Graphic design is a craft where professionals create visual content to communicate messages. By applying visual hierarchy and page layout techniques, designers use typography and pictures to meet users' specific needs and focus on the logic of displaying elements in interactive designs, to optimize the user experience.
Find Your Motivation
There are different reasons for getting into graphic design. Maybe you want to:
- Create a logo for your website
- Express yourself and be creative
- Learn a new skill
- Learn to use complex software
- Make a career change
- Make money online
The reasons can be endless, but the objective will still be the same:
Your motivation to learn graphic design has to be powerful enough to keep you focused on the goal, which is to become proficient at graphic design.
This motivating factor must be the fuel that powers your quest to learn.
What motivated me was the fear of not having practical skills as a media studies professor in a very competitive field.
No matter what your motivation is, there is one compelling reason to learn graphic design skills:
We live in an increasingly visual culture.
This means that we value images over words as a society. We are surrounded by visual interfaces. Content is mostly organized around images. Today, images are the most important and powerful form of communication.
Therefore: In today’s world, those who have skills in visual forms of communication are the most likely to succeed in their respective careers.
So what’s the point: No matter what your motivation is, at the very least having graphic design skills will give you a professional advantage in a world in which images are the main form of communication.
So go ahead and find the motivation that will power your learning.
Get Passionate About Everything Visual
You have to be passionate about graphic design in order to become a designer.
In the Web 2.0, anyone can become anything he or she wants. But most of the time, people fail not because they don’t have the talent or the skills to become what they want to be.
In other words:
Today, it’s simpler to become whatever you want, and yet the road is more difficult.
So why do so many fail?
The reason is lack of passion.
What I have learned from my own journey and my students is that the capability to learn the necessary skills to become a graphic designer comes from passion: persistence, discipline, and the courage to put yourself out there.
So, learn what motivates you to become a graphic designer but also what makes you passionate about it.
Are you into websites? Facebook memes? Typography and lettering? Logo design? Video game graphics? Comics?
Finding out what particular areas of graphic design you really like are key for becoming passionate about learning.
But you might be thinking: It’s not only about passion. I am not a talented person. I can’t draw or I’m not good with computers.
Well: This is what exactly leads to the next step.
Understand the Difference Between Talent and Practice
Graphic design is not primarily about talent.
Do you need talent to be great at design? Sure. The most successful designers I know and who inspire me every day are super talented.
However, absolute talent is not required. This is key and you need to understand it.
If you have read this far, chances are that you already have talent, or are in the process of polishing your talent in the raw.
You have a certain orientation or aptitude that draws you to graphic design in the first place.
This, believe it or not, is what most graphic designers had when they began.
Here’s the deal: For most of us, talent is just a lot of practice.
You don’t have to win an award or be featured in the most important publication or teach an online course to be a graphic designer.
You only have to be effective. Talent, for the most part, is forged during the process.
You can go from having no idea about graphic design to being effective. It takes some theory, experience, and persistence. It takes time, but not necessarily years.
Some of my best students (with no previous graphic design experience) have accomplished excellent results in only one semester. One of my students even got a job after only one semester of work!
Learn the Principles of Design
Every discipline has a foundational set of rules that guide its best practices.
Graphic design is no exception. You must learn the fundamental concepts that underlie the practice of design from the very beginning in order to become proficient and gain experience.
What are design principles? The principles of design are the minimum framework needed to achieve successful results as a graphic designer.
In other words: Design principles are time-proven and tested concepts that guide us in terms of what works and what doesn’t, visually speaking.
That is: If we follow these principles, we will be able to create visual designs that are appealing, effective, and memorable. If you want to understand how design principles work, we need to study them first. It will take time to understand and internalize, so start as early as possible. Fortunately, the list of design principles is relatively short. People give different names for each, but we can pretty much boil them down to 6 major principles:
- Totality or Gestalt
Want to hear the good part?
You don’t have to learn design principles before actually starting to create something. You can study and apply them as you learn software skills, techniques, and formats.
There are many resources in Self-Made Designer and other websites that will help you understand the principles of design.
Get Started with Graphic Design Software
Graphics editing software is a big part of graphic design. There are different types of software for different types of tasks. One of the most common types of software are vector and pixel editing systems. There are many makers of graphics software, but one of the most popular and recognized is Adobe, with Illustrator for vector graphics and Photoshop for pixel (or raster) graphics.
Generally speaking, vector graphics are used for creating shape-based drawings and digital illustrations, such as logos, stylized text, and technical drawings of objects. Pixel graphics are used for editing photos and photo-realistic renderings, such as photography, magazine montages, and image manipulation. As a beginner, you shouldn’t worry about learning one brand or another, but on understanding the logic of each type of software.
It boils down to this: All vector and pixel software work in the same fundamental ways because they derive from the same philosophy and structure. The most important thing is that you gain access to graphics software right away and start familiarizing yourself with vector and pixel editing. In this sense, I’m biased toward free, open-source software.
The good news?
Professional-grade graphic design software is available to you for free. I personally use and recommend Inkscape and Gimp for learning vector and pixel graphics, respectively.
In addition to being extremely powerful graphics software, capable of competing with Illustrator and Photoshop, they are free and keep getting better.
You can create your own personal design studio from a laptop at a café with virtually no startup costs.
Download the software and start experimenting right now.
Look for Inspiration
One of the best ways to learn graphic design is to emulate artists, designers, and creators that inspire us. George Bokhua is an amazing self-taught graphic designer George Bokhua is an amazing self-taught graphic designer that inspires me with his style. When we look for inspiration, we will naturally gravitate to the styles and trends that we like, and we will start to recognize what works and what doesn’t. Getting inspired by designers we like or admire gives us a roadmap of what we need to learn. Also, imitating the work of others allows us to learn and improve on new skills. After all, as children we learn by imitating the people around us. The same is true for graphic design.
So: Start looking for inspiration and learn what you like or don’t like. Start noticing which trends might apply to what you see and which designers are doing amazing work.
Here are some ideas for getting inspiration: Follow specific designers or hashtags such as #vectorgraphics or #logodesign on Instagram Do searches on Google Images for keywords such as “logo inspirations” or “best website designs” Go to Pinterest and look for graphic design group boards. Follow graphic design social media such as Behance or Dribble.
Find Yourself a Project to Work On, Then Another, and Another (and Don’t Stop)
If you want to become a self-taught graphic designer, my single most important recommendation is to center your learning around a specific project.
The reason is that it is very difficult to learn a skill in thin air.
If you start on a particular project, you will encounter specific problems that, in turn, will guide you to specific solutions. You will search for advice, tutorials, and knowledge that will be as specific as the problems that come up. The more a resource helps you, the more the quality of the resource. This becomes your noise filter to all the resources out there.
In addition: The more problems you are able to solve, the more experience you get, and the more qualified you become as a graphic designer. So, if you want to become a self-made graphic designer, take on a specific project right now. Maybe you need to create a newsletter for a group, a business card for your friend, or a logo for your Instagram profile. By taking on a project that matters to you as an excuse to learn, you will learn so much faster and gain experience as you grow.