When I started out with learning design, I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by all the information that is out there. I was sure that knowing how to use Photoshop was basically equal to knowing how to design. Then I learned CSS because I thought that was the next step. I’d like for you to skip all this exploration and simply — learn design. That’s why I compiled this collection of links. I can pretty much guarantee that following this list closely will put you in the top 20% percent of all who are trying to learn design. But don’t take my word for it, check out the number of shares this post got! Looking for just a few useful tricks? Download this list of design books that every founder should read!
The fastest and most effective way of learning is to copy what other people have done. It’s the ultimate “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Instead of spending years developing a skill, you can quickly learn the ropes by simply following in the footsteps of professional designers. This is why step-by-step tutorials and all-in-one books (like mine) work so well for learning design. The problem is that as a beginner, you don’t yet know what good design looks like. That’s why I included the top inspiration sites where you can learn to “see” what good design looks like. I hope this resource comes in handy. If you need a printable, offline checklist version of this list to tick off all read materials, I’ll share the free download at the end of this post. If this list is a bit too much, be sure to also check 18 bite-sized resources for business owners wanting to learn design!
Graphic Design Theory
First, you’ll need to understand the underlying theory behind eye-candy. Why is it that some layouts feel awfully unprofessional while others give off a strong sense of competency? The secret is in typography, colours, and layout. Before anything else, study the following materials.
Fonts are the single most important factor in design. You’ll be hard pressed to find a layout that doesn’t involve any text; and so, some estimate that 95% of all graphic design is actually type. It’s crucial for new designers to pay close attention to typography when starting out with learning design — if there’s only one area that you can improve in, make typography the priority.
- Thinking with Type [book]
- Helvetica [documentary]
- Key Rules for Typography [article]
- A Brief Introduction to Typography [infographic]
- Typographica [advanced resource]
Picking the right colours for your designs is a pain in the butt. I still can’t properly use that pesky colour wheel, and I learned that picking a primary colour at random can work just as well as anything else. However, there are some colour rules that actually work, and these articles explore them. Layout is crucial for efficient communication. Your colours and fonts can be perfectly chosen, but bad alignment or the lack of hierarchy will ruin any piece. Here are the resources every beginner designer must read to get the general idea of what makes a great layout. Sometimes, it’s nice to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Is design really that important? Of course my answer would be “Yes!”, but decide for yourself, of course after you’ve read all of these:
- Startups, this is how design works [article]
- Design Principles [website]
- The Design of Everyday Things [book]
After you’ve learned all about graphic design theory, you can finally start learning about your specific area of interest, whether it be app design, web design, or logos. First, we’ll look into branding. The first thing you will want to design for your brand is a logo. But it doesn’t stop there — branding must remain consistent to really work. Even if your product isn’t an app, you’ll benefit from having the UX view over things. UX can teach us basic rules of usability, but also provide a few important methodologies (e.g. user testing). Here are a few fundamental works you should work through: It’s time for the widest of graphic design disciplines, web design. There are a number of different definitions available as to what exactly is web design and if it also consist of coding. Here are some of the essential resources for beginning to learn web design.
- 9 basic principles of responsive web design (with gifs)[article]
- Create a Clean Magazine & Blog Theme [free course]
- Designing for The Web [free online ebook]
Despite general opinion, the tools are far less important than understanding design principles. Technically, you could learn those by scribbling on a piece of paper and only learn the tools later. What I’m trying to say is that don’t think that you know design if you’re comfortable in Photoshop.
I learned both Illustrator and Photoshop from the Classroom in a Book series, and while it was super boring, it taught me everything I needed to know. I’d recommend throughfully learning the tools you’re going to use. The up-front investment will save you a lot more time in the long run.
Illustrator is mainly used for vector designs, like logos, icons, flat designs, and — no surprise there — illustrations. While learning a tool, it may be a good idea to follow an illustration tutorial or two, just to get familiar with all the shortcuts and functions.
Photoshop was initially created for photographers (hence the name), but it was quickly adopted by graphic designers. Today, it’s being used heavily for web design, even though some designers complain about unsuitability for responsive web design. Sketch is a new kid on the block that offers a range of significant improvements over Adobe’s flagship products. While it doesn’t offer some of the photo-editing possibilities of Photoshop, it has some neat options for UI designers, like re-using assets and styles, and even generating CSS.
You might not have months to learn graphic design. Or maybe you’d just like someone to guide you along the way. Well, I got you covered! Here are some of the courses, books, and websites that will take you from start to finish.
Designlab is a new service that allows you to work on your design skills with the help of a mentor. While you work on the course (time investment of 10 hours/week), one of the high-level designers will help you with tips and feedback on your work. It can hardly get any more interactive than that.
Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
The Creative Workshop book is widely praised for its versatility; even seasoned designers can learn a lot of new things from the excercises! But don’t believe me, go read the reviews. This is a free online course made up from a number of links and posts. If you’re looking for a comprehensive resource like this list, but would like to take it further, you should definitely check out HackDesign.