How to Learn Graphic Design? 15 Tips for Beginners

Written by Matic Broz - Updated on January 16, 2022

What Is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is the art of using design elements to create graphics that are both appealing and sophisticated. Graphic designers come up with ideas, brainstorm, and design things like posters, billboards, logos, ads, user interfaces, and packaging. They then work with managers and clients to design creative graphics, typography, and colour schemes.

Their work consists of both graphic (illustrations) and textual (texts) parts. Their tasks also include designing the appearance of a company or organisation, known as branding. They make sure that the designs look good and that more people want to buy them.

An aspiring graphic designer needs to know that graphic design is a creative and theoretical field. There are rules and guidelines, but there’s also a lot of theory behind it. A graphic designer can only stand out from the crowd if he or she creates convincing, professional designs that meet the client’s needs and look unique and fresh.

15 Graphic Design Tips For Beginners

  1. Keep it Simple, and Implement Minimalism
  2. Learn to Use Photographs & Illustrations
  3. Negative Space is Gold
  4. Use a Grid System
  5. Hierarchy is Everything
  6. Typography
  7. Create a portfolio
  8. Respect the Brand Guidelines
  9. Behance & DeviantArt Are Your Google & Facebook
  10. Page Balance is Vital
  11. Remove Distractions
  12. Colour is a Language
  13. Keep Up with the Trends
  14. Consistency is Key
  15. Symmetry

Graphic design is complex unless we break the topic down into its simplest constituents. Here, I’ll try to use the building blocks of graphic design to help you become a better graphic designer.

1. Keep it Simple; Implement Minimalism

To impress or create impressive designs, beginners tend to exaggerate their art. I recommend keeping it simple and only adding as many elements to a design as is necessary. The basic rule of graphic design is to get the message across by increasing either brand awareness or sales. On the way to a simple design, you will come across minimalism, or “less is more”. Robust designs are limited to the essentials and eliminate clutter.

2. Learn to Use Images

A skilled graphic designer knows when and how to use photos and illustrations in their work. The correct image completes a design, benefiting more than an ordinary visual effect.

Therefore, using apt images makes a designer’s job easier by helping to convey or emphasise the message. Graphics, more than words, hold a viewer’s attention and help connect through emotions. This gives an extra few seconds for the message to register in the viewer’s mind.

Where to get images?

Unless you’re a photographer, it isn’t easy to get your hand on high-quality images, especially when you need images of exotic places or objects.

For that purpose, designers use stock photos. These are the photos uploaded by photographers to stock photo sites, who license them to customers. Besides photos, they sell illustrations, videos, music, templates, and other assets.

The two best options for designers are Adobe Stock and Canva. Adobe Stock is Adobe’s stock photo agency that integrates into their apps, like Photoshop and Illustrator. This allows you to access the Adobe Stock library within the app, thus enabling you to use the images without buying them first. You pay for the used images on export.

Canva is the budget version. Its library contains fewer images, and the editor is more limited but easier to use. Therefore, I recommend Adobe to professionals, while Canva is better for beginners.

Did you know? The best graphic designers use Adobe Stock.
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3. Negative Space is Gold

Negative space is a critical graphic design element. It provides the space for a graphic to function while not interfering with the graphic itself. Imagine it as the space left after placing all the graphic elements within the design. We use negative space to show the passage of time and create visual hierarchy and tension. As a result, use negative space strategically or fill in the blank areas. “White space” is another name for negative space in graphic design.

4. Use a Grid System

Many unique elements need to come together to form the final design. Some of the most important are typography, colour, and layout. Although layouts play a vital role in the overall perception of a design, they’re often overlooked. Without a grid system, you would have to organise designs by combining various elements on a blank page.

An example of rule of thirds
An example of the rule of thirds

Therefore, we use the rule of thirds as the layout for graphic design. It’s the most popular layout system, used even in photography. It divides your design into equal thirds horizontally and vertically. Granted, experienced designers don’t need a layout to apply the rule of thirds, but a grid is helpful for beginners.

