Whether you’re just starting out in the design world or it’s been a while and your skills feel a little rusty, there are certain projects you can tackle that will help you wrap your head around the basics of design—and level up your design skills in the process. But what, exactly, are these projects? And why are they so essential for improving your design skills? We talked to Al Morales, Lead Graphic Designer for Los Angeles-based agency matrixx, to find out.
There are few skills more marketable—not to mention creatively fulfilling—than design. But unless you’ve had your hat in the graphic design game for a while (or you’re one of those rare unicorns who was born with impeccable design skills), improving your design skills can feel like an uphill battle.
But luckily, levelling up your design skills doesn’t have to involve a ton of trial and error (or time wasted in the process). There are specific projects you can work on that will help you grasp basic and complex design principles in a tangible way—and make you a better designer in the process. “Working on new projects tends to present new obstacles,” says Morales. “[These projects] are where, as a designer, you need to quickly learn, adapt and improve.”
But what, exactly, are those projects? Why are they so effective? And how can you use them to level up your design skills and take your design career/passion to the next level?
One of the best projects you can work on when you’re trying to improve your design skills is creating a logo.
There are so many different elements incorporated into a logo. You have to think of typography, scale, color, shape and form, graphics, whitespace… the list goes on. But, more importantly, you need to think about how all of those different elements are going to come together to create one cohesive design.
Because logos incorporate so many different design elements—and because logo design forces you to figure out how to seamlessly blend all those elements together in your final design—it’s the perfect project to tackle if you want to improve your design skills.
Working on a logo design project can also help you experiment with different design aesthetics; designing a logo for a children’s clothing boutique is going to have a very different design than a logo for a financial services company or a Crossfit gym. When you work on a logo project, you have to adjust your own personal aesthetic to match the business behind the logo you’re creating. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and experimenting with new or unfamiliar aesthetics is a fast track to improving your design skills and becoming a better designer.
“Logos can be fun projects,” says Morales. “They’re a great way to test both your ability to design and your typography [and other design] skills.”
When you’re working on a logo design project in Canva, you have two options—designing the logo from scratch or working off an existing template. And depending on where you are in learning the ropes of design, both have their benefits.
If you’re brand new to design, we suggest starting off your logo design project by browsing the template selection on Canva (you can find Canva’s logo template selection by visiting the Marketplace tab and selecting Logos under the Browse Templates sidebar on the left side of the page). Looking through the existing templates will give you a sense of what works, how different elements work together in a logo, and how you can bring your logo design idea to life.
Once you’ve taken a peek through the existing logo templates, choose one that has a similar look and feel to your design concept and start playing with the different elements. You can change the color palette, add graphics, experiment with different fonts—the sky’s the limit.
After you’ve spent some time manipulating existing templates and have a better feel for how to design a logo, it’s time to tackle the real project—designing a logo from scratch. To start designing your logo from the ground up, select the Create a Design button on your homepage followed by the Logo icon. Once you’re there, you have a blank canvas to start your logo design.
You can also check out this design course about building your own logo.
Social media graphics
Maybe you aspire to be a professional designer. Maybe you want just enough design chops to get away with managing the design for your business. Or maybe you just want to pursue it as a hobby. But whatever the case may be, if you want to be involved in the design world at all today, there’s one project you need to master—and that’s social media graphics.
For businesses, social media is a non-negotiable; it’s the best way to connect with their audience, increase brand recognition, and get their message out to the world. But the only way they can do that is if they break through the clutter and make an impact. And the way they make an impact?
You guessed it. Social media graphics.
Not only is designing social media graphics an incredibly marketable skill in 2018 (and beyond), but it also just so happens to be a great project to improve your design skills. “Social media graphics are a great way to test someone’s use of space,” says Morales.
To give you an idea of the different design skills needed to create impactful social media graphics that work, Morales used promoted images on Facebook and Instagram as an example. “[Facebook and Instagram] enforce a 20% rule, [meaning] only 20% of the entire image can contain text. This is where you learn to be a bit creative with your material. Is the post word-heavy? How will you fit [all your messaging] within the 20%? How will you make it look good? You have to really use your creative instincts and make it all work.”
Things like the 20% rule and other social media-specific considerations (like using colors or graphics that will grab people’s attention as they scroll down their newsfeed) make social media graphics the perfect project to level up your design skills. Designing for a specific medium with its own set of limitations forces you to get creative: you have to figure out how to bring your design vision to life while still working within the parameters set by the social media platform you’re designing for. It puts you out of your comfort zone, and the more time you spend out of your comfort zone, the more adaptable you’ll be—and that adaptability will make you a better designer.
