Creative Resources for Learning Graphic Design

During my second year of undergrad at University of Georgia (UGA), I wanted to take up graphic design in addition to studying advertising. After looking into available programs, I found out UGA let students double major with certain majors, but unfortunately, graphic design was not one of them. Instead, I decided to create my own design curriculum by signing up for relevant courses and looking for creative materials that would help me learn design.

The following is a compilation of all the helpful resources that were recommended to me by professors, other designers, and articles online. I hope it proves to be useful to newcomers who want to learn graphic design, designers searching for a creative spark, or people who are just curious about the field.

Books

These are the design guides and books that really helped me build a fundamental understanding of graphic design, from shapes, layout, to branding. If you’re strapped for cash, I highly recommend checking out your local library or campus library if you’re a student. Also, consider buying a used version.

Intro to design and visual communication books

Design Basics Index, by Jim Krause
 (Recommended by Prof. Kim Landrum, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications)
This book does a great job of explaining the basics of design in a quick and easily digestible format while covering a lot of ground. Best explained by Amazon, “Jim Krause […] guides you through the understanding and practice of the three elements every successful visual design must have:

Components: Learn how to get the most out of the photos, illustrations, icons, typography, linework, decoration, borders and backgrounds you use within your design.
Composition: Practice combining the components of a design in a visually appealing way by using the principles of placement, grouping, alignment, flow and spacing to create a pleasing, cohesive design.
Concept: Utilize the intangible elements of theme, connotation and style to present and deliver your message in a way that will wow your clients every time.”

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, by Simon Garfield
Most of the time a graphic design won’t just be an image. More than likely it will be accompanied by text, and what font that text is in is just as important as the layout or color of the design. This book will help you understand that importance, as it covers the history of fonts and print media and the power they came to gain. Yes, people might look at you strangely if you read it in public, but it’ll make you more thoughtful about your font choices.
Available at UGA Libraries

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud
(Recommended by Prof. Alex Murawski, Lamar Dodd School of Art)
When Prof. Murawski assigned this book to our graphic design course I thought, “How in the world does this relate to graphic design?” A lot, it turns out. Both graphic design and comics are forms of visual communication (in hindsight, I should have connected the two much earlier in class), so a lot of the principles for designing effective comics can be applied towards design.
Available at UGA Libraries

Books on design techniques and principles

Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, by Ellen Lupton
(Recommended by the owner of the Cherry Blossom Creative Agency)
Graphic design is essentially about coming up with a visual solution to a problem. However, it’s not enough to simply doodle a few designs and call it a day. Designers need to be capable problem solvers, and this book covers a variety of ways to approach design challenges. If you want to be a designer, the more ways you can tackle a problem, the less time you’ll be slamming your head against the wall. Trust me.

Grid Systems in Graphic Design, by Josef Müller-Brockmann
When it comes to creating a layout for print media (flyers, infographics, magazines, etc.), grids will make your life much easier. This book will teach you about the different grid layouts you can use, as well how to create balance across a composition.
Available at UGA Libraries

The Vignelli Canon, by Massimo Vignelli
Now Vignelli is essentially the Biggie Smalls, Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Beyonce, or Queen of the graphic design world, because his works changed the game and shaped the industry. His book is a collection of his defining design principles and methods. By no means do you have to design like him, but if you were an aspiring singer, wouldn’t you take a few pointers from a superstar?

Books on branding and creative advertising

One of the routes you can pursue with graphic design is going into creative advertising, which is what I wanted to do. If that’s the case, it’d be good to understand the advertising industry, branding, and logo design, and the books below really helped me with that.

Creative Advertising: Ideas and Techniques from the World’s Best Campaigns, by Mario Pricken
Again, I cannot stress the importance of being able to problem solve, because the creative ad industry is fast-paced and you’ll be under constant pressure to deliver good ideas, making the contents of this book invaluable.
Available at UGA Libraries

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads, by Luke Sullivan
(Recommended by Dr. Jennifer Barnhart, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications)
This is the book to read if you really want to understand the creative advertising industry. Sullivan’s book will teach you how to create ads in print, television, radio and digital media, and inspire you with his valuable insight and hilarious experiences from the industry. I learned so much from it and enjoyed every single page.

