Are you wondering how you can start learning graphic design? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Maybe you’ve been wanting to make a career change to a more creative profession or need to add another skill to your CV—regardless of the reason, the importance is to take the first step.
As with any new discipline, there are a lot of new things to learn, but getting acquainted with the basics is the first step on your journey. Now that you know graphic design is the career you want to pursue or skill you wish to gain in your current role, you’ll need some guidance on the steps to take in order to achieve your goal.
Read on to learn more about the foundation of design as you begin your design journey, along with inspirational content to discover, from books to blogs and events to attend.
By learning design history, its movements and designers, you’ll become more informed and appreciate not only the work of past designers but also take inspiration from current design practices. This will allow you to diversify your taste and learn about what makes good design. As you navigate the different design disciplines, start to pick areas that you’re drawn to and learn more about that subject to discover where your passions lie and areas you want to explore further.
As a designer, you will dedicate your life to learning new techniques and processes. Having knowledge of design history will enrich your skills as a designer as you learn more about the profession and past design movements. Knowledge of past movements and designers will enrich your skills, inform your approach to new projects and serve as inspiration for the work that you will create.
There are many places where you can get started with your design history knowledge, from podcasts to documentaries and design books. Want to get started building your own design library? We’ve curated this list of both classics and newer releases that can be a great starting point of important books to start reading. To get you started, be sure to add these five to your list:
For more book suggestions, check out Shillington’s Book Club recommendations where Shillington teachers share their favorite books from their own personal libraries. And for some more inspiration, explore Design History 101 in the Throwback Thursday series on our blog for brief lessons on design legends like Aaron Douglas, Louise Fili, Alan Kitching, Emory Douglas and many more.
Graphic design is the effective visual communication of an idea or concept. Design is all around us—from food packaging and logos to billboard posters—design is a daily part of our lives, enticing us to buy a product or helping with an everyday task like using an app on your phone.
Every designer knows the 5 key principles of design which are alignment, repetition, contrast, hierarchy and balance. These principles help to create a cohesive design, stability, organization, consistency, impact and a clear message. By following these fundamental principles, designers can solve visual and conceptual problems as a part of the design process, from the research to the idea generation and final outcome that answers the client brief.
In order for a piece of design to be successful, it needs to adhere to these fundamental design principles and how each one works together. Alignment helps to create a more cohesive and orderly design. And through repetition, the design is strengthened by tying the elements together through association, creating a familiar and consistent visual style.
On the other hand, contrast is a method to create emphasis within a design for impact, which can be seen in color choices, scale, or making specific text bold thereby creating a central focal point. To create an organization in your design, hierarchy helps to create a system where each element is organized according to its level of importance.
And, to achieve balance, the design needs to have structure through either symmetry or tension. Next time you’re looking at a design online or out on the street, try an exercise and see if you can identify these principles.
Typography relates to the way copy is formatted and arranged within a layout and plays a pivotal role in graphic design. Type includes typefaces, point sizes, line-spacing, letter-spacing and kerning. As you navigate your way through design, you’ll learn about the differences between a sans serif and a serif, deepen your knowledge of typefaces and learn which fonts pair well with one another.
Typography gives character to a brand and is crucial to all communications, from magazine copy to advertisements and logos. By understanding typography, you’ll be able to justify typographic choices in your own work and how it can elevate the design. Apart from being central to the communication of ideas, type gives the design a specific mood through the tone of voice.
Type can be created by hand or digitally, but it’s also worth noting the different specializations within typography. Let’s review lettering, typeface design and typesetting in detail to learn more about each one:
If you’re finding yourself curious about typography and possibly experimenting with letterforms, then why not explore some Instagram accounts to further familiarize yourself with some awesome creatives. We’ve compiled this list of Instagram accounts for type lovers and you should give these accounts a follow.
Color affects the mood and personality of a design. The best way to learn about color combinations is to look at the work of other designers and studios. You can then begin to create your own inspiration boards with color palettes that invoke different moods. You can also explore Adobe’s Color CC to further experiment with various color combinations. Palettes can be created from photos, prints, patterns or any other graphics that you find.
