Graphic Design For Beginners

It is never too late or too early to start learning about graphic design. Design is about solving problems.

To answer the most common question: There is only one way to truly improve your design. Make work. Lots of it. Just keep practicing.

Find stuff you like, redesign existing things, make something from scratch. Get your inspiration from all over the world, and the internet. Explore other portfolios, designs you like, designs you don’t like, and try to understand why things were designed the way they were.

Your taste is absolutely necessary in graphic design. Design isn’t about punching in at a 9–5 job and sitting down on the computer and designing. You must find design in every part of your life. Explore other creative outputs like photography, drawing, printmaking, etc.

If you want to pursue graphic design as a career, it helps immensely if you get a degree. From /u/muskawo: School puts you in an environment where everything you do is questioned, many times by people more experienced than you. It teaches you what design is like in the real world. It helps you network. It teaches you to work in teams and to deadlines. It will crush your soul at times but that is part if the journey to becoming a great artist.

Most people who become designers were the type who were the best at art and design classes at their highschool. They get constant praise and are rarely challenged. Being forced into a group of people at least as good as you, if not better, will totally change your perception of design. It will make you competitive, critical and innovative.

Watch some of Mike Monteiro’s talks. You may not agree with him, you may agree with him entirely. Either way, he’ll give you a perspective into the design world you may not know.

Know your tools. The Adobe suite is the most commonly used software package for design work. It is very powerful, and very few people have truly mastered every tool within the software. They can be used for so many things if you gain enough knowledge and experience.

It takes years to master, but only weeks to understand the basics. Watch tutorials if you find an effect you want to replicate. There are many free and/or paid resources available at your disposal.

Photoshop is for manipulating images. While it is a dying tool for web mockups, it can still be very useful if you are strictly working on design.

Illustrator is for vector graphics, meaning you’ll probably use it primarily for logos. However, it can do a number of other things. Some tips:

  • Get familiar with the pen tool, or at least make peace with it. Know how it works, try copying shapes. Illustrator is very useful for page layout as well, albeit one page at a time.
  • Illustrator can be used for wireframing and GUI design.
  • From /u/matbiskit, When sending a logo off into the wild, also remember to outline your strokes. (Object>Path>Outline Stroke). If someone on the other side has stroke scaling off and resizes the logo, it will be altered. Best to dummy-proof it.

InDesign is for print materials. Yes, this ranges from a simple flyer to an entire book. It’s a very powerful program that solves almost any print problem. Check out /r/indesign for tips and tricks. Also, pointed out by /u/matbiskit, InDesign can be used for electronic books and interactive PDF’s as well.

Know the differences between RGB, CMYK, Pantone colors, HEX codes, etc. If you start copying and pasting between programs and realize your colors are messed up, there’s a 99% chance the problem lies within the Document Mode and color setup. Also know the difference between raster and vector. Read this blog post for an idea on how it all works.

Typography is important. At the very minimum, know the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts, along with what kerning, leading, tracking, and line-heights are. Get started by reading this.

Color Theory is important. Play around in Adobe Kuler to understand how complementary colors work together, what analogous means, why different shades of colors look better than others, etc.

If you find yourself wanting to go into web design, there is no better time to start learning HTML and CSS. Head over to /r/web_design for a variety of resources to get going on this.

KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. There is no reason to add every filter and effect you can find to a piece of work. Chances are, it doesn’t need to be there. Some of the best examples of solid graphic design work are the simplest pieces.

Focus on the details, while keeping it simple. If this sounds hypocritical, good. Details do not have to be synonymous with “complicated.” The details are the pixel perfect design changes you make to improve something.

Know who and what you’re designing for. Target that audience, there’s no need to appeal to everyone.

Learn about grids, read some of the books in the list below to truly understand how to make grids and then break them. You must KNOW the rules before you can break them. You can also start with this website.

Learn about Helvetica. You’ll love it, and then you’ll hate it. Find another font you like. Use it, abuse it, then ditch it.

Steal. Great artists steal. Read the book, “Steal Like an Artist.” Half of the points in this post are copied from other graphic designers who helped me learn.

Trying to build your portfolio? Do design challenges. Offer local non-profits free design work. Don’t do spec work, it devalues the industry — but it is okay to work for free in the beginning.

Ask for Criticism. Take it positively, keep an open mind. Be ready to be wrong. It’s the only way you’ll learn. If you’re on a high horse, get down.

Talk about your work. Be able to explain why you made certain design choices, especially when that criticism comes around.

If you have questions, ask them. Places like Reddit are always usually willing to answer your questions, assuming you’re not just asking them to solve your own design problem.

Basic Reading List (Now with links to Amazon!)

Documentaries to Watch

  • Helvetica
  • Objectified
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Eames: The Architect & The Painter

Finally, once you’re good at design, help aspiring designers.

From reddit.com by sah0605

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