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Whether you’re a designer fresh out of college or a self-taught individual, making sure you have a robust and professional portfolio needs to be a priority. As a graphic designer—or in most any other artistic career—you need a portfolio if you ever hope to be taken seriously and land a good job.

The “I want to be a designer to earn a decent living” starter kit

While it may feel like a catch-22, especially if you haven’t had a whole lot of opportunity to design, there are ways for you to create content for your portfolio and keep your skills sharp.

Volunteer your services. Non-profits who don’t often have the budget to afford a full-fledged marketing team with designers are always looking for help. While you shouldn’t make a habit of working for free, this is a great way to hone your skills and support a cause you care about.

Connect with online design communities. Sites like Behance or Dribbble are great places for you to share your work, receive feedback and draw inspiration. The Futur is another that offers designers a ton of resources and support, especially on the business end of things.

Improve on yourself. Remember that God-awful flyer you made your first semester of Photoshop 101? I’m sure you’d rather not—and it’s certainly not something you would want to showcase in a portfolio—so why not improve it, instead?

Be prompted. If you’ve run out of inspiration, there are tons of online design prompt generators to give you some ideas (you can find lists of a few here and here). Some design communities, like Dribbble, host “weekly warm-ups”, or sign up for The Daily Logo Challenge.

Make a commitment. Set reasonable goals for yourself that keep you creating on the regular—and hold yourself accountable. For instance, take part in one of those prompts I mentioned in #4 on a weekly basis and post it in one of those design communities I mentioned in #2. And remember to disregard the amount of likes you may or may not get—use it more as a tool to watch yourself grow. Train yourself to be encouraged by progress, not likes.

network, Network, NETWORK. Professional organizations like EMERGE Lakeland are a great place to exercise skills and make professional connections that could turn into actual paying jobs. Joining your local branch of the American Advertising Federation is another good idea. Now, for creative introverts like me, that sounds (and is, let’s be real) terrifying. Still, pushing out your comfort zone can do wonders for your creativity.

Things to keep in mind

Putting yourself out there not only opens yourself up to opportunity; it also leaves you vulnerable to criticism and the urge to compare your work to others. And speaking from experience, it is very easy to get discouraged as a creative.

While it is important to know how to take criticism as a designer (it's part of the job), always consider the source and never take it personally. Criticism from other professionals can be valuable because different perspectives will help you better craft your art—but it can also be frustrating. Training yourself to sift through feedback to find something relevant is really an artform itself. Basically, whether I agree with the criticism or not, my response is always, “Thanks for the feedback! I’ll look into it.” This allows me time to reflect on what was said and compare notes with other creative professionals to see if anything worthwhile pans out of the critique to improve the design.

As far as comparing yourself to others, you need to realize that there is always going to be someone better than you—and that is a good thing. I’ve spent hours scrolling through creative feeds looking for inspiration, only to walk away questioning whether I’ve made the right career choice. And while I’ve been designing on varying levels for nearly a decade, I still haven’t found my signature “style,” and that’s a very personal pain point. The thing is, knowing that you need to improve and taking steps towards improving is how you grow. Don’t compare yourself to others; instead, learn from them.

In summation

This line of work takes commitment; it also requires a great deal of self-motivation. Showcasing your best designs in your portfolio and making sure you keep it current and updated is important. Taking the time to practice and watching hours of tutorials is also required. Even if being creative is your passion, there will be days when you just don’t wanna. And that’s ok. Taking breaks are important, too. Draw inspiration from the world around you, and when you’re ready, start small, keep it simple and don’t give up.

About Sara

I'm a New England native who currently lives in Central Florida. An outgoing introvert with an eagerness to learn and explore, I have a degree in digital media technology with a specialization in graphic design. I was self-taught in graphic art and decided to pursue an education to refine my skills and potentially make it a career. I am currently employed full-time as a Senior Graphic Designer; I also do freelance graphic art under my business name, Your Visual Storyteller. You can follow me on Instagram at @your.visual.storyteller. My email is

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