5. Hierarchy is Everything

A hierarchy is a system that defines the importance of each element in graphic design. It’s also a subtle way of guiding the reader through the visual design. In general, a designer uses design hierarchy through size, colour contrast, fonts, spacing, and design rules, like the rule of thirds and the rule of odds. When hierarchy works, the design flow is in sync, making graphics more effective in delivering the requisite results.

6. Typography

Typography is one of the fundamental graphic design skills. It is the technique and art of designing type that makes the written language easy to read. Although paid typography fonts guarantee a premium-looking design, free fonts are worth trying. But typography is more than fonts. Graphic designers use it in all aspects of their work—from logo design to packaging.

A designer or typographer creates most of the text you see outside of products. Also, typography helps define a brand, sets a mood, and provides a touch of elegance in a design.

7. Create a portfolio

Portfolios aren’t a new concept among creatives. But online portfolios have been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years. Besides being great for selling photos, art, or designs, creating a portfolio is a surefire way to gain recognition.

How to Learn Graphic Design? 15 Tips for Beginners 1
A simple way to create a portfolio with Pixpa

As a matter of fact, many clients seek freelancers for design jobs by browsing portfolios. However, creating an elegant portfolio that lands a design job takes a lot of time. So, I recommend using Pixpa, which has built-in templates that do half the work for you.

8. Respect the Brand Guidelines

Often, designers get a brand guideline they need to follow. Graphic designers are creative people, but you need to respect the boundaries of brand guidelines because they help you stay true to the brand. To clarify, brand guidelines help build a consistent brand voice across all platforms. The recall factor comes from brand guidelines. If you don’t get any brand guidelines, try to follow the colours and fonts of the logo. Alternatively, try to create a basic brand guideline yourself. Knowing how to do this separates successful graphic designers from beginners.

9. Behance & DeviantArt Are Your Google & Facebook

Behance and DeviantArt are among the top platforms for graphic designers. The two platforms will help you gain quality references, inspiring you to create incredible designs. They are also helpful in gaining feedback and reviewing your designs. Ideally, a designer should treat them as their Google and Facebook, helping them research while building a social circle.

10. Page Balance is Vital

With page balance, you want to create visual harmony between all the elements on the page. So, balance the design elements, so none dominates the others. In the end, you will have a finished design, and the goal for this project is to balance the design elements together.

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11. Remove Distractions

Often, we deal with design elements and backgrounds. Even the fonts can be designed. However, having too many distractions doesn’t serve any purpose. The text must be legible, and the design must convey the intended message. We can often remove distracting elements, blur them, reduce opacity, or organise text, photos, and illustrations around them to keep the design clean and create a functional design.

12. Colour is a Language

Colour theory is a field of study used to design and identify colours and create pleasing colour palettes. Specifically, colour theory looks at how colours interact and affect the designs. In fact, colours tell a storey and convey emotions.

We distinguish between cool (blue, green) and warm (red, orange, yellow), soft and harsh (saturation), and light and dark (brightness) colours, which all serve a different purpose. Therefore, graphic designers must judiciously understand and implement colour theory in their designs.

Orange and teal - colour wheel
The Colour wheel visualises colour relations.

13. Keep Up with the Trends

There are two types of trends: fads and evolution. You can safely ignore the fad unless you cater to social media design, where even those trends can help garner engagement and results.

However, some trends point towards an overall graphic design industry evolution. These may include the ideas of minimalism, the use of cleaner fonts, reduced styling, and emphasis on typography. With time, the world of graphic design is becoming more functional and less stylised. You must follow current design trends to help you grow as a graphic designer.

14. Consistency is Key

Consistency is required in the more extended designs, like magazines, catalogues, website UIs, and different domains of the same brand. When designing a catalogue, you may have different layouts for distinct pages, but you cannot change the styles completely.

Being consistent throughout the catalogue helps readers relate to the same brand or company. The same is true for websites’ user interfaces. A 10-page website can have ten different layouts, but they all need to conform to a single design.

15. Symmetry

Symmetry remains one of the most pleasing visual elements in the world. And it’s no different in graphic design. Symmetry is very difficult to achieve, but when done correctly, it can help lift the aesthetic value of the design by taking cues from balance and simplicity.