Color is such an important part of design because it can be used to affect the mood of design and the brand, being used as a tool to persuade and entice. Designers learn about the meaning of each color, color combinations and how the palettes can be used for emotive impact. When selecting colors for a design, it’s important to have a solid foundation of color and the science behind it. By understanding color theory, the designer can make the proper choice in the color selections to ensure the brand stands out and is relevant to the target audience.
The book Color Now: Color Combinations for Commercial Design Color is an excellent resource to help guide you in making thoughtful decisions about color use, color combinations and examples of successful projects for inspiration. By looking closely into the psychology of color, associations and its application, this book is your go-to manual for research and inspiration. Perhaps after reading this book, you’ll look at ads or apps more critically, and then learn to apply the concepts within your own work, ensuring the color palettes you select evoke an emotion that is aligned with the brand and audience.
As you start learning more about graphic design, it’s also important to become acquainted with the terminology so that you can speak the same language as other designers. We’ve put together a list of 120 design terms to help you understand the meaning behind each one.
A few common terms you may have heard of include the golden ratio, rule of thirds, hierarchy, kerning, leading, tracking and x-height. By becoming fluent with the common design terms, you’ll be able to understand the “design speak” when meeting with other designers as well as communicating with your team.
As a designer, you’ll need to learn the basics of the Adobe Creative Cloud (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop) and Sketch to learn how to work with them together to create everything from a logo to a poster or a book. By mastering the essential design programs, you’ll be able to tackle client briefs with ease. The top four you need to start with include:
Looking through design blogs, design books, creative magazines and social media (Instagram, Pinterest, Behance) is a good starting point to discover what type of aesthetic you gravitate towards. By learning from the work of other designers, you start to learn about different styles and current trends. Over time you’ll begin to develop your own personal style based on your interests.
As a creative, it’s good to know what the latest trends are and what other designers are creating. By following blogs, you can get your dose of inspiration and maybe get a few new ideas in the process. We’ve put together this amazing resource of 50 blogs on art and design that you can explore so that you can stay up to date on what’s going on in the creative space, as well as push your creative projects forward. Here are a few to get you started:
To learn more about studios and other designers, take a look at the I Love These Guys selections from Shillington students and staff from around the world to find out about the creatives who inspire them.
As any creative knows, Instagram is full of visual delight from illustration to lettering, photography and design. As the third most popular social media platform, it’s the perfect go-to for your daily inspiration and to connect with other creatives. To help you get started, take a look at our curated list of 100 Instagram accounts to follow to discover your new favorite creative.
Our next place to browse for inspiration, research and creating mood boards is on Pinterest. It’s the perfect platform to discover new boards and create themed boards that you can reference later or share with a friend. To save you time, we’ve put together our top 100 Pinterest accounts for graphic design inspiration that you can start following now and begin creating your own boards today.
And lastly, Behance is our next source for inspiration where you can discover top designers, typographers, digital artists and studios. Explore this list of 60 Designers on Behance that we think you should know about and bookmark for future reference.
Social media platforms like Dribbble, Behance and Instagram are great resources for not only discovering the work of other creatives but an opportunity to connect with other designers from around the world that you admire. By regularly publishing your work on these channels, you’ll be sure to get your work noticed by other designers. These platforms allow you to share your work and receive feedback for an ongoing exchange which can help you grow as a designer and possibly land your next job.
You never know what can develop from a new connection and find an unexpected opportunity. Through social media, you can exchange in conversations with other designers, share your latest work and ask for feedback from someone you admire. Stay engaged, join groups and follow companies that you respect. Want some tips on mastering your social media strategy and deciding which channels you should be sharing your work on? Then read this list of tips for Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook and portfolio websites.
Once you start producing your own work, updating your online presence should be an ongoing part of your overall strategy to ensure you gain visibility and get your latest projects noticed by other designers, recruiters and agencies. This is the first step to getting your work seen! Though social networks like the ones mentioned above are good places to share your designs, they’re not the only places where you should be showcasing your talents. Reach out to other sites such as blogs and online magazines to gain visibility with a broader audience.
