10 Tips to Teach Yourself Design & Boost Your Design Skills

With products and services depending largely on design skills to appeal to their customers, the demand for good design skills is increasing day by the day.

Today’s graphic designers come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some took courses in school while others took it upon themselves to learn design. If you’re one of the latter and need some help in improving your design skills, then read on.

Below is a list of 10 tips as well as resources to help you get a running start on your design journey. These tips and resources will help but remember that it is up to you to become the great designer you aspire to be. It takes time, patience and determination to become a really good designer. But once you have acquired the skills they will stay with you permanently. Secondly, the idea here is to improve your skills with practice and develop good design aesthetic skills over time. Lastly, remember skills can be developed with practice.  

01. Get a design crash course through interactive tutorials

The dilemma is this: you’re pressed for time and money but you need to learn the basics of design, including terms and main principles fast. If that’s the case, then a hands-on tutorial like Canva’s 30 interactive design tutorials could be exactly what you need.

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These tutorials can equip you with the foundation you need by giving you a design principle or lesson to focus on, then asking you to apply or practice that principle immediately. It’s intuitive learning and can be immediately applied to your future design projects.

Some design tutorials to instantly improve your skills:

Of course, it’s best to finish all 30 design tutorials, but if you want a crash course, here are some tutorials you can start with and use instantly:

Working With Colors

The colors you use in your design convey the moods and highlight important sections of your design. These tutorials will show you how to build meaningful color relationships to create visually stunning graphics: Color Your Design, Color Relationships, and Creative Color Palettes.

Working with Fonts:

If you can play around with your text and images, you can create strikingly powerful designs. These tutorials will help you learn how to easily choose fonts that emphasize your message and make your designs look beautiful: Choosing the Right Font, Font Pairing Basics, and Tips for Titles.

Layout & Alignment

Another important aspect of design is your layout. The layout gives structure and purpose to your design. Learn the art of alignment with these three tutorials: The Art of Alignment, Working with White Space, Harnessing Hierarchy.

02. Follow design blogs and read design books

Any student knows that learning is an ongoing process. With an ever-changing industry, it’s easy to get lost, or worse, become irrelevant if you don’t keep up. So, as a self-learner, you’ll need to remain updated with the latest news and trends by following design blogs and reading design books.

Here are some design blogs to spend some time daily reading:

It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh ideas that will inspire you. You can follow some good design blogs.

  • Designrfix – If you want to become good at web design, add this website to your bookmark list now.
  • DesignTaxi – It is more than just a design blog, covering advertisement topics and social media industry.
  • Gainbuzz – It is again covering advertisement topics and some create ads.
  • Artwork Abode – It is great blog graphic design, and other marketing collaterals.
  • 1stWebdesigner – Keep track of the latest developments in the design industry with this blog.
  • FastCo Design – Find some inspiration every day with this sub-blog of FastCompany.
  • Swiss Miss – Take a break with this fun, inspiring and interesting blog with snackable content.

Here are a few design books you have to read:

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This book can be read by anyone – graphic designers, educators, and professionals.

100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

If you are looking for a creative read, this book demonstrates how ideas turned into objects.

Interaction of color

Conceived as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students.

Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

A must read for a designer who wants to get a deep understanding of typography.

Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Logos by Terry Stone, Noreen Morioka Sean Adams

If you want to understand and create beautiful logo designs you have to add this book to your design list.

03. Start using tools like Canva and pair it with SocialPilot

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For a quick start, you can start getting design help from sites like Canva. Canva is a great platform for beginning designers. It has preset templates and layouts for you to play around. You can easily create social media image including cover photos, quotes, profile photo and much more.

What if you could create a design and share it with your social profiles without having to download the image? Yes, we have integrated SocialPilot with Canva. Therefore, with the help of SocialPilot, you can easily share or schedule an image upload directly from Canva. Now you can easily share different types of image to your multiple social media networks with one click. Creating the marketing design for your brand and schedule them or post them is easy directly using SocialPilot.

04. Gather design inspiration and learn the stories behind these artworks

Perhaps finding inspiration is going to be one of the main tasks on a daily basis. It is also one of the interesting tasks of a designer if you are the curious type. Search for viral ads and watch them carefully while you keep an open mind. Watch the ads with keen observation to take notice of why these ads did so well?

Another way to find inspiration and understanding of design is to look at the stories behind some of the most iconic brands of all times. Perhaps one of the best ways to show how design changes with the times and with a business is through the evolution of logos. Below is a quick look at logos of well-known brands and how they’ve transformed through the years.

IBM

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Complex

IBM’s logo history tells a great story. Starting as the International Time Recording (ITR) Company in 1888, the various logos trace this company’s long history. In 1981, two businessmen from Dayton Ohio purchased the patent for the newly invented computing scale and created the Computing Scale Company. By 1924, it became the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company and in 1924 was renamed as International Business Machines. It was only in 1947 when the company first used their three-letter typeface logo. Read about their entire logo history here.

