Tools and Skills

You Can Learn Graphic Design on Your Own. Here’s How.

According to stock imagery, this is what a graphic designer looks like.

Design of the Times

Let’s face it – looks matter. But who needs a plastic surgeon when you’ve got some serious graphic design skills? You don’t have to enroll in a design school to find your way around Adobe Photoshop. Here are tips to help you learn graphic design on your own.

Get the Fundamentals
There’s a hidden language of golden ratios and rabatments of the rectangle lurking underneath every perfectly composed image or logo. Before you start trying to design something, it’s best that you at least familiarize yourself with the fundamentals.

Major universities have some great courses that are conveniently online – Loyola Academy’s Graphic Design 2014 is a popular iTunes U course offering 150 lessons in nearly anything you’ll want to learn about. About.com has two free courses in the first principles of graphic design.

Shop Around
When it comes to graphic design, there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room – Adobe. Their Creative Suite is the de facto software for most designers. Though frustration with Photoshop, InDesign, and their brothers has led to the development of a few viable options– Acorn,GIMP, and Pixelmator among them – knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator is crucial for anyone who wants to learn graphic design.

Jason Welch’s Photoshop CS5 course on iTunesU is a good place to start for a deep dive into the often counter-intuitive world of .psd’s, although it uses an older version of the software. If you’re more of the bookish type, Adobe Illustrator CS6 Classroom in a Book is an incredibly dry, but very effective textbook for sorting through those image layers. As you improve with your CS skills, tuts+ is a great resource for continuing your Adobe apprenticeship through a series of tutorials in Photoshop and Illustrator.

Learn the Language
If you’re designing for the web, it all comes down to HTML and CSS – those are the tools used to implement that design online. But have no fear, artsy type – both languages are accessible even to the ineptest of engineers. Codecademy has seven hours of free online classes that should prove a perfect introduction to the art and science.

Study the Greats
Paul Rand is perhaps the father of modern American graphic design – he created the visual language of IBM, UPS, ABC, Steve Jobs’ NeXT and countless more. Unfortunately, many of his outstanding books on design are out of print, but give Thoughts on Design and Conversations with Students a spin.

Peter Saville is the British genius behind designs for the likes of New Order and Dior – his Designed by Peter Saville is an expensive must. Pentagram Marks covers more than 400 logos created by the design studio over forty years of work. And professional designers association AIGA’s Inspiration blog is also a great spot to keep your design eye sharp.

Don’t forget – great design makes it look simple when in fact it’s anything but. Be patient.