I have received a few emails + questions about what to focus on when learning to become a graphic designer. This is such a loaded question, and absolutely not just one answer, but I thought I would share a few tips + resources that might help you as you start this journey! Whether you are a design student, shifting careers, or already have a foot in graphic design, I hope these resources will guide you to the right path.
Stick around until the end of this post to download a free bonus: The self-taught designer action plan! This PDF will tell you where to start, to launch your graphic design path!
To give a bit of background about my journey, I earned a BFA in graphic design. If you have the opportunity/time/funds, I would highly suggest studying graphic design at a university. If you don’t, here are a few resources to help you get your start in the design world.
Where to begin
I firmly believe that a good sense of typography is what sets you apart from other designers, or anyone with a mac + Photoshop. No matter if you are designing for web, print, or branding, an understanding of typography will take you far, my friend. What fonts pair well together, hierarchy of type, and what your typeface is saying about the design are all important factors.
Color plays an integral role in graphic design. It helps evoke a certain mood you are tying to portray. Certain colors also trigger a psychological response to the brain, eg. calming, cheerful, bold, etc. Cultures carry different meanings to color as well, so it is great to keep this in mind when designing. With that said, it is best practices to start out your design in black & white, so that you can focus on composition first and foremost. Then add color to give it depth.
Inspiration vs. Imitation: It is important to note that when breaking into the design world, it is tempting to imitate a design you enjoy, and call it your own. This should go without saying, but don’t do it! Just say no! Sometimes this happens subconsciously to designers, as we are surrounded by design inspiration. But do your best to come up with your own designs. This is not only the ethical way, but also will produce something that is unique for your client and best fits their needs.
Start with sketching. To prevent imitating other designers, I always start with a sketchbook. I am not the best at sketching, but I don’t let the loose sketches get in the way. You can always refine the sketch later. Sketching works great for all aspects of design: wireframing a website, logo sketches, postcard layouts, etc. This will help solidify your design prior to starting on the computer, as well as let you come up with a unique creative concept first.
Less is more. This is a tough lesson to learn when first starting out in design. Your instinct might be to show off all of the new design skills you picked up, but sometimes this adds an unnecessary layer of distractions to your layout. I am drawn toward minimalist + refined design style, however this can be hard to pass off to the client. They might encourage you to add more “flare” or to “jazz it up”, but really this can do them a disservice. This quote by Sidecar sums it up nicely, “A veteran designer will look to remove distractions rather than add more."
Share-worthy Design: If you are fairly new to design and aren’t in a graphic design program, I would recommend starting with the foundations. In my Share-worthy design course, I teach the fundamentals of design + creating your personal blog post style guide. We go through lessons such as typography (the heart of every aspect of design), color, illustration, pattern design, photography, and lastly, pulling it all together in a composition. Adobe Illustrator is every brand designer's favorite tool, so this software will be our home, and you will feel confident learning the ins and outs of it! We even have monthly Q&A's, to provide feedback on your progress :)
Lynda.com: Lynda is a great resource for understanding the design programs. Lynda.com goes through an in depth overview of the Adobe programs, among every other software out there! All of the videos are very professional, which I appreciate. I would invest in a membership here for a bit, so that you have all of your questions answered, without searching endlessly on google to find out how to use a specific tool in Adobe.
- Creative Inc.: find it here
- Blog Inc.: find it here
- Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design's Golden Age: find it here
- Thinking with Type: find it here
- Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines: find it here
Elle & Company: Lauren shares great resources for blogging, design and business! She doesn’t hold back, and really shares what has helped her through her successful business.
Breanna Rose: Breanna is the designer behind Rowan Made. She blogs about her design process, freelance business advice, and everything in between.
For Print Only: FPO is a great print design inspiration blog. If you are new to design, this would be a great blog to follow! It would help you gain a better understanding of what works in design. It also showcases a lot of print design that uses interesting printing techniques!
There are so many other blogs to mention... but this is a good start!
Site Inspire: Web design inspiration.
Dribbble: A platform where designers can showcase their work-in-progress designs, and receive feedback from design friends! Great for logos + web/interactive design inspiration.
Behance: Great resource for design inspiration. I find a lot of editorial design inspiration here.
Pinterest: This is the most obvious inspiration site! Here are a few design pinners I follow, who pin quality designs: Veda House, Jenna McBride, Stephanie Schlim, Jill De Haan, and you can follow my pinterest here!
Podcasts / Inspirational Talks
Connecting with other creatives:
Getting involved in a graphic design organization, or with fellow graphic designers, is a great way to grow in your
skill-set + confidence, as well as make friends along the way! There are so many ways to get connected, so I will just list a few that have helped me.
Blogs: I would suggest following other people's blogs, and commenting on them if you have any questions or thoughts about what they are posting. Don't just comment to comment, but if you are trying to build community, this might be a starting place! You don’t have to have a blog, but of course, as a blogger, I would recommend it! I have made so many new online friends that I wouldn’t have had connected with otherwise.
Social Media: Twitter + Pinterest are great for this too, especially if you don’t have time, or don’t want to blog! Twitter chats have been a great resource to meet others, as well as learn a bit about them.
Face to face: You could also join your local AIGA chapter and go to some events to meet others. Conferences are great as well, though the cost adds up!
Take your time
Most importantly, I would suggest you take your time to really hone in on your design skills + aesthetic. A designer recently reached out to me, and she is making the transition to opening her own studio soon! She spent a year and a half sketching, and working on her hand lettering + design, prior to making this leap. I thought this notion was brilliant, and showed not only humility but a quality + patient approach to her upcoming design studio.
I know that if you are in design school, freelancing on the side of a day job, or thinking about transitioning to graphic design, it is tough! You are inundated with so much quality design inspiration online, and you crave to create designs at this level. I have been there! It may be challenging, but if you stick with it and are patient + persistent at this dream, you can get there too! Sorry to say that this is not an overnight skill you will pick up, but I want to encourage you to immerse yourself with these resources above, a design community, and maybe some college design classes if you can swing it, and you will be there in no time!