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, 2nd Edition, by David Airey
This guide serves as a good introduction to creating brand identities, touching everything from logo design, color schemes, fonts, to layouts. My only qualm with it is that it’s pretty light on instructions, but it does well enough to build your understanding.

Books to expand your creative thinking

The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman
This book is focused on getting the reader to understand the principles of product design, and the psychology of how we interact with objects. It’s more applicable to UX design, but it will definitely make you more thoughtful about your design decisions.
Available at UGA Libraries

Made to Stick, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Heath brothers focus on what makes an idea “sticky” or memorable, and they run through a number of real-life examples that embody ideal sticky-ness, such as urban legends and conspiracy theories. As the book itself says, “Made to Stick shows us how we can apply these rules to making our own message stick,” making it a very relevant read to creatives.
Available at UGA Libraries

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
 Okay, I’m going to leave Amazon to explain this one.

“[…] Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.”

Yes, this book is dense, however, it provides valuable insight on how we think and how our thinking is affected by the conditions around us. The more you know about this, the more strategic and powerful your creativity can be.
Available at UGA Libraries

Documentaries

imdb.com

Abstract: The Art of Design,
“Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.” — Netflix
Available on Netflix

imdb.com

Chef’s Table (Episode 6, Magnus Nilsson) (It’s relevant, I promise!)
“In this Emmy-nominated docuseries, find out what’s inside the kitchens and minds of the international culinary stars who are redefining gourmet food.” -Netflix
Available on Netflix

imdb.com

Design is One
“Italian-born Massimo and Lella Vignelli are among the world’s most influential designers. Throughout their long career, their motto has been, ‘If you can’t find it, design it’ The work covers such a broad spectrum that one could say the Vignellis are known by everybody, even those who don’t know their names. From graphics to interiors to products and corporate identities, the film brings us into the work and everyday moments of the Vignellis’ world, capturing their intelligence and creativity, as well as their humanity, warmth, and humor.” -Hollywood.com

imdb.com

Helvetica
 A film about typography, graphic design and visual culture. Looking at the proliferation of one typeface, it explores the way type affects our lives and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.” -Cinedgm

imdb.com

Jiro Dream of Sushi (Again, it’s relevant!)
“JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a quiet yet enthralling documentary that chronicles the life of Jiro Ono, the most famous sushi chef in Tokyo. For most of his 85 years, Jiro has been perfecting the art of making sushi. He works from sunrise to well beyond sunset to taste every piece of fish; meticulously train his employees; and carefully mold and finesse the impeccable presentation of each sushi creation.” -eOneFilms

Programs

Lynda.com (Paid, but Free for Public Library Members and UGA Students)
Lynda.com is a reputable online library of courses for various skills, and they offer design and creative courses of varying levels, with industry leaders teaching them in user-friendly videos.

If you are college or university student

During my sophomore year of UGA, I learned the school provides a free subscription to Lynda.com for all students, faculty, and staff, so I used it to learn the basics of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you attend UGA, learn more here: UGA Lynda.com. If you attend another university or institution, check with your school officials to see if it offers a free subscription to Lynda.com.

If you are not college or university student

Full access to Lynda.com is offered throughout all U.S. local libraries. If you are already a member of your local library, check out the video below to see how to access the service:

If you don’t have a library card, I highly suggest you visit your local library ASAP and sign up for a membership. It’s completely free, and not only will get access to Lynda, you can also check out books, DVDs, audio books, eBooks, stream videos, and access language learning services! AHHH LIBRARIES ARE AMAZING!!! Also, if you are a working professional, check with your company to see if it offers access to its employees.

Youtube (Free)
When I was still getting the hang of Adobe’s creative programs and would get stuck on an issue, I would usually resort to searching Youtube for a tutorial. It was a great way to learn shortcuts, features or even just refreshing my memory. I don’t recommend it as a stand-in for actual graphic design courses, but if you ever need an explanation or walkthrough, Youtube is your best friend.

