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I am in UI design, and currently looking for jobs, and realized that photoshop skills, and being able to create your designs yourself was a big plus for potential jobs.

I have some photoshop skills that I learned along the years, but:

  • No actual degree in graphic design (far from it actually: psychology B.S. and Mechanical Engineering M.S.)
  • No professional experience as graphical designer
  • I am conscious that my skills are too low to be decently used in a professional context

So what I would like is a way to find short requests, of the kind "I want a banner for my website, with this, this and this", or "a loading screen for my mobile game", and so on. This would allow me to improve my skills, and also build a portfolio, which is something I am really lacking right now.

Alternatively, since people doing stuff for free could be harmful for actual professional people, would there be a place asking for small requests against small fees? Again, I am more trying to build experience than to build money.

Thanks!

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I would perhaps change the title of the question to something that can be more helpful for other people's searches –  Yisela Jan 12 '12 at 11:12
    
@utopicam Yes, I struggled with it, would you have suggestions? –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 15:44
    
something around "recommended first steps of working professionally as a designer/developer"? –  Yisela Jan 12 '12 at 19:18
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made it a bit clearer, while still keeping it focused –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 19:29
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6 Answers

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I've never really understood these types of questions, but they seem to come up often enough in development and design. To me it's a very bad sign when a programmer can't think of programming projects for himself and when a designer isn't inspired to come up with projects of his own in his free time.

After all, graphic design is a field with lots of hobbyists. It's something that lots of people enjoy and are deeply passionate about. And most professionals are people who began doing art and graphic design for fun, found that they could actually make money from their hobby, and then eventually decided this was what they wanted to do for a living.

As such, it's a pretty competitive (and relatively saturated) industry. And if you don't enjoy design, you won't be inclined to practice as much, so you're gonna have a hard time competing against the legions of designers out there who live and breathe design.

It's good that you're focusing on improving rather than making money, but why do you need random strangers to make requests for you to practice with? Does a student painter or sketch artist need requests from strangers in order to practice their art? If you were learning math, would you look for strangers to give you math problems to perform?

Sure, you should be open to requests and accept the extra practice, but a random stranger's graphic design request won't help you develop your aesthetic eye or technical skills any more than personal projects you came up with yourself. If anything, your own personal projects will give you more freedom to express yourself, and designing when you're actually inspired will produce better results (largely because it's more enjoyable, which also motivates you to push yourself harder).


That said, there is value in taking an academic approach and getting professional guidance. Receiving design assignments from a design instructor does have value, as they're following a structured lesson plan that's deisgned to give you a comprehensive and balanced look at the field of design.

Similarly, there are workbooks and other resources out there with practice design briefs. These are excellent practice projects since they're either real-life briefs used by professional agencies or created by experienced designers to provide realistic requirements you might find in a professional setting.

But a stranger on a forum who wants a banner for his site or "loading screen for his mobile game" is not a good source of design projects. Besides their not being things you'd want in your portfolio, most of these people don't know the first thing about professional design (hence why they're asking random strangers on the web to design them things for free) so their requirements and specifications won't be realistic to professional design scenarios, and this sort of practice will not teach you professional workflows. If anything, they'll just teach you bad habits.


Now, if you're really having a hard time coming up with enough personal projects to occupy yourself in your free time, you could always:

  • Take a design course at a local college.
  • Get an internship at a design studio or a company's design department.
  • Volunteer your services to open source projects, non-profits, and public organizations (schools, libraries, or government agencies).
  • Provide free design services to indie artists/musicians and filmmakers.
  • Collaborate with a developer and exchange services.
  • Participate in design contests.

I personally have no problem with novice designers doing work for free. If you're not competent enough to provide professional-level work, then you shouldn't really be charging anyone for it. Likewise, if you can add a really high profile project/client to your portfolio, then it may very well be worth it to do the work for a discounted rate or even for free.

If you don't have a strong portfolio, volunteer work is often the best way to get your foot in the door and start building a professional portfolio. But don't waste time designing forum signatures or a gaming clan website for some high school student on IRC. Instead, focus on getting real projects that: a.) add weight to your portfolio, or b.) contributes something positive to society, e.g. saving a nonprofit, social enterprise, or your local school district money on web design.

