Last Updated on March 8, 2022
As with all careers as a beginner it can be daunting with no experience behind you. In becoming a graphic designer your insecurity can stifle your creativity. You are either unsure of yourself, you shy away from the simplest of tasks, or your overconfidence leads to numerous mistakes.
A professions’ knowledge is key and there is no better way than to learn from others. Studying design literature, watching tutorials and asking for practical assistance from your work colleagues, teachers or other experienced graphic designers are all good methods to increase your own knowledge and experience. The more you do, the more you will learn. Find professional forums and without being too pushy, ask for guidance but also read the discussions. You can learn from these too.
Once you have acquired sufficient practical experience, you should be able to identify your niche. Are you good at particular design features, such as logos, for instance? Whatever your talent, practice it continually and be proactive in advertising your skill. You can create social media profiles for your ‘business’ or ‘brand,’ such as Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. These are avenues for your name to become recognized and are great places where you can market yourself.
Initially, you may have to find clients but gradually they will come to you. Always remember to be professional in your dealings with clients and avoid posting ‘personal’ posts on social media. A study of business marketing will assist you not only in marketing yourself but also help you understand how a design can influence a business. In essence practice what you preach with your own media marketing.
Remember to keep in the forefront your creativity and innovation and be open to continually learning through reading articles, studying other designer’s work and asking questions of fellow designers, no matter their experience level. A beginner may see something in an entirely new way from a senior designer, who has been in the business a long time. Keep learning, always.
Want to know how to get started? Use this comprehensive guide.
Initially the best resources will be books on the subject of graphic design. There are numerous volumes available but we can advise on several that will assist new comers to the art of graphic design. These resources will enable you to discover the intricacies of graphic design and how to begin designing. The links will take you directly to each book.
3. Graphic Design School: Principles & Practice of Graphic Design by David Dabner – a foundation course for graphic designers.
4. Graphic design, referenced: Visual Guide to the Language, the Applications, and the History of Graphic Design, written by Bryony Gomez-Palacio – a must have book for all graphic designers.
5. The Elements of Typographic Style, written by Robert Bringhurst – a masterful style guide.
6. How to be a Graphic Designer without Losing your Soul, written by Adrian Shaughnessy – practical advice included.
7. Making & Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop, written by Timothy Samara – a comprehensive layout design workshop.
To further your understanding with imagery instead of large amounts of text, there are documentaries that will make sense of the words in a visual medium.
- Helvetica – a feature-length movie about typography and graphic design by Gary Hustwit.
- Objectified – a documentary about manufactured objects and our relationship with them by Gary Hustwit.
- Exit Through the Gift Shop – a documentary highlighting Banksy by Banksy!
- Eames: The Architect & The Painter – a documentary about the most influential industrial designers.
Once you have a foundation of knowledge, then comes the practical steps into becoming a graphic designer. Basically you must get to know the tools of the trade and practice, practice, practice! The most common software to use is the Adobe suite. It has a host of applications, effects and ‘tricks’ that can be utilized, learned, and with experience, mastered.
The basics can be understood in mere weeks but to master all of what the design suite can offer, it will take longer. Tutorials are an effective way to learn and many are available; although, some are not free, but they are worth the money. Here is a short list of the tools:
Photoshop – a useful tool when working on manipulating images for designs.
Illustrator – this tool enables vector graphics, which are commonly used for logos but other uses are available within it.
InDesign – a powerful program that enables you to design print materials, electronic books and interactive PDF’s. It is exceptionally versatile.
Other basics to know are the terms used, such as RGB, CMYK, and Pantone colors, HEX codes. Learn these to avoid beginner mistakes, such as colors messed up when copy/pasting them from one format or program to another. Here is a good resource to help you.
Here is a brief glossary of terms to know. There are more but we will keep it basic.
Bleed: This occurs when an image or color extends beyond the trimmed edge of a page.
CMYK: Is actually an abbreviation of the colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black used for printing to create other colors.
Faux-baroque: utilizing swishes, botanical elements and whimsical drawings to humanize designs.
Font: Options for text size and style
Grid: A structure of rows, margins, lines and columns to organize information onto a page.
Hickey: marks on apiece caused by splashes of ink, pieces of lint or dust.
Kerning: The method of adjusting space between individual characters in a font.
Point: This is the unit of measurement for line spacing and fonts. 1 point equals 0.351 mm. (There are 12 points in a Pica.)
Typeface: the full range of characters including letters, punctuation and numbers in a series of fonts.
WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get the acronym for an estimated screen representation of a final image.
To make your design stand out, one design detail to remember is the typography. The choice of font can make all the difference in fact utilizing a couple of different fonts can create excellent visuals. The position of the text is also key to a design, so consider where you place text blocks and ‘fill’ any empty spaces in the design. Make sure you are aware of the differences in fonts, such as serif and sans serif. Also learn about leading, tracking, line-heights and kerning. Read this article on typography basics.
A key element to design is the color palette so color theory and the way colors work together is important. Learn about the basic color schemes and how your design can set a mood or give visual impact with the right color choice. Part of the Adobe suite, called Kuler, is a good place to experiment with color shades to find out how some shades work better than others.
Once you have learned these basics, remember that good design has many factors, but keep in mind these points:
- Don’t make the design over complicated, if it is too busy or crowded it will detract from its purpose. Simple is good but refine it to pixel perfect and keep it elegant.
- Define who your target audience is and design with them in mind. Your art work should please them not just you.
- Remember to maintain a balance between the design and the text as this will make it not only easy to read but clean.
- Know the fundamentals of design. These include balance, contrast, alignment, gestalt, white space, repetition and consistency. Take a look at this comprehensive list.
- Learn about grids – although a basic tool it is vital for creating stunning designs. Grids give your art structural balance. A firm foundation will pay dividends. Try this: http://www.thegridsystem.org/
- Don’t be afraid to revise your work, in fact always revise a design before using it. Get outside opinions, as sometimes being too close to an art work makes it difficult to be objective about it.
- Imitation of a great artist is allowed, but ensure you don’t copy! Read ‘Steal Like an Artist’ – full of illustrations, exercises and examples.
- Save this link as it has useful lessons in every segment of design:
And just when you thought the reading was done, here are more books that will assist you in becoming a graphic artist and understand the concept, history, and techniques involved.
- Megg’s History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs. This comprehensive reference book includes an interactive resource card.
- Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton.
- The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
- Do Good Design by David B. Berman
- Logo Design Love by David Airey
- Information is Beautiful by David McCandless
- The Designer Says edited by Sara Bader includes inspiring words, witticisms and pearls of wisdom from the world’s best graphic designers.