Blog

vanschneider.com

Vanschneider.com/blog
The guy who runs this blog (Tobias Van Schneider) is also the guy who helped develop Spotify’s current visual identity of smooth gradients, duotones, and sharp layouts. In other words, he is AMAZING so go read his blog because it’s packed with great creative advice.

Social Media

These are spaces where you can find amazing designers showcasing their work. Create an account at each of these websites and follow designers you admire, save pieces you think are cool, and explore all the ways graphic design can be used. By filling your digital world with their work, you’ll be inspired to make your own designs.

Behance

Behance’s Discover Page
Dribbble’s Popular Images Page

Recommended Instagram designers and studios to follow:
 abstractsunday
 audreyelise
 chloedonile
 imcindynguyen
 liamashurst
 madebystudiojq
 mariahclark_design
 musketon
 ryanbowles
 thedesigntip
 _tommykeough_
 xplrstudios

Advice for Connecting with Other Designers

If you decide to pursue graphic design, get in touch with other designers in your area and online, and learn what you can from them. Whether it’s finding out which designers they get inspiration from or asking them for feedback on your work, every bit of insight is valuable, and you also get the benefit of building your connections.

As I said before, Behance, Dribbble, and Instagram are great places to connect with designers. If there’s a designer that you admire, consider messaging them for some insight. Most of the time, they’ll be glad to share what they know.

In terms of making connections in person, search on Google to see if there is a local design or creative club/organization at your school or in your community. If you’re a student and your school has a communications (advertising, public relations, or marketing) or art department, go visit their facilities and ask the front staff or a professor if they know of a student design club. Also, walk around the building and look for event flyers. If you’re not a student, the following are great websites to check out the design scene in your city or one nearby:

Eventbrite
 
Facebook Events
 MeetUp

Once you find an organization, get in touch with them and attend their next event. If there aren’t any around, then what are you waiting for? Host your own design meet up!

Lastly, whether you connect with someone online or in person, always be courteous and thank them for the time and insight they give you. Even if it seems minuscule, every tidbit will contribute to your progression as a designer.

Software

If you’re unfamiliar with what programs you’ll need to design, the following is an overview of what you’ll need.

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign are the fundamental programs that many designers use and to get all three, you need to subscribe to one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud plan, which is a year-long subscription that is $239.88 for students and $599.88 if you are not a student. You can pay with a monthly payment or by paying it all in full. You can also subscribe to a monthly plan, which cost $74.99, but it’s more expensive in the long run.

If you are a college or university student

There are two routes you can pursue when looking access Adobe’s creative programs:

1. If you want to avoid subscribing to a year-long plan, look to see if your university or college has a computer or media lab that provides access to Adobe Creative Cloud. They can usually be found in student centers or the library and while you’re limited to only accessing the programs from the lab, it’ll be easier on your wallet. This is the route I went when I first started learning how to design.

UGA students, the Digital Media Lab at the Miller Learning Center offers access to Adobe Creative Cloud. There are also Macs that offer the same access further down the hall and they are accessible 24/7.

2. Adobe offers a Student All Apps Plan, which offers access to their entire collection of apps, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, at a reduced cost of $19.99 per month ($239.88 a year). To be eligible, you must have a college/university email.

If you are not a college or university student

In order to access all three, you have to purchase Adobe’s All Apps plan, which is an annual plan, paid monthly, for $49.99 per month ($599.88 a year). It’s a pricey commitment if you aren’t earning much, but you access to all the following:

  • The entire collection of 20+ creative desktop and mobile apps including Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC, and Adobe XD CC
  • Includes 100GB of cloud storage, your own portfolio website, premium fonts, and social media tools
  • Up to 10TB of cloud storage available (Call for details)
  • Source: Adobe.com

Alternatively, Adobe does have a Single App plan where you can subscribe to either Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign for $19.99 per month ($239.88 a year), which works well if you’re just wanting to work on small or personal projects. However, large-scale projects will usually call for access to at least two of the three programs I mentioned.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT CANCELING:

adobe.com