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Teaching Yourself Graphic Design - where to Start?

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  • Teaching Yourself Graphic Design - where to Start?

    I am looking to teach myself the basics of graphic design. I have been reading a lot of design blogs, but am hoping to get a plan together to start at the basics and work my way up.

    Looking for some insights to build a study plan! Here is what I have so far:

    • Color Theory
    • Layout/Grids
    • Typography
    I am sure I am missing areas. Please help!

    Or if you have any resource recommendations, I would love to check them out! Thanks.

  • #2
    History of design.
    Hands on practice.
    Idea Generation.
    Color Theory

    But theres not a starting place.

    Begin by learning what Graphic design is and what it involves then you will know if you want to got to the next stage.


    • #3
      I will be graduating next semester in Graphic Design, and I would say get a great teacher who is well respected in the field. Learning at home can be easy for some, but not so with others. I'd say the conceptual process is another main factor.

      If school is not an option, just keep a steady eye in the field. Keep tabs on recent work that is being put out. Practice, practice, practice!


      • #4
        Honestly, I cannot figure how I would have gotten to the level of understanding that I have without a school...of some sort.

        Mullethead is right, online school (and on the ground school) are not right for everyone. You have to pick your poison, so to speak. My wife and I started at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, online, a couple of years ago. She hated it and found it very hard for her to concentrate and get all the work done. I am still moving along and have seen a tremendous improvement in my abilities, knowledge, and understanding since starting there.

        I would say, that unless you cannot get to a community college or that. Online or will help you get better faster, because you will be forced to learn the things you need to know and keep up a decent pace while doing it.
        "Go ahead, make your logos in PS. We charge extra money to redraw your logo into vector art so it can be printed on promotional product. Cha CHING! " - CCericola


        • #5
          Thanks for darkwolf29a. I definitely see the obvious advantages of going to a structured classroom, either online or at a "bricks and mortar." Being forward to learn things in an order as well as given specific projects to help drive home concepts is something that will be much harder to come by when trying to teach yourself. I have definitely and will continue to look into a structured class of some sort.

          But at the same time a lot of structured classes focus around a textbook of some kind. So I am curious to experiment if I can actually identify what are the most popular classroom textbooks are and start there outside of the classroom.

          For me, its a money issue as I don't have the ability to spend on formal classes.

          Thanks for the comments and suggestions, I really appreciate it!


          • #6
            Another thing I would add is that while art (fine art) and Graphic Design are indeed two different disciplines, there IS an overlap and almost any exercise/skill developed by and for the fine artist is equally beneficial to the graphic designer.

            I would:
            practice drawing skills,
            execute drawing skills and basic painting my using a variety of media, charcoal, pen & ink, watercolor, acrylic.
            learn color by means of hands-on applications.
            learn and execute basic printmaking (block printing, intaglio and screen)
            3-d design and sculpture -including additive sculpture and subtractive as well as mold making and casting
            Art History in addition to learning the history of graphic design (knowing and understanding historical styles and techniques is one of those things a graphic designer is called to do often. Being able to look at works analytically will help any designer mimic a style or find a way to replicate it)

            Several books I would recommend would be
            Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Betty Edwards)
            History of Graphic Design (Meggs)
            The Elements of Typographic Style (Bringhurst)
            Design Basic Index (a series of small but extremely useful books by Jim Krause)
            Art and Visual Perception (Rudolph Arnheim)
            History of Art (Janson's) or Art Through the Ages (Gardner's), plus reference material on art styles around the world.

            If you have a college nearby, almost any of these books will be available used, so you can get them at a lower price.
            Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.


            • #7
              Yea, in addition to theory, one of the things I lost out on the most by being self-taught was having a strong artistic foundation to build my design skills on.

              Through years working in the field, I've been able to compensate a little by picking up fundamental design principles bit-by-bit subconsciously just through exposure to good designs and experimentation. But you can never be a good graphic designer without being able to draw or paint. And that's something that you need studio time for. You could do it on your own, but most people don't have the discipline. I certainly didn't--and I'd always liked drawing as a child.

