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Want to Learn Graphic Design? 15 Tips & Tricks for Beginners

Matic BrozUpdated June 21, 2022

Graphic design is very easy to learn. The difficult part is knowing where to start.

And unfortunately, most articles online don’t help you by listing obvious information. They might bore average graphic designers, but if you want to be the best, this is how you do it!

How to Learn Graphic Design?

  1. Learn & research
  2. Collect materials
  3. Get inspired
  4. Practice
  5. Seek education
  6. Find a job

Step 1: Learn & research.

Start by studying graphic design and other art fundamentals. Learn how artists express themselves through art, how photographers take and compose photographs, and how architects design buildings.

Consider how the image, headline, metaphor, or idea of an advertisement can help sell a product. Notice the designs around you and ask yourself:

  • What emotions does it trigger in me?
  • What are my thoughts?
  • What does the artist or designer hope I’m thinking or feeling?
  • How are they putting it into action?
  • What would I change?

Pay attention to images, layouts, fonts, and colors in magazines, posters, brochures, and flyers, as well as branding in all media (print and digital).

Finally, examine how graphic design affects online conversions. Asking “Why?” is my most important clue. Why did the designer choose this image?

Layouts in graphic design

Then move on to more specific aspects, such as learning about typography, type-specific terminology, and classifications. Pay attention not only to the fonts but also to the colors and design.

Take some famous and successful graphic designers as inspiration. Examine the work that made them famous and find out why they were successful. Then search the Internet for graphic design companies and look at their work to get an idea of what’s popular today.

Learning and researching will help you understand graphic design today. This should help you clarify your goals and focus on your future work.

Summary

Learn about the basics of design and how it can be applied to a variety of situations.

Step 2: Collect materials.

If you start paying attention, you can find designs everywhere. Create a folder for all the cool typography, flyers, or posters you find. This goes for both digital and printed materials. If you can’t take the design with you, take a photo.

Collect designs you like. But instead of copying them, you can learn from them. Look at your collection from time to time to stimulate your subconscious imagination.

When you go for a walk, take notes with a sketchpad or your phone, because you never know when you’ll find inspiration. Writing down your ideas can help you find new ones.

Summary

Start collecting design materials and carry a sketchpad with you to write down ideas when inspiration hits.

Step 3: Get inspired.

Inspiration is a remarkable motivator. So, a good designer is always looking for alternative sources of inspiration to fire their imagination and search for new creative possibilities. Therefore, I recommend you create several sources that will stimulate your imagination.

Your collection.

In the previous chapter, I talked about creating inspiration collections. These are useful not only for learning but also for getting ideas. And they’re the easiest and cheapest source of motivation.

Books.

Collecting exciting books is a good habit to build your library. In addition to design books, I recommend books on photography, science, technology, illustration, fine art, web design, typography, and anything related to design. The concept here is variety.

Magazines.

You can also subscribe to creative magazines to get a new issue every month. These are incredible because they keep you up to date with what’s happening in the creative industry.

Look online.

The next option is to look online for inspiration. There’s something for everyone, from Google Image Search to stock image websites, creative blogs, and hundreds of free video tutorials. The Internet is one of the richest sources of inspiration today. Create a library of bookmarks and visit your high-quality sources regularly.

Go outside.

A short walk is ideal for clearing your mind and gathering new ideas by taking in your surroundings. Think about graphic design in a practical context: packaging design, magazines, interior design, street signs, advertising, and branding.

Billboards

Museums, galleries, exhibitions.

When visiting art galleries or museums, look at how an exhibit is presented. Examine both the print and digital aspects of the presentation. If possible, look at the exhibition and the experience, and then ask yourself, “Why?” Again, take photos (if allowed) and notes.

Creative Agencies.

Search the Internet for good design agencies that will give you a good idea of the direction you should go and the type of agency you should work with. Agencies also often post job openings. Find out what design agencies are looking for and what it takes to work as a graphic designer in the design industry.

Network with others.

Go to exhibitions, galleries, local colleges, and universities. You may meet some interesting people there. If you visit a local college or university, talk to design teachers, tutors, and students. They often have helpful information about design education and how to get a foothold in the creative industry. Talk to students to learn more about their experiences in innovative degree programs and their plans.

If you decide to visit a local design firm, try to talk to people already in the industry. Inquire about their experiences as industrial designers by asking questions. We can learn a lot from creative people, and their stories can be very motivating.

Literature.

Read as much as you can. Literature stimulates the imagination, which can lead to some superb creative ideas. Investigate how authors use language to describe and tell a story. At the same time, you’ll expand your vocabulary, which will help you express yourself.

Step 4: Practice.

If you have enough creative juice, it’s time to practice and hone your graphic design skills.

Practice drawing.

First, I recommend practicing your drawing skills, a critical skill for any creative career. But why, since most graphic design happens on computers nowadays?

Projecting your thoughts and ideas onto a piece of paper is a great way to create outlines and sketches. Also, combine different mediums like pencils, pens, crayons, markers, or paints.

A few ideas of what you could draw:

  • A fruit bowl.
  • Your pet.
  • A friend.
  • Turn your tree in the garden into a flower.
  • Your favorite comic book character.
  • A landmark.
  • Choose a font you like, and write your name in it.

You’ll develop your technical drawing skills and become more versatile as you practice with different designs.

Start designing.

After consciously learning about creativity by observing, reading creative books, collecting designs you like, looking for inspiration, and practicing drawing, it’s time to put what you have learned into practice. If you are new to design, I recommend starting with a simple and enjoyable exercise. Either think of a favorite cafe near you or make one up.

  1. Design or create a logo for that cafe.
  2. Choose some colors and fonts and design a theme or brand that fits your logo.
  3. Using this brand, create a poster that promotes the cafe, including the logo.
  4. Based on the poster design, create a menu for the café that should include your brand elements.

