How to Design: A Simple Guide to Graphic Design for the Non-Designer
I’m not a designer.
In fact, I think I’m rather bad at it.
And yet, people pay me to design.
And I only deliver the best.
And yes, the quality of the work I produce are top-notch, if I may say so myself.
So, now you may ask me, I just said I’m a bad designer, so how is it that I create awesome designs for my clients?
Well, after many months of trials and errors and sucking and downright REALLY sucking, I have come to realize that art (and design) are in fact acquired skills. That is to say, if you know what to do, you can create amazing things even if you don’t have a degree or a mentor or anything to your name that may qualify you as a bona-fide, traditional “designer”.
And so today, I’ll share with you my tried and proven method to becoming a pretty good designer without spending a dime.
(Disclaimer: you may want to pay to learn some of the technical stuff, like how to use illustrator and photoshop and inDesign, etc. But even so, you can go a long way just by watching free tutorials online. Well, at least that’s how I learned… by watching hours and hours worth of Youtube videos!)
Let’s get cracking!
The First Step is to Believe You can Be a Designer
Nothing’s worse than questioning your own resolve every other day. It simply doesn’t work that way. If you want to be somebody… ANYBODY… you need to envision who you want to be first, and then resolve to be that person.
Your resolve needs to be chink-proof. As in, do not allow anyone to say you cannot be something or someone. And most of all, do not allow YOURSELF to tell yourself you are not good enough.
So, you don’t have a degree in design? Who cares?
Next, You Need to Understand That Stealing is Perfectly Acceptable
Back in school we were taught how stealing is oh so bad. All those warnings about flunking if caught plagiarizing… Well, plagiarizing IS bad… but only if you’re way too obvious about it.
Before you decide to crucify me, allow me to explain and provide you with social proof for what I just said.
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”— Salvador Dali
There’s an art to stealing off of others and let me assure that all the greatest and the smartest of the industry steal off of those that are even greater and smarter.
The key to stealing in a totally legit way is to steal from everyone! If you just steal from one person, you’re going to be too obvious, and it’s unethical to boot. However, if you steal from a lot of people, you’re not just like so and so. Mixing all these components you’ve learned from others together will create something totally unique. And that’s when you know you’re created art!
Also, diversify your sources. If you want to be a graphic designer, for example, don’t steal just from other graphic designers, but also from photographers, painters, illustrators, sculptors, potters, and even from those who are not necessarily artists. If you really look for it, you can find inspiration in all sorts of places.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.” — Jim Jarmusch
Basically, as we all know, nothing under the sky is original. So, if you’re hoping to create something completely unique, you may just be waiting your entire life without creating a single thing.
As for us non-designer designers, we need to especially put in a lot of effort into learning from others’ works.
Work For a Real Client
Nothing makes you learn a craft faster than being forced to produce work. You can sit around trying to teach yourself as much as you want, but unless you have a real client, you won’t truly learn.
It may be difficult to get paying clients from the very first, especially if you’re self-taught, without credentials. Helping those who need the services you are trying to provide but do not have the budget for it, for free or in exchange of a testimonial, can be a great way to learn the tricks of the trade, as well as build a portfolio.
Use Free Resources as much as possible
The internet is full of generous graphic designers who are passionate about teaching what they know. Take advantage of the vast sea of resources. However, too much information can be overwhelming at times. My way of weeding through the over-saturated space is to try whatever I can get my hands on, and if I don’t get pulled into the content within the first 5 minutes, I leave it.
Here are a Few Tips for You to Grow as a Graphic Designer
All that said, there are definitely certain steps, tricks even, that you can use to grow and improve as a graphic designer.
1. Study color theory.
Spend some time understanding how colors work together. This will take you far when it comes to designing something.
2. Learn about fonts.
Fonts alone can make or break your design, so it’s always a good idea to understand different types of fonts. A humanist or a transitional font, for example, convey very different emotions. Try and understand that subtle meanings behind each different type of fonts.
3. When in doubt, use great images.
Using images to your design can add character. Depending on where your graphics will be used, you can utilize images to convey certain emotions.
4. Use third party resources.
For those us who are not great at drawing or illustrating, there are free and paid illustrations that graphic designers can use. Patterns can add a nice touch to otherwise boring graphics. If you cannot make them yourself, use stock images and patterns.
5. Understand branding.
Every design serves a purpose, and that purpose is linked to branding. When you are creating something for a client, understand their branding, their voice, the message they are trying to give. To be able to design something that’s right, is more important than designing something that’s just pretty. The goal is of course, to design something that’s beautiful as well as something that tells the right story.
6. Apply restrictions.
When it comes to great design, “less is more” is always a safe fallback. Set some boundaries for yourself. Maybe use only two colors, and only one font with different weights. When you can create great design with only a couple of colors and a couple of fonts at most, you know you are ready to move onto more complex design, but not before!
7. STUDY. STUDY. STUDY.
Nothing beats studying. Learning is what makes you better over time. learn from other designer, read design blogs, read books! If you can afford to learn some of the industry leading tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or InDesign, that’s great! Start slow. Start with something simple like Canva! Just try to get the look with Canva first, and then move on to more complex shapes and patterns with Photoshop and Illustrator.
Now, a Little Tip on How to Get Those First Clients When You’re a Design Newbie
One word. Facebook! When I first started and I didn’t have a portfolio to show, I got my first few pro-bono clients on Facebook groups!
Here’s how to take full advantage of Facebook groups:
1. Join a few groups where your target audience hangs out.
As for me, I didn’t have a super defined audience profile. I was broke and I needed clients. FAST. So I joined a few Facebook groups that had “Blogger” or “Entrepreneur” or “Business” as part of the group name. I figured some newbie bloggers or new business owners could help with some free graphics. It helped a lot when I was just building my portfolio, but even when I started taking on paying clients, I got quite a few from these groups.
2. Set aside some time looking for potential clients on Facebook every day.
Here’s what you can do. Spend 20–40 minutes per day looking for posts where someone asks for a designer. Sometimes you’ll need to work for free, and sometimes, especially if you have a few testimonials and examples, you can even land some paid gigs.
3. Provide value.
When you are short on time, do this: post some free value on some of the groups. They don’t have to be super original. May be a tip or trick you just learned. Don’t sell in these posts. Just provide value. And let the clients come to you! Providing free value makes you appear as an authority. And authority creates trust.
Closing Words of Wisdom
Basically, if you want to be a graphic designer, start off with believing that you can absolutely be one. And then put in massive work! Massive work = Fast turnout! