Starting Your Design Adventure: Advice for Design Beginners

When you finish high school and have that diploma in hand, you feel as if you can do just about anything. The sky is the limit! You look at every opportunity as an adventure. If you are pursuing a career in graphic design, you must prepare and pack for your journey.

There’s the usual packing list that you’ll probably follow. But you will also have to consider the landscape and climate so you remember to pack some essential tools to make your adventure a successful one. While some might find spontaneity to be exciting and exhilarating, some adventures require you to do some research and careful planning before setting foot out that door.

Advice for Design Beginnersphoto from Shutterstock

If you decide that furthering your education is the path you want to choose, I highly suggest that you research different schools that are of interest to you so that the one you choose is a right fit.

  • Learning Style: Some people learn better through hands-on training while others may learn better through lectured theory classes. Look at programs to see what sort of courses are offered, how they are taught and evaluate what might be a great fit for your learning style.
  • Schedules: It’s a busy, crazy world out there and sometimes schedules can be conflicting. More and more people have to work while attending school and so this can be an important factor when choosing a school. Check out the schedules of the schools you are interested in to see if they offer flexibility.
  • Internships: Ask schools about their internship programs. Some schools require internships as part of their graduation requirements but I would highly recommend finding an internship regardless of requirements. Internships are a great way to further your education outside of the classroom and allow you to learn in a real-world setting. You might even discover a passion in an area of design that you never considered before. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door when seeking employment after graduation.

Regardless of whether you choose to further your education by going to college for  design or you are considering alternative paths, there are some graphic design basics that you’ll need to include in your preparations for becoming a great designer.

  • Elements and Principles: These are the survival skills in the design world that are going to help you build a strong foundation which you will rely on for your entire career. It is essential that you learn about elements such as lines, shapes, proportions, color theory and texture. You will also need to learn about principles that include grids, contrast, spatial relationships, balance and patterns. It is important that you understand how all of these work with or against each other to make a design effective. Many traditional art classes will actually help train your eye to understand and use these fundamentals in the work that you create.
  • Typography: You cannot study design without also understanding the basics of typography. Designers use typography to communicate with their audience. It can help set the tone and influence how a message is conveyed. You also have to consider legibility of different typefaces, point sizes, kerning, leading and tracking because these all have a big impact on how effective a message is received. If used improperly, you can communicate the wrong message and lose credibility. This can be a dangerous component if not treated with the respect that it demands.

Some people assume that if you have any artistic abilities and the ability to do a few tricks in Photoshop that you are a validated graphic designer. The truth is that while having some artistic abilities and knowing how to use some design programs like Photoshop is helpful, a true designer needs to have good thinking skills. They need to be able to creatively convey ideas and messages through compelling design solutions to various audiences as intended.

Many other designers will probably agree that regardless of how skilled you are at drawing, it’s important that you develop good thinking skills and can convey them on paper by sketching or writing ideas down. You should practice making this a habit before ever touching a computer. Once you have a solid idea to work with from your sketches and notes, it’s a lot easier to bring it to life digitally through programs like Photoshop, Illustrator or whatever application you choose to work with.

With the way that people communicate, it would be foolish to not consider social media as a way to learn and grow as a designer. If you connect with the right people, they will provide endless resources that if used effectively, will enhance your skills as a designer on multiple levels. Don’t be afraid to reach out to some of your favorite designers. Most of them are willing to answer any questions that you might have and will appreciate your interest in the work that they do.

From my own personal experience, I have discovered that this tip truly works. Some of my best friends are those that I have met through forums and by reaching out through email or social media. When I need some creative advice, these are the people that I know I can rely on to help me out!

I would also highly recommend attending workshops and conferences that focus on design. One of the best choices that I have ever made while going to school was attending a design conference. I have been attending that conference almost every year since. It’s an awesome opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded people and discuss topics that you are passionate about. Presentations provide you with inspiration, fresh perspective, tips and information on how to improve as a designer.

In a world where technology and trends are ever evolving and competition is always strong, you really need to have the mentality of “use it or lose it” and be willing to accept that even if you are done with college and have your degree that the learning never stops.

Listed below are some great books, websites, apps and more that are worthy of sharing that will help you on your path to becoming a great designer:

Darcy Hinrichs currently works in-house for Cabela’s for the Web Creative team in Sidney, NE. She has been with the company for nearly a decade working in both catalog and internet departments. She is also the owner/designer/illustrator of DarcyLea Design. She is an active member of a group called the HOWies and is an advocate for online design communities for the professional benefits that they provide.