellent addendum to this post and now we are connected. Thanks, Jonathan!
I knew I was forgetting something… clients are more-or-less essential to your business! The one thing that I can not stress enough is the value of keeping clients. More than half the work I do is for existing clients rather than new business. And a significant amount of new business comes from recommendations. So, remember, the best clients are the ones you already have.
All the clients I have (apart from recommendations from old clients) have contacted me from this website. Which is why I think it’s so important to have an active website that appears high in Google searches for a variety of keywords. Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve written about how to market yourself in this way.
I’m not going to insult anyone by saying the usual: “you need a thick skin, hard work, dedication and passion” – I assume you have all these in spades as you are reading this. And, to be honest, you’re also probably going to need a little bit of luck. But, don’t we all? People will say you need talent. But I won’t. For me, hard work, dedication and passion will beat talent any day.
So, is that it? Is there anything else you need to be a freelance graphic designer?