There are a lot of websites out there and you may be wondering what are the best places to submit to? To help you out, we’ve put together a list of 40 design blogs you can familiarize yourself with and submit your work to. Here’s a preview of five favorites you can start with:
Getting your design work featured in magazines and blogs is an incredible way to advance, but equally, submitting to awards can help with gaining international exposure. A few popular design awards you can look into are The Design Kids Awards, Indigo Awards, AGDA, Creative Design Awards, Adobe Design Achievement Awards, Young Guns and the D&AD New Blood Awards.
By attending design events (now virtually!), joining global and local design groups and professional organizations, you can network with other creatives to build your connections in the industry. By connecting with and learning from fellow designers, you can create long-lasting friendships and potentially find a mentor (which is great even if you’re not a beginner) who can help you in your design career.
As a creative, especially when you’re a beginner first getting started, you’ll need to continue learning as much as you can and network. But of course, the learning never ends, especially when you want to ensure your long term success. As technology is constantly evolving, you too need to learn about the software, new techniques and ways to be a more efficient designer. Taking a design course is an important step in gaining practical knowledge and building a portfolio, but the learning doesn’t end beyond school. As a designer, you need to stay curious and continue self-training.
A few popular creative events you can bookmark to stay in the loop about future happenings are:
For local design events in your home city, check out the Design Event listing on the Shillington blog.
As you’re learning more about graphic design, start thinking about the type of creative work you’re interested in. The design industry is constantly evolving and an exciting career to pursue. As a designer, no day is ever the same and you will be tackling a wide variety of projects at a fast pace. A job as a graphic designer is in high demand with some impressive starting salaries and a promising trajectory.
While you’re in the exploratory stage and learning more about design, start thinking about the type of work you want to specialize in, such as UX/UI Designer, Visual Designer, Digital Designer, Creative Director, 3D Designer, VR Designer, Muralist, Product Designer, Motion Designer, Animator and so on.
There’s nothing better than working in a field that you love and are passionate about. It’s exciting to have so many different career options to choose from as a creative once you’ve acquired the training. If you start off as a junior designer, your career can progress to an art director and after a few years in the industry, you may choose to go freelance or start your own studio. If you didn’t start off in a creative industry, it’s not too late to change paths.
Want to hear from other designers who took the plunge and changed careers? Find out about their stories and discover how they were able to change from working in various professions like marketing to accounting and become a full-time designer.
Learning graphic design offers many opportunities in the type of work that you can be doing. To help you decipher the world of design and the different areas you can take in your professional career, we broke it down into several parts:
Passion projects are a wonderful way to develop a new skill that is outside of your comfort zone or start a self-initiated project that is connected to what you’re passionate about. The work that you develop can turn into an interesting series and a future addition to your portfolio.
If you’re in need of some creative inspiration and have the time to start something new, take a look at these six approaches to start a new project, either solo or to collaborate with another creative. Apart from learning new skills or collaborating with another creative, you can start with self-initiated timed experiments, creative or design challenges.
As with any project that you initiate on your own, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, allow yourself to experiment freely and make this a time for play. To get those ideas flowing, you can browse other designer portfolios, explore creative blogs and scroll through Pinterest or Instagram. For some ideas on creative projects, check out this list that Format put together for seven design projects to get those creative juices flowing regardless of your background.
The graphic design track can be perfect for you if you have a creative eye and an endless curiosity about the world around you. By committing yourself to a practice of learning and applying the skills you learn daily, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a graphic designer. You may even want to deepen your knowledge and gain a certificate in graphic design so that you can advance your skills even further and set yourself apart from the competition.
Are you ready to take the leap and launch a fulfilling career that excites you? Find out about the upcoming full-time, part-time and online graphic design courses at Shillington. You’ll learn the skills needed to become a graphic designer and develop a polished portfolio, ready to start a new career in just nine months or less.
Header artwork design by #ShilloNY teacher Emily Comfort.