With products and services depending largely on good design to appeal to their customers, the demand for designers with excellent design skills is increasing day by the day.
Today’s graphic designers come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some took courses in school while others took it upon themselves to learn design. If you’re one of the latter and need some help in improving your design skills, then read on.
Below is a list of 10 tips as well as resources to help you get a running start on your design journey. Use these tips and resources to work on becoming the great designer you want to be. It takes time, patience, and determination. Once you have acquired the skills, they will stay with you permanently. The idea here is to improve your skills with practice and develop good design aesthetic skills over time.
01. Get a design crash course through interactive tutorials
The dilemma is this: you’re pressed for time and money but you need to learn the basics of design, including terms and main principles fast. If that’s the case, then a hands-on tutorial like the Canva Design School tutorials is exactly what you need.
These tutorials can equip you with the foundation you need by giving you a design principle or lesson to focus on, then asking you to apply or practice that principle immediately. It’s intuitive learning and can be immediately applied to your future design projects.
Of course, it’s best to finish all of the design tutorials, but if you want a crash course, here are some tutorials you can start with and use instantly:
- Your Canva toolkit
This is the place to start. Knowing your Canva toolkit will allow you to work with colors to help build meaningful relations between the design elements and message. It will also teach you how to use text holders and frames to add to your design's impact.
- Keeping it simple
Making a design great involves more than just picking the right font and colors. How you use these elements speaks much about what isn't immediately visible. Learn how to create clarity while working with a limited palette, or how can you send a clearer message with the right font pairing.
- The effect of alignment
The placement of elements in a design is crucial, and you can't just drop your words or images without thinking it through. In this tutorial, you will learn to position these elements by placing them with purpose.
02. Follow design blogs and read design books
Learning is an ongoing process. With an ever-changing industry, it’s easy to get lost or worse, become irrelevant if you don’t keep up. As a self-learner, you’ll need to remain updated with the latest news and trends by following design blogs and reading design books.
Here are some design blogs to spend some time daily reading:
It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh ideas that will inspire you. You can follow some good design blogs.
- Designrfix. If you want to become good at web design, add this website to your bookmark list now.
- DesignTaxi – It is more than just a design blog, covering advertisement topics and social media industry.
- Artwork Abode – It is great blog graphic design, and other marketing collaterals.
- 1stWebdesigner – Keep track of the latest developments in the design industry with this blog.
- FastCo Design – Find some inspiration every day with this sub-blog of FastCompany.
- Canva Learn - Our very own Canva Learn blog has resources for design inspiration, as well as articles and materials for you to further your design education.
Here are a few design books to read:
- Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field by Helen Armstrong. This book can be read by anyone—graphic designers, educators, and professionals.
- 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design by Steven Heller
- Interaction of color: 50th Anniversary Edition by Josef Albers. This books is conceived as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students.
- The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. This is a must read for a designer who wants to get a deep understanding of typography.
- Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Logos by Terry Stone, Noreen Morioka, and Sean Adams. If you want to understand and create beautiful logo designs you have to add this book to your design list.
03. Gather design inspiration and learn the stories behind them
When you're learning how to be a graphic designer, finding inspiration is a task you do on a daily basis—and an interesting one—particularly if you are the curious type. Search for viral ads and watch them carefully while keeping an open mind. Ask yourself why these ads did so well, and how can you learn from them?
Another way to find inspiration and understanding of design is to look at the stories behind some of the most iconic brands of all times. One of the best ways to show how design changes with the times and with a business is through the evolution of logos. Below is a quick look at the logos of some well-known brands and how they’ve transformed through the years.
IBM’s logo history tells a great story. It started as the International Time Recording (ITR) Company in 1888, and in 1891, two businessmen from Dayton Ohio purchased the patent for the newly invented computing scale to create the Computing Scale Company. By 1924, it became the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company and in 1924 was renamed as International Business Machines. It was only in 1947 when the company first used their three-letter typeface logo. Read about their entire logo history here.
The initial logo of Starbucks coffee was a topless mermaid with two tails. As CEO Howard Schultz later explained, “Bare breasted and Rubenesque, [the mermaid] was supposed to be as seductive as the coffee itself.” But when they had to put the bigger logo size on delivery trucks, the logo proved to be a problem. Starbucks solved the problem by restyling the mermaid’s hairdo so it draped over the trouble spots. Read more about it here: How a Topless Mermaid Made the Starbucks Cup an Icon.
The Walmart logo has changed alongside the business since its founding in 1962. According to them, Walmart launched without a true logo. In fact, for the first two years, when the Walmart name appeared in print, the font and style were chosen at the whim of the printer. It was only in 1964 when the company decided to choose a brand logo—Frontier. From there the company would experiment with three more different fonts and change their hyphen to a star before finally replacing it altogether with their now iconic Walmart spark.
