Q: Is it possible to have a successful freelance career as a designer (or web developer or writer) if I don’t go to school for it?
A: I’m a designer, so my answer is directed to someone who wants to be a designer.
Yes, it’s possible. To do it well takes work. It takes time to learn something new, and learning to be a designer is no exception. Students who go to school for design spend years thinking and learning about the theory and specifics of different kinds of art and design.
There are lots of details in design and print/web production that aren’t obvious. Someone may be able to create a layout that looks good, and it is relatively easy to learn to use software. That doesn’t mean they are qualified to be a professional designer. Education and experience both play a role. But education doesn’t have to come from school. And even well established, experienced designers need to keep learning to keep up with changing technology and trends, so after a while, most people could say they are at least partly self taught.
I’m self taught, but I learned a lot from people, books, and other sources along the way. I didn’t go to art school or study design in college, but I did go to college, majoring in Communications/Broadcasting. (The social skills and broad education I learned were well worth it.) I worked in television for a few years, then moved. In my new city, I fell into a graphic design job and started learning all over again.
In the past 15 years, I have taken classes in software and design theory; read countless books and magazines; worked with and learned from art directors, marketing managers, and other designers; studied typography; participated in user groups; taken online classes and watched hours of tutorials; analyzed design that is effective and design that doesn’t work. I’m self taught, but not just by myself.
If you are self-taught: What’s been the best way for you to develop your skills?