My Secret Weapon: Graphic Design

We know that social media can sometimes glorify peoples’ talents. We see people doing great things, and we either assume it comes naturally to them or that we could never be as good as them. I am guilty of this as well. I wrote this article to show everyone that you can develop highly marketable skills for free, all of your skills are valuable, and you don’t have to be an artist to be creative.

I recently posted this picture on LinkedIn of the laptop decal that I created to help me advertise my business.

I could not find a place to create what I wanted, so I just decided to do it myself. I received several questions about how I was able to make it. I also received a lot of comments like, “I wish I could do that!” My response is always, “You can!” It just takes commitment and genuine interest.

Many people don’t know this about me, but I have been teaching myself Photoshop since I was in high school. I took a Graphic Design/Desktop Publishing class in my senior year of high school that sparked an interest that I still have to this day. I used to just make funny images like this one with my mom and dog in the car.

I never took it seriously until it was time to think about college. I considered majoring in Graphic Design in college until I realized that I needed to take a lot of art and drawing classes. I was never good at drawing. So, I asked my Graphic Design teacher what her major was when she went to college. She told me that she studied Business Education.

At that point, I was already trying to decide if I wanted to do music business, general business, education, or graphic design. I did my research, and I discovered that I could get a solid foundation in both business and education, while also getting certified to teach. That sounded like the best plan for me, and I enrolled at Illinois State University. They have an amazing education program in general, as well as a Business Teacher Education program. #ProudRedbird

I invested a lot of my free time playing around with different applications of my very basic graphic design skills. I was creating logos, t-shirts, and flyers for my student organizations. When I joined my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, I became the go-to person for everything design related. I enjoyed being able to translate an idea into a visual.

I started to play around with different uses for my new graphic design skills. I began creating more visually appealing PowerPoint presentations for my classes. This was especially helpful because I had many classes where I had to actually teach lessons.

One day, I decided to try painting some of my designs. Decorative paddles are very popular among fraternities and sororities, and I wanted to try making my own. I improvised most of it, and I couldn’t believe what I had done with the finished product. I posted a picture on Facebook, and my inbox was flooded with people who wanted to pay me for one! I was shocked, and I said I was just doing it for fun. Not long after, one of my professors offered extra credit to anyone who started a business. I decided to go for it. I did really well, and it was a great side hustle throughout the rest of my college career.

I would create my designs on Photoshop and then create makeshift stencils to paint custom made, unique paddles for anyone who wanted one.

I spent the last semester of my undergraduate career as a student teacher. I spent the first 10 weeks teaching high school business. I was able to teach Accounting, Business Law, and Web Design. My mentor teacher enjoyed my designs so much that he asked me to develop a graphic design curriculum to supplement the Web Design course. This was exactly what I had set out to do as a high school senior!

My final 6 weeks of student teaching was at a middle school teaching Computer Applications. Microsoft Office was the central focus for my 6th & 7th graders. Making Excel engaging was definitely a task. I used some of my design experience to use pixel art to teach fundamentals of Excel. Students created their designs on Excel, and the class voted on the best submissions.

The winners were rewarded by having their creations put together on the walls of the classroom. The students loved it, and so did the other teachers. My mentor teacher said she will continue with this lesson as long as she teaches the class.

As I transitioned into graduate school, I wanted to explore other ways to make my graphic design skills more marketable. My department had a monthly newsletter that was distributed to all first-year students, and I volunteered to take that on. I used my own version of Photoshop to create a newly designed newsletter, and my supervisor was extremely impressed. So much so, that I received funding to purchase Adobe Photoshop and InDesign on my work computer.

My graphic design skills were key to me getting hired at Morehouse College for my summer internship. In addition to assistance with their residence life plans, they needed some assistance with branding. I created several newsletters, a staff composite, and a 20-page staff training booklet.

By this point, I started to realize the value that I could bring to my employers outside of my education background and skills. I decided to create a portfolio to use in my job search towards the end of grad school. I used the portfolio to showcase some of my work to employers, and it helped me land my position as a Residence Hall Director at Georgia State University. This position was the perfect role for me to blend graphic design and education. Several of my workshop presentations and bulletin boards won awards at the campus and regional level.



As I transitioned to my role as Interim Director of Career Services at Kentucky State University, I noticed that the social media presence was not conducive to what students wanted to see. As part of my plans to increase online student engagement, I designed templates for consistent social media content for the department. These were a big hit amongst students, and staff would make comments about excitement for next week’s tips.

This skills has been extremely valuable in my full-time career roles, my personal life, side hustles, and more. More than anywhere else, it has been extremely valuable in terms of running my business.

  • I have been able to save a ton of money by creating my own graphics, logo, and website. I’m also able to create exactly what I want…for the most part. I’m no expert.
  • I’m able to continue making visually appealing presentations and workshops that participants love to see.
  • My experience working in graphic design, learning color psychology, creating layouts has helped me to create resumes that pop, while also getting employers excited through achievement-based content.

The best thing about all of this is that I was able to teach myself. One huge misconception that people have about learning Graphic Design is that they have to learn everything before they use the skill. I probably use about 20% of the features that programs like Illustrator and Photoshop offer. I just use YouTube and Google to find tutorials for specific things that I need while I’m working. I still find myself searching for things like “how to remove something from the background” or “how to fade a picture into another one” You get the idea.

Start with something easy like flyers. You’d be surprised how helpful it is to be able to make flyers on your own, regardless of the work that you do. Now, there are platforms like that remove a lot of the learning curve and are very user friendly. However, you can’t do as much on there as some of the other platforms. Start small, use internet tutorials, and make it fun.


Brett Ellis is a career coach, professional development speaker, and Generation-Z recruiting expert. He runs Brett Ellis Career Marketing Services as a professional career coach and career development speaker. Most of his career has been spent helping college students excel in school and through graduation into fulfilling careers. His clients and reach now span into multiple industries, age ranges, and geographic locations.