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Thanks! I have enough ideas by myself, but am not demanding enough with myself. As with sports, foreign languages or maths, it is easier to learn if someone else is setting higher expectations. But yes, as you said, doing small sites banners could be detrimental, so I will look at things like "Volunteer your services to open source projects, non-profits, and public organizations (schools, libraries, or government agencies)", which seems to correspond the most to what I'm looking for. Thanks again! –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 15:54
    
@Milkalichov: One way that I find very effective in pushing myself (and the rest of my design team) harder is to subscribe to design feeds and regularly visit design showcases or design sharing sites (e.g. Creattica, dribbble, weheartit, ffffound!, etc.) and constantly compare your own work to the work of better designers. If you get into the habit of putting your own work next to the work of professional designers from top agencies, it'll be much harder to become complacent about your own work. –  Lèse majesté Jan 13 '12 at 0:25
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Just thought you might want to add it to your answer, for future people looking for it: I found one other option: art contests. There are plenty going around, they allow any style, and they have the advantage of giving a theme, a motivation, a deadline, and comparison with peers. Most are not useful for building a portfolio, but really good to train your skills. –  Scrollmaster Jan 27 '12 at 20:18
    
@Mikalichov: Good call. You can get free exposure and win cool prizes! I've personally even gotten a job offer after one contest. –  Lèse majesté Jan 27 '12 at 22:35
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I'm not sure what type of design you are looking for, but you did mention a loading screen for a mobile game. As a prospective game programmer / designer, I've looked for existing game graphics online that I could use, since my graphic skills aren't the best. While I've found numerous sites with free graphics (or paid), they weren't really useable since games should have a consistent look and feel, and mixing graphics from different artists and styles goes against that 'rule'.

What we need (and are willing to pay for!) are graphic packs with a specific look and genre. If you were to design and create multiple game content packs, and offered them online, you should get a good response. Mobile game development seems to be exploding, but the available graphic packs are lacking.

A pack could consist of various items such as a Font (bitmapped), UI, plus misc items depending on the genre. For example, a platform game would need walls, floors, keys, trees, etc.

This gives you the freedom and flexibility to design using the style you are great at, and your portfolio will be expanded accordingly. And it could turn into a rewarding career.

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Courageous you, to be pushing out into a new field like design. Having gone somewhat the same route myself (albeit from a different starting point), I can give you some benefit of experience:

  • There's no substitute for real world projects, even if you're just taking someone else's project as a case study and developing your own approach. In most cases, these will push you into things you'd not have considered on your own, and will also push you to learn the techniques you need with the tools you need to get the job done. Everything you learn in that process will stick with you forever, because every technique has a real application attached to it in your mind.

  • Local non-profits, friends and associates are your best source of "beginner" work, whether on a volunteer basis or for a small fee. (It's best to set some kind of fee. People appreciate the work more, and you'll avoid the total freeloaders.)

  • Your first personal target should be to make a deep dive into the subject of design itself, which is NOT the same thing as knowing how to do clever stuff in [insert graphic application here]. This runs in parallel with your real world projects.

Make that last point a big part of your personal development as a designer. I won't rehash what I wrote in response to this question, but read that answer over. It is based on real world experience, and it will help.

All the very best of luck in your new career!

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Thanks alot for the advice and encouraging; I'm trying not to think about it as a new career, more as a complement to my normal work, but this make it sound tempting :) –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 22:12
    
I was somewhat railroaded into design "by popular demand," as it were, and had to ride some steep learning curves both in design as a subject and all the Creative Suite applications. A few years ago it got to the point that it just made sense to go full time. But it has to be said that I did it all because I fell in love with design and typography; as in any field, passion and commitment have everything to do with success. –  Alan Gilbertson Jan 12 '12 at 23:10
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You can try a website called Fiverr. You can offer your services there for $5.

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Doing free little jobs is pretty much called a form of spec work and is frowned upon by most of the industry.

But you can do it all you want on places that do 'crowdsourcing contests'. They tend to produce awful work for no money that benefits neither the designer nor the client, but they exist.

What I'd instead suggest you do is work on your own personal stuff first and foremost. If not that, do you have friends/relatives that need graphic design work done? A web site for your mom's sewing club? A web site for your son's t-ball league? That kind thing. Beyond that, maybe donate some time to a small local non-profit/church.

But definitely don't do commercial work for free. When you do that, you're not really working for a real client that is of any worth, and, as such, you're not really creating good professional work to show.

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Thanks, your answer and the others made me realize that real projects were more important than small free work, I will focus on that. –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 15:56
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Try looking over at http://jobs.freelanceswitch.com/ and search simple things like 'logo' and 'splash'. There are lots of people looking for freelancers out there, and some may interest you! There is a $7/month fee if you want to apply for any job, but it quite worth it as many companies offer high budgets.

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That's brilliant...making people pay them to apply for the work! Clever! –  DA01 Jan 12 '12 at 7:09
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Not that uncommon actually, and it can be a lot more expensive (random example: surgeons). The site is offering what I'm looking for (various scales of projects, with adapted prices), I'll look into it, thanks :) –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 15:58
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Adding to @DA01's comment, I have to say I was pretty unimpressed with the "Budget" figures on most of the offered projects ($500-$1000 for a full Wordpress site, with custom plug-ins? RU SRS?). –  Alan Gilbertson Jan 12 '12 at 21:36
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@Mikalichov at least in the USA, any job that has an 'application fee' is typically less of a job and more of a scam. –  DA01 Jan 12 '12 at 21:58
    
@DA01 well at home, it is called "government" :) But thanks for the advice, I will be careful then. –  Scrollmaster Jan 12 '12 at 22:03
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