Education, Homeschooling and Design

Why making graphic design is good for you

It’s cool, contemporary, creative and fun! But learning graphic design can also provide learners with a whole bunch of transferable skills that can furnish them for life. And they will make a fabulous portfolio to start their design career. GDP’s Sancha de Búrca explains why.

Learning graphic design is a great way of having fun. It is contemporary and meaningful to young people. The end results can be tailored to suit individual interests. Yet while undertaking a design project you can be learning a range of transferable skills at the same time.

Graphics is a thriving and adventurous industry to consider as a future. It is a career choice that can lead to many related areas, such as photography, illustration, fine art, typography, web design, animation and other areas of design like interior, fashion, landscape and set design. It is an international industry and one well suited to the imaginative outlook of the homeschooler.

Of course, your learner may not necessarily want to take up a career in graphics. Nevertheless, undertaking one or two graphics projects is a stimulating, engaging and unusual way of learning skills and topics anyway. Your learner will be enjoying themselves creating design and learning all sorts of useful skills at the same time. Designers gain tacit knowledge while problem-solving and making. This is what Nigel Cross (1982) famously called “designerly ways of knowing”

It is also a perfect solution to the perennial homeschool problem of how do you opt back into the mainstream if you want to or need to for either education or employment? A graphic design course can give you evidence of achievement and talent by way of building up a design portfolio, which in the creative industries carries as much, if not more weight, than qualifications.


Why portfolios?

Creative portfolios are great ways of maintaining an ongoing collection of work that can convince employers and mainstream educators that the maker has got potential both in their skills and in their attitudes. Designers will always keep and continuously add to their portfolios throughout their careers. Nowadays portfolios are kept digitally as well as in big black cases. They provide learners with an excellent site for taking ownership of their career development and for expressing their hopes for the future and personal target-setting.

In my own experience as both a homeschooling parent and leader of university and college courses, programme leaders are more concerned about accepting talented students who have potential than they are with what grades that student has. Generally (depending on the institution’s rules) a strong portfolio will carry more weight than anything else. This also especially applies to design employers who judge skills almost solely on a portfolio basis, which is why some people can gain entry to this industry without any formal qualifications.

But you can’t build a portfolio overnight and the contents need to include more than just some hobby work.


Career building

My elder son had spent most of his homeschooling years doing art and design work and through this had explored many other topics. He built a portfolio that was ahead of his years and was accepted on the basis of this (at age 14 when 16 was the norm) into a local college to continue his creative education. He graduated with a good degree in graphic design and is working now as a full time freelance designer. He still maintains a strong, ongoing portfolio.

My son was particularly fortunate in that, as a design educator, I was able to tutor him. What learners need in order to develop a portfolio that will be taken seriously, are projects that can systematically guide them through the intricacies of a design process. Art and craft activities that simply allow students to get messy and make something cute are not enough.

What is needed is a vocational project that is full of opportunities to learn transferable skills. This may sound daunting. But graphics is exciting and the reasons for being thorough are clearly seen.

It is never too soon to encourage firm goals and aims and a pro-active disposition. These are probably the reasons you have opted for, or are considering homeschooling in the first place. These aims need not be long-term, but might simply be about achieving one design project. Raising the bar from messing around doing art to beginning to consider a creative career can be meaningful and motivating.

A series of activities that guide a learner through a professional design process are also useful in that they are encouraging the learner to adopt a vocational attitude. Because graphic design is about problem solving learners are encouraged to become aware of how they learn, when they work best and what poses a challenge. In other words young design learners begin the process of adopting a lifelong commitment to what in industry is termed “continuous professional development” – how to keep getting better.


Design skills

So why is design such a good way of developing transferable skills? Let’s list some skills it encourages.

Firstly, it is all about problem solving. The design brief, which is given by the client to the designer out there in the industry, and provided by a suitable project for your learner, is a problem that is waiting to be solved. Graphic design is the communicating of a message from the client to the audience.

So the message must be clear and easily understood. If it is original, witty or aesthetically pleasing too that really helps! Lots of consideration needs to go into the achievement of this. Therefore undertaking design really hones skills of communication and awareness of others.

Understanding the particulars of the brief is a skill of analysis. Generating and developing ideas, where the learner is thinking up and trying out practical concepts, also requires skills that apply easily to other tasks, ranging from cooking a meal to running a country!

These ideas need to be founded on research, so fact finding and the drawing of conclusions are further design skills that can be applied to other walks of life. This is a particularly lively area for the homeschool learner, as the investigation can take all sorts of directions. The turning around of researched sources into material for use in a design also stimulates the highest skills of “synthesis” or the transformation of knowledge into a tangible new concept.

The final design ideas must be realised in a professional way. While enjoying the excitement of making, the designer, or learner, should be able to justify their design decisions and be able to evaluate them. Young learners will become aware that professional expectations exist and can begin to work towards these at their own pace.

Moreover, in graphic design, presentation is everything. No dog-eared corners or spelling mistakes can be allowed. Skills of checking are essential and these also help raise pride in a learner’s own achievements. Taking ownership of successful work is very rewarding.

But the best part of graphic design is that it is fun, exciting and contemporary. Design is considered to be cool whilst at the same time not being shallow. There is flexibility in the outcome as well as in the route or method taken to get there. Graphics is a divergent discipline in that any design piece that works effectively is considered good and this allows all sorts of styles, techniques and media to be used by young designers, enabling them to bring in their own interests and skills. This empowers and motivates young people.

However, projects need to be meaningful, realistic and purposeful to the young learner. The elements of personalisation and fun can be blended with design skills and training in design thinking. Learners are gradually taken from an amateur status to that of young ‘expert’. En route, the noticing and appreciating aspects of design can help learners celebrate and make the most of the smaller details of life.

Moreover, design is an excellent way of incorporating the development of people skills and an empathetic and ethical attitude – also known as a ‘beyond the self outlook’. Ideas of sustainability, working with and for others and the somewhat daunting concept of ethics, are all easily embedded in design exploration, planning and making. While someone is designing they must consider where to resource materials or how the object they make will add to mountains of waste – or not. These problem-solving attributes help make the designers of our better future.


The Graphic Design Project

The Graphic Design Project provides short design projects as a means to build a portfolio. Our courses are geared to those who have no formal design experience but who would like to study graphic design for fun or for a serious, vocational reason. There are also projects for developing portfolio builders and improvers. There is a range of project levels, from the very simple, through straightforward to challenging.

Projects are written by programme director, Sancha de Búrca, who has many years experience as a professional design educator within mainstream education, working especially with teens and university students. Sancha, who has also been a homeschool parent and homeschool co-operative teacher, has also provided art and design projects to homeschoolers for over a decade.

Each project course can be taken individually using the downloadable guide, or can be taken with personal tutor support. The projects are also suitable for learners wishing to explore a topic, using design skills to investigate it. Tailor-made projects are also available and like the others can be worked as a group or by a single learner.

So, if your homeschoolers would like to try out graphic design for fun, for a career or as a means of exploring other topics, do consider joining our online young design community.



Cross, Nigel (1982). Designerly ways of knowing. Design Studies, 3(4) pp. 221–227.


You may also like to see GDP’s article at The Secular Homeschool:

Design Thinking: 9 Reasons Why Graphic Design is Good for Learning


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