Learning Graphic Design Without a Degree

A productive artist explains how small design elements turn into a successful business.

For 23-year-old Los Angeles, Calif. native Darrell Prins, becoming a freelance graphic designer did not involve enrolling in any trade school.

“I didn’t know anything about design. I read about it and practiced on my own,” he said.

Also known as Darrell the Designer, Prins has been designing logos, Web sites and MySpace pages for about three years. Despite no associate degree in graphic design, he managed to design work for numerous companies and celebrities including youth-focused organization All in Vision, rap group Black Lagoon and actor Brian White. But how does he do it?

How Darrell Prins Got Started

With a Mac computer, the Internet and handy drawing skills, he started creating logos, with his name being his first creation. He later designed logos for companies, which he said he enjoyed most because he likes getting involved with company branding and creating logos that will send a distinct message to the company’s audience. “It’s more of a creative challenge,” Prins said.

Using programs such as Adobe Fireworks to create layouts and Adobe Photoshop to enhance images helped him meet his challenge. Because he was creating more complex designs, he started using Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Flash, and After Effect, in addition to Fireworks and Photoshop.

Web sites were next as he began to create his own and used it to showcase his work including logos he designed for company Web sites such as X Factor Management and Shuttershades. Additionally, he started designing wallpapers for cell phones, which he began to sell through his site.

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However, because of the increased popularity of MySpace, he was contacted by rapper Obie Trice of Shady Records in 2006, Prins’s first record label company contact, to design his MySpace page. He later designed pages for other Shady Records artists, as well as up and coming rapper Nicki Minaj and cast members the Super Twins of MTV’s Shot at Love 2 with Tila Tequila show.

Work Load

“I’m not on the computer [off and on] for about four to five hours a day,” Prins said. But he said it feels like a 24-hour job.

According to the 2008­­-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), “about 25 percent [of graphic designers] are self-employed; many do freelance work in addition to holding a salaried job in design or in another application.” Prins is self-employed, but having another job isn’t an option, as he freelances full time.

“It’s pretty demanding,” he said. “On average, I design about three MySpace pages a month, and about one to two Web sites a month,” he said.

At one point, after designing MySpace pages for several of the recording artists of Shady Records, he said he was designing between seven and eight MySpace pages a month.

Working With Clients

“Graphic designers prepare sketches or layouts­—by hand or with the aid of a computer—to illustrate their vision for the design,” according to OOH. But when he begins working with clients, Prins said he doesn’t have a strict strategy.

“I ask them what they are looking for, I visualize in my head the images they want to incorporate, design it and show them previews,” until the final product is complete, he said.

But after working with numerous clients, he learned there is more that needs to be learned about the field.

  • Keep practicing design.
  • Develop some drawing skills.
  • Learn some business sense.

People who are interested in the field may enroll at trade schools and learn the skills needed to become graphic designers. But learning the basics and having the right tools may be the only requirements needed to obtain a successful career in graphic design.

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Otis Anderson

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