Apart from having symmetric designs, you may also have symmetric elements within a design. When it isn’t possible to create symmetry, you may create balance by using similar elements. For example, having similar visual elements creates the perfect illusion of symmetry.

The idea, for a beginner, should be to learn graphic design principles and implement design elements and hierarchy while maintaining simplicity and following brand guidelines. Instead of doing everything in every design, a graphic designer must ensure that the design delivers what it’s supposed to do without overdoing it. There are three crucial dimensions to design: space, colour, and line.

What is the best software for graphic design?

The most popular graphic design software and photo manipulation is Adobe Photoshop. Despite the overwhelming interface, even beginners can pick it up quickly. Its many tools let designers create anything they wanted. In addition, its integration into the Creative Cloud is great for downloading files directly from Adobe Stock.

However, Photoshop can only work on raster files. So, as an alternative, I recommend Adobe Illustrator if you need vectors. It’s like Photoshop regarding the workflow and user experience, so you’ll be able to learn it quickly. Adobe also offers mobile apps to continue your work from any device.

Although not as powerful and user-friendly as Adobe, you can use the free GIMP and Inkscape. I found that they can do much the same work as Adobe apps, but they might require more effort.

One of the best ways to augment with your design is with high-quality stock photos.
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FAQs

How can a beginner start graphic designing?

These days, all education is digital. You can use small tutorials to complete online courses, or you can take up offline graphic design classes in a design school of your choice. However, it is essential to complete tasks to help you get valuable practice. All you need is a will, a commitment, and tutorials or courses.

Can I learn graphic design on my own?

Yes, you can learn graphic design on your own by simply following tutorials on Photutorial or YouTube. You can also check out various courses on Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, etc. You will need a more-than-basic configuration desktop or laptop computer with video RAM, as designing software can be heavy on resources.

What should a graphic designer learn first?

The first steps for a graphic designer should ideally involve learning to sketch, colour theory, typography (or calligraphy), and graphic design principles. Once you have the basics down, move on to graphic design software. Choose which software to start with, depending upon your interest within the domain of graphic design. Also, inspect the products your fellow designers made to get your creative juices flowing.

How much does a beginner graphic designer make?

A beginning graphic designer could make anything from $10–12 to $25–30 per hour, depending upon their skills and location. Major metropolitan cities have higher hourly pay for digital designers. In the gig economy, it depends entirely upon the portfolio and marketing skills of the designer and the niche they choose. World-renowned graphic designers earn over a million dollars per year.

Do graphic designers make good money?

Graphic design is skill-based work. In a creative field, the quality of your work decides your success. Typically, graphic designers make good money, especially if they know their art. Graphic designers can often earn $80,000, while the average graphic designer salary is $53,000.

Where should a beginner graphic designer start?

A beginner graphic designer should start by investing time in learning design principles through design books, going through the history of graphic design, and practising designing in a sketchbook or a notepad. Additionally, a beginner needs to observe the work of the professional designers around them.

Is graphic designing easy?

Graphic design is a creative field based upon principles and requires knowledge of software as well. Learning graphic design and becoming adept is challenging. However, if you’re passionate, the learning becomes fun, and you will breeze through the design process.

How do I learn graphic design?

To learn graphic design, it’s essential to study and practice consistently. It would be best if you also observed the work of contemporary graphic designers. Keep checking website designs, magazines, advertisements, social media designs, app UI designs, etc. You can also see design projects and portfolio sharing platforms, such as Behance and DeviantArt. Practising designing skills of your own is the only way to learn graphic design – with or without external courses or support.

How do I get into graphic design with no experience?

You can get into graphic design by working for charitable institutions (for no cost), working on internships, working on portfolio projects, redesigning famous brand logos and designs, and consistently sharing your work and updates. It is also helpful to join design bodies and volunteer as a designer until there’s sufficient work available.

Summary

You’ve learned the basics of graphic design and how to learn fast as a beginner. Now, it’s up to you to apply these tips and grow with them.

Don’t be afraid to invest some money in your knowledge, software, and resources. It would be best if you had those to compete against well-established graphic designers. Don’t worry about losing some money now because you’ll soon find a job and earn more thanks to the investment.

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