A lot of people ask me why I’m in college for graphic design. I often hear people argue that design can easily be learned online for free these days. While there is some truth to that statement, I would say that the most important thing about designing is your process – which is not something easily learned on a computer screen. But hey, let’s try! Here are some tips I’ve learned during my time in school.
1. Learn how to draw.
Before I ever touched a computer, I had to take drawing classes – still-life drawing classes. This is something many people don’t consider when they see graphic design. I’ve had people in my classes complain that they thought graphic design was easy because it’s all done on the computer. It all starts with a foundation in drawing skills, but anyone can learn to draw. The problem is that many don’t and become frustrated once they realize they should. Even if you don’t want to take classes in drawing, find a way to build the skill! That way you don’t have to play catch-up later.
2. Don’t design in a vacuum.
No matter how advanced you are at designing, it is imperative to have critical eyes on your work. Of course, I mean constructive criticism; comments of “good job!” or “needs work!” are not helpful at all and won’t help you get better. Rather, surround yourself with tough designers who a) know what they’re talking about and b) will tell you exactly what they think, even if you don’t want to hear it. Yes, online forums are one outlet, but in my design courses, people interact with me, brainstorm with me, and even sketch with me (if for no other reason than it’s part of their grade). They help me in ways that I have yet to see accomplished online.
3. Use that criticism.
Sometimes criticism sucks. You feel torn to shreds and like your work is garbage (and well, sometimes it is garbage). But take that criticism and put it to work for you! If someone hates the color scheme, or feels like the type is too large, change them! Try something new! Try any and all suggestions! This is all part of the design process, and will lead you to a better final product.
4. Remember: it’s a process.
Designing is never a “one and done” situation. So, find your peace with that and work toward the final version! The first part of your process should be sketching your ideas on paper – not your computer. This is the fastest way to get things out of your head and into the physical world, and the reason you need those drawing skills. In class, my professors often assign 100 thumbnails to start a project. Yikes – 100?! Don’t panic; your thumbnail sketches don’t have to be good. In fact, it’s pretty much expected that they won’t be. But then you can start narrowing down to that polished idea. Start with 100, and narrow down 10 you’ll redraw and refine. Then three. Then one. Then a few variants and revisions of that one. And remember to get critiques at every step of the process!
5. Look around.
Everything around you has been designed by someone – billboards and fliers are and obvious example, but what about logos and apps on your phone? I personally feel that good design frequently goes unnoticed because of its goodness; it feels right, like it’s supposed to be there, so nobody needs to point it out. Be the one to point it out, at least to yourself! Take photographs, save images from the web, make mood boards that inspire your style. Be observant of everything, try imitating things you like, see what makes it work the way it does. However you do it, look around!
I hope you find these tips helpful. I know that I have!