In recent years, the field of graphic design has grown in popularity, bringing many new faces and ideas into the industry. If you are one of these new designers, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of options available to you as well as the cost that can incur along with your new passion. This guide will provide you with a series of tips that will help you get started while being mindful to provide you with low-cost solutions along the way so that you can contribute your unique perspective to the world.
First, graphic design is the process of conveying meaning and information through text, graphics, color, and other visual elements. This is important to understand because graphic design incorporates elements of both art and science. While there are general design principles that form the foundation of our work, there are many ways those principles can be applied. That means that you have great flexibility to incorporate your personal style into each of your designs.
Let’s get started!
Tip #1: Observe the World
One of the best practices to adopt as a new designer is to observe the world around you. Graphic design principles are everywhere—from the news articles you read to the grid layout of icons on your smartphone to your car’s dashboard or temperature control panel. You can learn a lot by simply observing how design affects your daily life.
Start by identifying aspects of a design that stick out or are confusing. Since the purpose of design is to convey meaning and information; when a design element doesn’t adequately accomplish its purpose, it stands out. After finding a glaring example, stop and ask yourself why it stands out. If you were the designer, how would you change the element to better serve its intended purpose? Pay attention to typography, colors, groupings, proximity, and spacing.
Next, look for aspects of designs that are almost unnoticeable. Design done right makes decisions effortless for users. If you have a great experience with a product or find yourself compelled by a graphical display, stop and ask yourself how design plays a role in your experience. What is contributing to your successful experience? What lessons from this design can you incorporate into your own designs?
It can be helpful to take photos of notable designs—both those that work well and those that don’t. You can use an app like Pinterest to catalog your photos and take notes on each photo. In this way, you can learn from other designers’ mistakes and successes.
Tip #2: Get Started
There’s no better way to learn about graphic design than to simply get started. Whether your tool of choice is the Adobe Creative Suite, budget-friendly alternatives like Inkscape, open-source apps such as GIMP, or pencil and paper, you can practice making your own designs and experiment with different design elements.
Design for Others
If you know someone that needs graphic design work, consider donating your services to them. Working for others is a great way to develop your ability to work within constraints since most real-world projects have budgetary, time, or other limitations. If no one you know needs your services, you can always redesign something that has already been created. Try to impose some meaningful constraints (time, color palette, size, etc.) on your projects to simulate working for a real client.
Design for Yourself
Another great option is to design without constraints. This type of project is the perfect place to let your creativity shine. Don’t be afraid to experiment, let your imagination run free, and get feedback from a trusted source or two. Have fun! Play around!
Tip #3: Find a Mentor and Community
Getting feedback from others is a vital part of the design process. Each of your design projects should incorporate a “design-feedback-redesign” cycle so that you can grow as a designer. In order to do so, it is important that you find a community of peers and a mentor or two.
A Community of Peers
A community of peers can provide valuable feedback on your design projects. It can often be helpful to find a group of 4–5 individuals of approximately the same skill level that you can meet with regularly to provide and receive constructive criticism. Remember, you can learn as much, if not more, from providing feedback as you can from receiving it.
Finding a Mentor
A mentor can be an invaluable resource in anyone’s life but particularly for graphic designers. Typically, a mentor is someone who is more established in the career field and guides or invests his or her wisdom into the mentee. This should be someone that you trust enough to allow them to speak truth into your life when needed. Finding someone willing to be your mentor can often be difficult; however, A professor or someone you know who is currently practicing in the graphic design field as a professional often makes excellent choices for mentors.
Tip #4: Expand Your Learning
There are many free or inexpensive resources available to help you develop the skills you will need to be successful as a graphic designer. These resources include books, YouTube videos, and adult education classes in your community or online.
There are many great books about graphic design. Be sure to check your local library for these books if you have a tight budget.
- “The Non-Designer’s Design Book,” by Robin Williams – Her book introduces readers to some of the fundamental principles of graphic design through the acronym of C.R.A.P—Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.
- “Graphic Design for Everyone: Understand the Building Blocks so You Can Do It Yourself,” by Cath Caldwel – Her book educates readers about the fundamentals of graphic design and what a person can do to get started in the field.
- “Don’t Make Me Think Revisited,” by Steve Krug – Krug explores the ways design can be used to make something usable or unusable.
Many graphic designers provide instructional videos for free on YouTube or other video sharing platforms. Whether you are looking to develop specific skills related to your favorite design tool or simply to learn about the fundamentals of graphic design, you typically find multiple videos about the topic on YouTube. For example, a simple search for, “gestalt principles,” yields hundreds of promising results.
Adult Education Classes
Last but not least, graphic design classes through your community’s adult education program or local community college are excellent resources. These classes are often very affordable and can help you gain access to popular design tools and apps. What’s more, the students in these classes make for a built-in community of peers and you may even be able to convince your instructor to become a mentor.
From print media to website design, there are many graphic design genres. A good way to explore each subfield and learn about the unique aspects of design for each specialty is by reading blogs written by experts in those areas. For example, those interested in website design might be interested in a blog about the Seven Top Web Design Trends of 2021. Other more generalized blogs such as this one about The Importance of a Style Guide can help you gain a better understanding of the industry’s best practices.
In summary, there are many resources available to those who are interested in becoming graphic designers—many of which are free or relatively inexpensive. My advice to you would be to observe the world around you, learn the fundamentals of design, and practice. Also, remember that feedback is important and helps us to better understand and communicate with our audiences. If you need any help with your branding, print, or website design projects, one of our experienced designers would be glad to discuss it with you. Contact us today!