Can I get into graphic design without a Graphic Design A level?

Tomasz has skills in graphic design, but no A level. How can he become a graphic designer?

​Hello 😊 My name is Tomasz and I have a major problem.

6 years ago I moved to England, and I finished my college this summer. The thing is, I have been doing lots of different courses in my college, but they were chosen by the teachers and unfortunately it wasn’t anything to do with graphic design.

A year ago I showed my private logo designs to the head of art department at my school and she loved it - she promised me to enrol me on a design course this year if I pass my English GCSE. I got a D, and therefore I was not able to start the course this September. Graphic design is what I want to do in the future. I have been interested in it, and have been working on my skills for about 4-5 years.

Unfortunately I turned 20 this August and therefore I can’t start any course in normal college, and obviously because I don’t have any A level qualifications I can’t start a degree at university. I am willing to work hard on my skills and to improve but I don’t know what else I could do to get closer to my dreams of becoming a graphic designer.

My questions is: what is there that I could do to achieve any qualifications for the job I want? Is there anything else I could do? I’m hoping you can answer me with some ideas or/and advice and I will be very thankful. Tomasz

— Tom

Expert answers

Paul West's reply:

​Hi Tomasz

I can sense your frustration, but there is always a solution to any problem - and the solution is ‘you’ in this case. If you don’t have the qualifications, you just have to work harder at getting your work seen out there in your own way. 

My immediate response would be: 

1. Get yourself a website - perhaps you already do, (this could be an open source site like Cargo) or even go straight to blog (like Tumblr). 

2. When you have established yourself as a presence, then start promoting yourself: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, - follow people you respect or admire and start connections that way. I’m sure you visit Behance, Collate, It’s Nice That, FFFFound - if there’s work you’ve done that you like, strike up a relationship with these people, they are really good at showcasing new talent and you can learn a lot. Global organisations like D&AD are great at helping designers on any level (look out for their Sharp’ner evenings). And of course there’s the “good old fashioned way” of actually picking up a telephone, calling companies for the relevant people who see portfolios, create portfolio PDF’s and email them to the relevant designers but make sure that these people are OK to be emailed, a lot of designers don’t always like unsolicited emails and it shows respect.

3. Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door of a company as an intern without being a nuisance. Make yourself indispensable to the company and do not worry too much if you don’t “instantly” get design work put your way, a lot of the time a design agency will be working out how to best use your talents and that can take a little time. Willingness goes a long way to begin with and I was there believe me in the beginning… 

It’s a really interesting time at the moment. There are opportunities out there for RESOURCEFUL designers in print, digital and coding who go out and do something themselves, do NOT feel that you are disadvantaged. Turn it around in your head that you will do it, and you will do it your way. I could name ‘leading’ designers out there who either left college early, or flunked, but did it anyway through sheer determination. “Skill” comes later as you perfect your craft. If you have the strength and the willingness, then that is a massive start, just take the time to nurture your own brand, and work out how YOU will go to market. And even better, do you have a particular skill that you could ramp up to make yourself a more valuable proposition than the next designer? There’s a rise in coders at the moment as this is a valuable bridge between DESIGN, and DIGITAL, for example.

Good luck.

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