Interested in becoming a graphic designer but not sure where to start? Well, here’s a guide on how to start in graphic design for total, complete newbies. In other words, if you’ve decided to start a career in graphic design but have no idea where to begin, this is the perfect place for you to be.
To start in graphic design you’ll need to know about the job itself, the ways you can learn design, and what topics you’ll specifically want to learn, in order. So let’s start there.
What Designers Do
If you’re researching how to learn design you probably already have a pretty good idea what designers do. But you might not know the full extent of what designers do. Here’s a quick rundown.
Essentially, designers create visuals that communicate a message or idea for the purposes of marketing a product or service.
This means a lot of different things. Graphic designers create advertisements for print or online mediums, create publishing layouts for books and magazines, create visuals for social media, create package designs for products like toys, food, tech, etc., design infographics for use in print or online articles, design website pages, create brand identity systems, design app interfaces, and more.
Designers work in agency settings, in-house settings, or as freelance designers, working for themselves.
Designers who work in agencies work on multiple projects for many different clients in a generally creative environment.
In-house designers are often the only designer, or one of a few designers, who work at the same company. They work on design projects for one main brand and do the majority of creative work for that brand.
Then you’ve got freelance designers, who work for themselves, get clients themselves, do their own finances, manage their time on their own, and choose the projects they take on.
If you’re interested in learning more about the agency designers and in-house designers, check out this post.
How To Get Started In Design
If you’ve absolutely decided that design is the career path you want to pursue, you probably have no idea where to begin.
You really have two main options; go to design school, or learn design on your own. Either choice is a valid option.
Go to Design School
If you have time and money to attend school for design, it’s probably the best way to learn. You’re taught design topics in the correct order, starting with the fundamentals, get to dedicate a huge portion of your waking hours to design, have plenty of teachers and other students to learn from and take feedback from, and you’ll end up with a starter portfolio and an educational achievement to stick on your resume.
If you’re not sure about whether you want to go to design school or not, check out my post on graphic design school: Should You Go To Graphic Design School? Is is Mandatory?
Learn Design on Your Own
There are plenty of resources online these days that it make it absolutely possible to learn graphic design on your own. Thanks to YouTube, you could probably even learn a great deal about design without ever spending a cent.
The end result of either a traditional education or being self-educated is to know how to successfully design a variety of things and have a portfolio that shows your skills well enough to get you a job.
If your budget is low, check out this post: The Best Free Courses To Learn Graphic Design Online
What To Start Learning
Next up, let’s look at the topics you’ll actually want to be learning to start in graphic design. This is pretty much the order of topics you’ll be learning design in if you go to design school. However, if you choose to learn design on your own, you’ll need a general roadmap of what you need to start learning first, and in an order that makes sense. Well, here’s that roadmap.
Learn First – The Fundamentals
You’ll want to start by learning the fundamentals. To properly start in graphic design, you’ll need to learn design theory, the principles of design, semiotics, composition, grid structure, colour theory, hierarchy, design history, and typography.
Read books, watch videos, and practice what you learn by getting it down on paper. At this beginning stage of learning, you’ll also want to get a dot grid sketchbook so you can jot down what you’re learning and any ideas that you have. You’ll need this going forward.
Learn Second – Software
Secondly, you’ll want to learn how to use vector design software, desktop publishing software, and photo manipulation software; ideally with Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop, or Affinity Designer, Publisher, and Photo. Start by learning what the main tools in each program do, then follow some basic tutorials on each.
Vector design software tutorials for Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer will teach you the basics for creating vector illustrations, logo designs, and more.
Desktop publishing software tutorials like Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher will teach you how to use text and imagery together to create an effective layout.
Photo manipulation software tutorials for Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo will teach you how to alter and edit photos and imagery, create illustrations, add unique effects to design work, and more.
You can learn more about the three main software programs here: Graphic Design Software | The 3 Programs You Need To Know
Learn Third – Marketing
Then you’ll want to start learning about marketing, advertising, and branding. You don’t need to go too deep into marketing, just the basics. That being said, you do want to have a solid understanding of advertising as a lot of the design work you’ll eventually do will likely be promotional.
You will also need to learn a lot about branding, both in general and in terms of visuals. Having a solid understanding of what branding is and the visual branding process is crucial for every designer who wants to create effective design work.
Learn Fourth – Printing
Next you’ll want to learn about printing techniques; how to set up a file for print, how colours show up in print vs online, and using different paper stocks. Just learn about the basics for now. You’ll learn more in-depth, specific information when you start communicating with printers on client projects.
Learn Fifth – The User
The next thing you will want to have is a basic understanding of is UI and UX; user interface and user experience. You really don’t need to go super far in this, but understanding how people interact with content is mandatory for effectively designing for websites and mobile devices, or really anything that is even remotely interactive.
The best place I’ve found to learn about UI and UX is Uxcel, and fortunately a basic membership is completely free and covers an abundance of information. This isn’t a sales pitch, it’s just a great site. You can check out my review of Uxcel here: Learning UI Design Online Free – My Experience With Uxcel
Learn Sixth – The Business of Design
To start in graphic design, you’ll also need to know about an area they don’t seem to touch on in design school: the business of design. This is about how to functionally operate as a designer; either as an employee or freelancer. Understanding the business of design; how to deal with clients, manage your time, charge for your work, and how to find overall success in this career are all crucially important things to learn.
The best resource I’ve found for learning about the Business of Design is TheFutur’s channel on YouTube. They detail every aspect of being a designer that isn’t taught in school but is absolutely crucial to know. Michael Janda’s book Burn Your Portfolio is also great for this, but deals more with the day-to-day stuff of working at or running an agency.
How To Start in Graphic Design – In Summary
Now that you have a good idea of where to start in graphic design, the next thing you need to do is actually start. Get a notebook for theory notes and use your dot grid notebook for design. Design every day if you want to get good at it. It will take a while because there is a lot to know.
Don’t expect to be able to learn graphic design in a week or even a month. Don’t expect to be great at it for years.
I’ve been at this for almost twenty years and I’m still learning new things every day.
What made you want to start in graphic design? Did this post help you to figure out where to begin? Let me know in the comments 🙂