There are tons of different types of social media graphics—and the more you can master, the more your design skills will improve.
For designing social media graphics in Canva, we recommend the same process as above—start by searching through templates (which you can find by visiting the Marketplace tab and selecting Social Graphics on the sidebar) to get some design inspiration and to get a better feel for the composition and layout of effective social media graphics.
Once you’re ready to start designing your own select the Create a Design button on your homepage and take a look at the second row titled Social Media Posts. There, you’ll find all the different post types (like Twitter posts, Instagram posts, or Pinterest graphics) conveniently sized for each platform. Once you’ve selected a post type, you can choose a layout and start adding your own design elements to create your social media graphic!
Sometimes, it’s the simplest design projects that stretch you most as a designer—and that’s definitely true when it comes to business cards. “Designing a business card is always a learning experience,” says Morales. “[As a designer,] you’ll definitely take something away from [the process.]”
The reason business cards are such a great way to improve your design skills is that you have to stretch your creative muscles to create an impactful design in a very small amount of space. Designing business cards also offers you the opportunity to design for specific kinds of print materials and techniques—which will make you a more well-rounded and versatile designer in the end. “[Designing a business card] is a great chance to learn about embossing, UV spot gloss, foil, paper weights, [and other techniques],” says Morales.
When it comes to business cards, there’s just as many design options as there are businesses
Again, if you need some design inspiration, be sure to check out the Business Card templates on the Marketplace tab. Once you’re ready to start designing, select the Create a Design button on the Canva homepage and scroll down to the fifth row, titled Marketing Materials. Then click Business Card and you’re ready to start designing!
Tip: If you have a preexisting logo you want to add to your business card, you can upload the image and add it to your design by clicking the Upload Your Own Image button under the Uploads section of the left sidebar.
The “simple projects make you a better designer” theory that applies to business cards also rings true for corporate letterhead. Even though it looks simple, there are a lot of things you’ve got to think about. “As simple as [corporate letterhead] may look, designers may go through various designs before landing on the final choice. Bigger font size here, complimentary font face there...the possibilities are endless.”
Corporate letterheads are such an effective design project for a similar reason as business cards; you have to make a major impact in a minimal amount of space, so every design element you choose—from the font type and size to the color palette—has to be strategic and purposeful. And being more strategic in the design elements you choose—and how you use them—is a skill you’ll definitely want to brush up on as a designer.
There are so many directions you can go with letterhead design—and exploring those different directions will ultimately make you a stronger designer.
We might sound like a broken record, but once again, if you want to see some existing corporate letterheads to get a sense of what a cohesive (and effective!) design looks like, be sure to Again, if you need some design inspiration, be sure to spend some time poking through the Letterhead templates on the Marketplace tab. Once you’ve got a clear picture of how you want to design your letterhead, select the Create a Design button on the Canva homepage and select the Letterhead option under the Documents row (which is four rows from the top of the page). This will give you a standard 8.5in by 11in document to start building your letterhead with.
Posters are, hands down, one of the best projects you can work on when you’re trying to improve your design skills thanks to their sheer versatility. When it comes to posters, the sky’s the limit; you can do a traditional corporate design or try something more fun and whimsical. You can play with text hierarchy or focus more on graphics and imagery. You can create a poster to advertise a business, a television show, or an event. And because posters offer so many different design options, they also offer you the same number of opportunities to improve your design skills, expand your skill set, and become a better designer.
Not only does working on posters give you the opportunity to work with different design elements and styles, it also forces you to think about the messaging behind the design—and how to best get that message across to the end user. “Posters always have a message behind them, whether it’s a simple ‘Come to our new store’ or a full-on promotional poster,” says Morales. “As a designer you have to work with the space and sell [the message through your design].” Being able to communicate messaging through design is an essential skill for any great designer—and you won’t find a better opportunity to hone that skill than through poster design projects.
Poster design gives you the ability to flex your design muscles—which only stands to make you stronger.
Before you jump into poster design, take a few minutes to browse through the Poster templates on the Marketplace tab; seeing how other designers layout different kinds of posters (so, for example, a poster for a children’s event vs. a poster for an adults-only wine mixer) will give you a better sense of effective design tactics for whatever audience you’re designing for.
Once you’ve got your fill of poster design inspiration, select the Create a Design button, scroll down to the Marketing Materials row, and choose the Poster option. Then, start designing!
As a designer, you always want to be brushing up on your skills—and now that you know the five projects to take your design skills to the next level, all that’s left to do in order to reach that next level? Get designing!