First, sketch out your ideas on paper, but don’t focus on a single concept. Make as many different compositions of the same idea as you can. And don’t go to the computer until you have at least three or four options for a particular concept.

Improve your software skills.

After you have sketched out your design and have a general idea of what you want to do, you can practice using software tools to bring your design to life. I recommend using Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.

Learning these software tools can be very time-consuming, so take your time and enjoy the process. It’s best to focus on one at first and master it. If I had to choose one graphic design program, I would choose Adobe Illustrator—it’s the gold standard.

Loading window of Adobe Illustrator
Loading window of Adobe Illustrator (Credit: Adobe)

To further improve your software skills, you can imitate a project. Find a blog post or magazine article that you like and copy it. Not only will you practice your software skills, but you’ll also learn about design principles.

Step 5: Seek education.

Graphic design education is a wonderful investment, but the question is, which one? You have a choice between a college degree, a course, or self-study. These options differ in the time and money you have to invest, the degree you get, and the knowledge you take away. You should choose the option that best fits your current lifestyle and your goals for the future.

College Degree

Earning a college degree takes four years for an undergraduate degree and two years for a postgraduate degree. Many employers require a college degree, especially if you seek a promotion in the next few years. However, a college degree is not cheap and costs about $15,000/year.

Courses

Graphic design courses are a cheaper and faster alternative to a college degree. They cost a few hundred dollars and last anywhere from a few weeks to a year, so you can quickly get a certificate of completion.

Self-taught

Self-taught graphic design is a popular option, but it also yields the worst results of the three options. The fundamental problem is that people think they can save a lot of money by learning from YouTube videos, but it takes them much longer to acquire the same knowledge. Many drop out of the course early because they lack motivation. Enrolling in it motivates you to keep going.

Step 6: Find a job.

You should be ready to put your skills into action and start looking for work in the design industry. You should now have a portfolio of your skills and a CV of your experience and potential to land your first job. So you have a choice about which path to take. Do you want to work full-time, part-time, or freelance, either for yourself or through agencies?

Full-time job

Graduates and newcomers to the industry today are looking for a full-time position that offers a steady income the opportunity to learn from experienced designers and gain experience. These factors are critical to your early career. That’s why I recommend college graduates and early career professionals looking for a full-time position.

You can start by finding a design agency and applying for a designer position there. Depending on the job you apply for and your level of experience, you can apply for a junior or mid-level position.

If you do not have a college degree, you may not get a higher position in the industry at first. However, if you have some qualifications from night classes, workshops, and work experience, you can get an internship or a junior position in the industry. To get a full-time job, you may have to go through several interviews and be confident in your work. In short, sell yourself while competing with others.

Freelance

The other option is to work as a freelancer for yourself or with an agent. This is a bit riskier than working full time because it depends on your ability to find work. As a result, being a freelancer can be a significant burden, especially when you are supposed to learn and be creative.

However, working as a freelancer does have its advantages. The pay is higher, and if you work with an agent, they will give you work. However, as a freelancer in an agency, you will not have the time to learn from other experienced designers.

As a freelancer, you are expected to have a high level of skill and a wealth of experience to get a job done. After all, this is why you earn more than a salaried designer. For this reason, many designers go freelance later in their careers, after they have gained much more experience and contacts.

Best option

I recommend working full-time for a few years to hone your skills, learn more about the industry, and build a network. After a few years, you may be ready to start your own business. To work as a freelancer, you will need to attend several interviews with different staffing agencies to present your work and yourself. The agencies will create a profile of you that includes your creative skills, personal qualities, and experience level. Once they have a profile of you, they can offer you to the various clients on their books.

Whichever path you take, you will have to put everything you have learned into practice once you have your first job. You’ll gain valuable experience, build a reputation, and make contacts that will help you advance in your career as a graphic designer.

15 Graphic Design Tips For Beginners

  1. Keep it simple, and implement minimalism.
  2. Learn to use images.
  3. Embrace negative space.
  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. Color 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, and 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 brand awareness or sales. On the way to a simple design, you will encounter 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 a standard visual effect.

Therefore, using apt images makes a designer’s job easier by helping to convey or emphasize 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?

It isn’t easy to get your hands on high-quality images unless you’re a photographer, especially when you need pictures of exotic places or objects.

For that purpose, designers use stock photos. These are the photos uploaded by photographers to stock photo sites, which 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. Embrace negative space.

Negative space is a critical graphic design element. It provides the space for a visual 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 ones are typography, color, 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 organize 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, color 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 skills in graphic design. 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.

Typography explained

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.

Pixpa portfolio
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 colors 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 organize text, photos, and illustrations around them to keep the design clean and create a functional design.

12. Color is a language.

Color theory is a field of study used to design and identify colors and create pleasing color palettes. Specifically, color theory looks at how colors interact and affect designs. Colors tell a story and convey emotions.

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

Orange and teal - colour wheel
The color wheel visualizes color relations.

13. Keep up with 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 stylized. 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, catalogs, website UIs, and different domains of the same brand. When designing a catalog, you may have different layouts for distinct pages, but you cannot change the styles completely.

Consistency throughout the catalog 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 it delivers what it’s supposed to do without overdoing it. There are three crucial dimensions to design: space, color, and line.

What is the best software for graphic design?

The most popular graphic design and photo manipulation software 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 it 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, color 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 practicing 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 the software. 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. Practicing 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 quickly 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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About the author

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MATIC BROZ

Matic Broz is a photographer, graphic designer, and stock photographer. For over ten years he's been helping photographers improve their photos and graphic designers find the best images for their designs. His work has been featured by Lifewire and PetaPixel. In his free time, he enjoys photography, hiking, and petting random dogs. Read more

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