Starbucks

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Complex

The initial logo of Starbucks coffee was a topless mermaid with two tails. As CEO Howard Schultz later explained, “Bare breasted and Rubenesque, [the mermaid] was supposed to be as seductive as the coffee itself.” But when they had to put the bigger logo size on delivery trucks there was a problem. Starbucks solved the problem by restyling the mermaid’s hairdo so it draped over the trouble spots. Read more about it here: How a Topless Mermaid Made the Starbucks Cup an Icon.

Walmart

1962 – 1964 – 1968 – 1981 – 1992 – Present

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Walmart

The Walmart logo has changed alongside the business since its founding in 1962. According to them, Walmart launched without a true logo. In fact, for the first two years, when the Walmart name appeared in print, the font and style were chosen at the whim of the printer. It was only in 1964 when the company decided to choose a brand logo – Frontier. From there the company would experiment with three more different fonts and change their hyphen to a star before finally replacing it altogether with their now iconic Walmart spark.

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Even the leading internet website in the world changed toned their logo down to a simple version. You can read the full story in Adweek.

05. Try to Participate In Design Communities

Let’s face the truth your work is not going to speak for itself. You might become very good in designing but if you’re looking to leverage your design skills, you need to put yourself out there.

So if you are thinking the best designers in the market are the best, well they are ones you have heard of. They are the ones that have built  a reputation for them by speaking at conferences, writing books and through self-promotion.

Make it a point to participate in design communities and you will build a reputation for yourself. You can start today by participating in an online community of designers.

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Here are a few online design forums to get started with today:

  • How Design – This is one of the most popular design sites on the internet. The forum is conveniently broken down into categories and smaller topics.
  • Creattica – It is a great website to share your designs and get appreciation from experts.
  • Yanko Design – One of the largest Facebook communities for design, they share very interesting timeline content.

06. Get feedback on your work (and don’t be afraid of critique!)

Following tip #5, these forums are not only a great way to build a reputation, they’re also a great avenue for sharing your work and receiving feedback.

Deep down a lot of us are afraid of receiving critique of our work. We’ve poured so much passion and effort into an artwork so it would be quite difficult to hear criticism, even constructive ones. But taking and giving critiques are key to improving any skill — not just design. Remember, there’s often more things to learn when we make mistakes than when we get everything right. Ask for honest feedback and you might even learn new techniques, design trends and new ideas.

You can also visit Inbound.org which has a great feedback tool for designers, allowing viewers to comment directly on your design. You can also visit The Crit Pit, another awesome graphic design feedback forum.

07. Experiment, Experiment, and Experiment

There is a funny thing about creative designing, you can approach a design from any number of ways but only a few will fit perfectly.

The design is all about the visual look and feel, so the best way to appeal to your audience is to practice more and more with your design. For example, let’s take typography – we can utilize it many ways to get a great visual design. The way we use fonts and typefaces carry a lot of meaning and they can completely change the message depending on how we use them. Experiment with different types and when in doubt keep it simple.

Another key element of your design is color. Once you are familiar with color psychology, experiment with different colors to create emotional connections with your audience. Practice with different color palettes, play around with highlight, contrast and fade out effects.

08. Remix or remake your favorite designs

You know how budding inventors often like to take apart things to figure out how they work? Designers can also get great ideas in a similar way. Finding new, interesting and even well-known graphic design artworks then reproducing or even reworking them in new ways can help you dissect the techniques and figure out the design principles and technical skills that went into creating the original one.

Important Note! Of course, it’s important to remember that remaking or reproducing other people’s designs is only a personal and private exercise to boost your design skills. Never infringe copyrighted work and never pass off someone else’s hard work as your own.

Once you’ve created more designs, you can even go back to your older designs to find new ways to improve them.

09. Build Own a Fake (demo) Portfolio

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Start to collect your best designs in one place. It can either be a website portfolio or you can host your work on a free blogging site. Once you have a collection of yourr design works, you can show your best ones off. And just like that, you have your design portfolio ready.

Behance and Dribbble are great platforms for hosting your artwork.

10. Follow and discover designers and photographers on Instagram

Instagram is a great platform to follow your favorite designers and photographers and even discover up and coming ones like yourself!

The best part about social media is not just being able to remain updated with their newest work but also being able to interact with them. Many artists can even give you suggestions and guidance. Do a hashtag search or find one designer and see how they’re following you’re sure to discover works and artist that can inspire you.

To start you off, here’s a short list of some of our favorite designers to follow on Instagram:

Hey Studio

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presentandcorrect
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Conclusion:

If you’re just beginning to teach yourself design, this is the best time to build good habits to help you proactively learn design and practice what you learn every day. Repeat the process of learning and practicing. Remember, patience is the key. To test how you are doing you can offer to do some design work for a business for free and see the response you get. If you get a positive response, you will be confident and start getting paid for your work. By following these steps religiously, before you realize you will be in demand.

Sawaram Suthar is Digital marketing evangelist and founder of Jagat Media - Digital Marketing Agency and TheNextScoop.com blog. Within a short span of time, he has helped various enterprises to increase their traffic & ROI. His expertise lies in digital marketing, SEO and brand promotion. He is also a marketing head at Tagove . When he is not on the desk, love to make new connections, meet people and invest used time within the family.