              You just can't gain a strong grasp of a subject by winging it and letting your studies be dictated by your whims. Without a structured curriculum prepared by a qualified instructor, it's too easy to end up with large gaps in your knowledge because you never thought/knew to study a critical topic.

              It's very tempting to "teach yourself graphic design" solely by playing with Photoshop and copying the latest design fads. So you might teach yourself Photoshop by following some online tutorials then find that you're able to get by just with these skills, which are good enough for most local businesses. So you'll never force yourself to look outside of Photoshop and learn how to draw or paint and lay down the artistic foundation for being a good designer.

              So my recommendation is to apply for financial aid or take out a student loan and get yourself a decent college education. You'll learn much more than you could ever teach yourself, and you will learn it twice as fast. Plus after you graduate, you'll have a much higher starting salary, so it actually costs you more money to not invest in school. The longer you put off college, the more time you waste not earning as much.

              Aside and separate from that, if you want to do graphic design professionally, do 2 things right now:
              1. Invest in a graphics tablet like a Wacom Intuos or even a Bamboo. It doesn't have to be big or even new. An older Intuos will work just fine. But any serious graphic designer needs to know how to use a tablet, which is actually quite different from drawing with a pen or pencil. It takes time to get used to, so the sooner you pick one up, the sooner you'll learn how to use a tablet and immediately elevate yourself above 90% of the web or graphic designers out there.
              2. Develop your aesthetic eye. By that I mean immerse yourself in good design and good art. Simply by viewing lots and lots of good designs, you'll pick up the design aesthetics of those good designers on a subconscious level. Fill your internal image bank with great designs, and you'll be able to draw inspiration from them at any time.
              3. Steal from good designers. Contrary to what some people claim, everyone steals from everyone. As mentioned above, anything that your mind's eye comes upon becomes a part of your visual experience, and you'll be influenced by it one way or another. If it's terrible looking, you will stay away from similar patterns of design. It's aesthetically pleasing, you'll subconsciously emulate it. That's something we all do. But smart designers do this on a conscious level.

                As a novice, you should start out by copying as closely as you can. You obviously don't want to do this for a paid project, but for personal projects, it's great practice. It's just like a figure drawing student might be assigned to copy the drawing of a master artist for homework. You do this to learn and familiarize yourself with the techniques used by expert designers. These techniques include Photoshop tricks, to color choices, to typography, to composition, to visual styles. Once you've made these techniques part of your regular repertoire of design tools, then you're technically capable of creating quality designs and can start experimenting on your own. But even then, make note of strong designs, identify what's good about them, and then try to make it your own.


              • #8
                I would like to +1 resilien's post. I would also like to add that in addition to exposing yourself to good design, you should expose yourself to bad design and be aware of it.


                • #9
                  I'm sure you can teach yourself graphic design but don't you think it would be better if you went to a school that specialized in graphic design like xxxxxx? What if you have questions and need someone to bounce ideas off of? I would think that having a degree from a school like xxxxxx who has a great reputation in the industry would help your chances if you're looking for a job or just want that background in graphic design. You should check out their website and see if it helps you.
                  Last edited by Yossarian; 11-17-2010, 12:14 PM. Reason: advertising


                  • #10
                    My first question to you is why do you want to learn the basics of graphic design? Is it for personal or professional reasons?
                    If this is a hobby you want to develop, there is no need to spend piles of money on a formal education (unless you have it, I suppose) There are lots of books, online information and tutorials. All you need is time.
                    If this is a professional pursuit, define your short-term and long-term goals. What are you trying to achieve? What is your time line?
                    Each discipline requires an "eye" at the very least. I am assuming you have it or you wouldn't be interested. Also, a basic understanding of art including all the categories listed in previous posts will give you an infrastructure so to speak and then you will need a specialized skill set depending upon which avenue you choose to take.
                    I hope this helps you to determine your path in some way. Good luck!
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