Even the leading internet website in the world changed toned their logo down to a simple version. You can read the full story in Adweek.
04. Try to participate in design communities
Sometimes, your work is not going to speak for itself. You might become very good at designing but if you’re looking to leverage your design skills, you need to put yourself out there.
If you are thinking that the designers in the market are already the best, well, it just means that they are ones you have heard of. They are the ones that have built a reputation for themselves by speaking at conferences, writing books, and through self-promotion.
Make it a point to participate in design communities and you will build a reputation for yourself. You'll meet other designers you can connect with, or maybe even work with. Start participating by in an online community of designers today.
Here are a few online design forums to get started with today:
- How Design – This is one of the most popular design sites on the internet. The forum is conveniently broken down into categories and smaller topics.
- Creattica – It is a great website to share your designs and get appreciation from experts.
- Yanko Design – One of the largest Facebook communities for design, they share very interesting timeline content.
05. Get feedback on your work (and don’t be afraid of critique!)
Forums are not only a great way to build a reputation, they’re also a great avenue for sharing your work and receiving feedback.
Deep down a lot of us are afraid of receiving critique of our work. We’ve poured so much passion and effort into an artwork so it would be quite difficult to hear criticism, even constructive ones. But taking and giving critiques are keys to improving any skill—not just design. Remember, there are often more things to learn when we make mistakes than when we get everything right. Ask for honest feedback and you might even learn new techniques, design trends, and new ideas.
You can also visit Inbound.org which has a great feedback tool for designers, allowing viewers to comment directly on your design. You can also visit The Crit Pit, another awesome graphic design feedback forum.
06. Experiment, experiment, experiment
The funny thing about creative designing is you can approach a design from any number of ways but only a few will fit perfectly.
The design is all about the visual look and feel, so the best way to appeal to your audience is to practice more and more with your design. For example, take typography—we can utilize it in many ways to get a great visual design. The way we use fonts and typefaces carry a lot of meaning and they can completely change the message depending on how we use them. Experiment with different types and when in doubt keep it simple.
Another key element of your design is color. Once you are familiar with color psychology, experiment with different colors to create emotional connections with your audience. Practice with different color palettes, play around with highlight, contrast and fade-out effects.
07. Remix or remake your favorite designs
You know how budding inventors often like to take apart things to figure out how they work? Designers can also get great ideas in a similar way. Finding new, interesting, and well-known graphic design artworks then reproducing or even reworking them in new ways can help you dissect the techniques and figure out the design principles and technical skills that went into creating the original one. You can also look into influential art movements from the past and learn from them.
Important Note! Remaking or reproducing other people’s designs is only a personal and private exercise to boost your design skills. Never infringe copyrighted work and never pass off someone else’s hard work as your own.
Once you’ve created more designs, you can even go back to your older designs to find new ways to improve them.
08. Build your portfolio
Start collecting your best designs in one place. These designs can be actual client work, or personal designs that you've made. Place them in a website portfolio or a free blogging site. Once you have a collection of your work, you can show off your best ones. And just like that, you have your design portfolio ready.
09. Listen to podcasts
Podcasts are like radio talk shows, but available any time through your computers or mobile devices. There are many podcasts on just about any topic under the sun, and likely have thousands about design alone. Think of it as an alternative to reading graphic design books and articles. Podcasts are a great way to keep in touch with what's the latest in the industry, and you can listen to them any time.
Here are a few recommended podcasts to listen to:
- The Observatory. This podcast by the Design Observer tackles current events in design, as well as new development and trends. It's hosted by Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut.
- Design Matters with Debbie Millman. This podcast has been around since 2005 and is the longest-running design podcast. Here, Debbie Millman interviews various personalities in the arts and design field, and the archives are a treasure trove of high quality insights from them.
- Creative Pep Talk. Illustrator Andy J. Miller tackles topics that are aimed towards helping listeners in their creative journey and building them up for success.
10. Follow and discover designers and photographers on Instagram
Instagram is a great platform to follow your favorite designers and photographers, and even discover up and coming ones like yourself!
The best part about social media is not just being able to remain updated with their newest work, but also being able to interact with them. Many artists can even give you suggestions and guidance. Do a hashtag search or find a designer you admire, then check who they're following to discover more artists for your inspiration.
Here’s some designers to check out on Instagram:
If you’re just beginning to teach yourself design, this is the best time to build good habits to help you proactively learn design and practice what you learn every day. Repeat the process of learning and practicing. Remember, patience is the key. To test how you are doing, you can offer to do some design work for a business for free and see the response you get. If you get a positive response, you will be confident and start getting paid for your work. Follow these steps religiously and before you realize it, you will be in demand.