Graphic Design Tips for Beginners
1. Tools of the graphic design trade
Here is number 1 on our graphic design tips for beginners. In order to get your project off the ground, you need tools to work with – that goes without saying. In the world of design, you’ll soon find that Adobe is king. While you can of course purchase a perpetual license for one of their products, a better solution might be to sign up for their monthly cloud subscription service – this gives you access to a range of products for one price. Below are the three main programs you’ll be using:
Illustrator – if you’ve ever come across clever infographics and cool logos, chances are they were made with this one.
Photoshop – this is the weapon of choice for photographers and image editors alike, as it has an impressive arsenal of editing tools.
InDesign – once you’ve created logos in Illustrator and edited images in Photoshop, you’ll want to use InDesign to put it all together if you’re making a poster or brochure.
2. Questions to ask about your graphic design
As a budding graphic designer you probably already have an array of heroes and sources of inspiration. You have most likely discovered amazing artists, graphic designers, and styles from across history that you want to emulate and build on.
That’s great – but your internal mood board might not necessarily be the right tool for the job. So what is the right tool for the job? Well, that depends on the job – obviously. Use your goal as a starting point for how to collect inspirational references. Ask yourself questions:
- What are you trying to achieve with your design?
- Who are you trying to reach with your design?
- Where will your design be displayed?
If your job is to produce an advert for a product, then a good starting point is to look at similar ads. But don’t simply collect a bunch of ads that look nice. Be analytical in your approach. Make a note (mental or physical) of why you think a particular piece works. Again, ask questions.
- What makes this particular design stand out?
- How does it speak to its intended audience?
- Why does it work the way it should?
Equally important in answering these questions is answering the opposite questions. Some graphic designs don’t work. Why not? What makes them subpar? Answering these questions will help you avoid making the same mistakes. Once you have the answers to these basic questions, it will be much easier to separate the wheat from the chaff when you go hunting for inspirational references.
3. How to find inspiration for your graphic design
Number 3 of our graphic design tips for beginners, seek and ye shall find. But where does one seek? You could, of course, look at posters, billboards, banners, and flyers you come across when you’re out and about. Tearing down other people’s adverts will probably get you run out of town pretty fast, so taking some snaps with your phone is probably a better idea.
Flipping through magazines is another way and an approach that has stood the test of time. Again, ripping out pages or cutting out images is impractical, as you will quickly land yourself in an episode of Hoarders.
Then there is the Internet. Pinterest and Tumblr are the go-to places for visual inspiration, and in particular, Pinterest is great for creating mood boards you can easily categorize and revisit when the need arises. Create separate boards for separate kinds of job, and label them appropriately.
4. Good artists copy; great artists steal
That’s a Picasso quote you can take to the bank. This is not to encourage copyright infringement, but it is worth keeping in mind that everything you see if derived from something else. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and without the work of those who came before us, we would have to first invent the wheel.
Fortunately, the wheel has already been invented, so now you can focus on improving and modifying it, rather than reinventing it. Take the ideas of other graphic designers and… change them! The art of the remix is not limited to the music industry. Who knows – the changes you make to the work of someone else may themselves become something worth for others to imitate.
“Less is more”. “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough”. Or, more frankly, “keep it simple, stupid”. You’ve probably heard these sayings thrown around more than once, and there’s a good reason why certain clichés stand the test of time: they’re true.
As a beginner, you are most likely very eager to try out a lot of different techniques to impress yourself and others. Here’s another one: “You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.” What’s worth bearing in mind when you enter the graphic design industry is that it’s easier to add to your existing design that it is to subtract elements from an elaborate piece.
6. Focus on flat graphic designs
With graphic design, the possibilities for making things come to life are endless. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say (okay, enough sayings). You can easily make a design pop without doing so literally by using textures and shadows.
There will always be the temptation to use 3D techniques in order to appear more “professional” – skip these for the time being, and focus on making flat designs. There are two main reasons for this.
First, if you look around, you will notice that a lot of big companies make use of flat graphic designs. This isn’t because they wanted to save money on a more expensive design, but rather because flat designs work.
Secondly, when you’re at the beginning stages of learning about graphic design, you will want to focus your efforts more on learning about spacing and alignment. Not only are these elements easier to master, but mastering them will help you build a solid foundation on which to further develop your skills. Check out this video to help with your graphic design tips for beginners.
7. Think outside the box(es)
Another technique that has been done to death is the boxing of text when it comes to the best graphic design tips for beginners. Yes, it can be incredibly useful to draw attention to a particular piece of text in a text-heavy design, but always ask yourself if you really need to box in a given piece of text.
Are there any other ways you can draw attention to it? Perhaps you can experiment with a different font, size, color or style. Maybe it’s no more complicated than simply positioning it differently (see tip 6 above).
What’s more, you can use the lack of boxes to your advantage: in a world where everyone and their mother have an affinity to boxes, a bit of creativity on your part can easily make your designs stand out from the crowd.
8. Using negative space in your graphic design
White space, blank space, or negative space. This is an often underrated element of any image design, whether you’re a graphic designer, photographer, painter, writer, or film-maker. Beginners often fall into the trap of thinking that they need to fill out a canvas. This is understandable, because it can easily feel like something is missing, or that a lot of space has not been utilized.
However, this is the wrong way to think about it. Think about the negative space as the part of your design that draws the viewer’s attention to the central part of it, whether that be a logo or a piece of text. Without negative space, there would be too much going on for the viewer to focus on what you actually want them to see. I know that there are images that are so beautiful, intricate and complex that you can spend hours poring over it without getting bored.
That’s all fine and well – but we live in the of short attention spans. Goldfish now have a longer attention span than the average person browsing the Internet. Don’t believe me? They believe in science. Studies show that negative space makes elements easier to comprehend. A perfect example of this is spacing between words and paragraphs. Spaceswouldmakethissentencemucheasiertoread. As with anything, negative space can be overdone, so it’s a balancing act you will have to learn by trial and error. Below are a few videos with graphic design tips for beginners.
9. Analyze and dissect graphic designs
When you’re a beginner, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with all the different techniques and approaches there are to learn. You should reach out to anyone you know for graphic design tips. When this happens, step back and take a deep breath. As with any other piece of work, graphic designs can be analyzed, dissected and broken down into pieces. Many smaller elements composed the whole graphic design.
Just like a house is traditionally built one brick at a time, so is a graphic design created one line and one shape at a time. As mentioned earlier, it’s always best to focus on the general shapes, and then work your way into the tiny details. By practicing on designs you come across, you will soon get used to identifying the general concepts – and then it won’t seem to intimidate.
10. Learn from professional graphic designers, graphic design tips for beginners
The Internet has a wealth of knowledge available – all for the price of free! All you have to do is check YouTube and Google (after you’ve read this guide of course) and you will find that there is a bottomless rabbit hole waiting for you. Below I’ve picked out some videos that are just a sample of what you can find as a beginner in graphic design:
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