Do You Have to Go to Design School to Become a Designer?

Posted on January 28, 2014 | Updated on June 14, 2023

Napoleon Hill once said, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” William Arthur Ward had a similar philosophy: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” If your dream is to be a web designer, whether your path involves schooling or not, take heed in the words of a presidential advisor and an American inspirational writer. It is a possible to make your career dreams come true – with or without design school.

I am a firm believer that some people just have a knack for things, a natural talent that allows them to accomplish things without coaching or education. However, web design is not like professional sports. Most employers like to see an educational background before offering someone a job. So the question is: Can you make a career out of web design without going to design school?

Without a Degree

While it may be tricky, it is possible to land a job as a web designer without attending design school. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need some sort of education. For starters, cover all your basics with drawing, graphic design theory, user experience, and writing/communication. The follow-up to your foundation knowledge are the graphic designer staples: Illustrator and Photoshop.

After you have a solid understanding of the everyday programs you will be using as a web designer, try to expand your horizons by looking into specialty projects like Logo Designs, mobile apps and infographics. There is an entire digital world that you can work with, make sure you have a general understanding of all of it.

A knowledge of web and graphic design only props the door open for you, to really get your foot in the designing world, you need to create a portfolio. A great starter project is creating a website for yourself; one that not only states your professional position as a web designer, but one that shows off your skills as well. You can create a t-shirt logo for a friend, create updates for poorly designed websites and even create a mock-up for an iPhone app. Show your creativity and versatility as much as possible.

With your portfolio in hand and the knowledge in your brain, your next step is to gain some experience before applying to full-time jobs. You can do freelance work and work with developers through sites like CollabFinder. Once you have gotten your feet wet, research some design companies and see if you have any connections through a site like LinkedIn. Because web designing is a competitive field, without the right connections, you will most likely lose a position to someone who has a four-year degree in web development and design.

With a Degree

After reading the first half of this article, it’s quite possible you decided that you can’t teach yourself and you have no connections. This might make you think that web designing isn’t for you, but perhaps all you need to do to achieve your web design dream is to take some classes. Would you be able to teach yourself how to use a new program or develop a website? I’m the type of person who needs to take a course or two and maybe you are too.

If you decide to go this route, the trickiest thing for you to figure out is which school is best for you. There are numerous types of degrees you can earn on your journey to becoming a graphic designer and each degree offers a variety of classes. You can choose to attend a four-year college or you can even attend an online college. Your decision depends on your financial situation and the flexibility of your current job or living situation. When you settle on a program and complete your degree, you will obtain all the basic knowledge outlined above, as well as some other in-depth tips and tricks.

So, to answer the question, “Do you need to attend design school to become a graphic designer?” The simple answer is no. It is possible to have a successful career as a graphic designer without formal education, but it will take a lot of hard work. If you are willing to put it in the time, good luck to you on your adventure to becoming a designer without a degree. However, if you want a bit of an easier path with a better chance of landing a full-time job, there are many design school options available to you.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at


  1. Cathy Spangler Bruce on February 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    It’s a good question. College is expensive, and let’s face it, graphic design isn’t the highest paying profession out there.

    I graduated from a 4-year art school in 1993. (Yes, I’m old. But I’ve spent the last 20 years as a working designer.) We learned paste-up (on physical boards! with a waxer!) The computer lab had Macintosh’s for desktop publishing (Illustrator, Pagemaker and Photoshop) and Amigas for computer animation (anybody else remember those?). Needless to say, there was no web design or internet classes.

    So was those four years a waste? NO! I also learned color theory, typography, 2D and 3D design, advertising, copywriting and art history. I learned how to stay up until 2:00am 5 nights a week to get all my homework done. I learned how to take criticism, and give it. I learned that there are always going to be designers who are better than you, and that’s okay. These are the things that will stay with you.

    Technology keeps changing. If you want to be a designer, you have to become a life-long learner. I think formal classes are a good place to start, but if you’re not self-motivated, you’re not going to make it in graphic/web design. But if you love this stuff, it’s not going to feel like work, and you’ll go to your office every morning with a smile on your face.

  2. George on June 11, 2014 at 6:23 am

    In my opinion, to become a designer to work at home you do not require a degree but most of the companies ask for a professional degree to recruit a person as a designer.

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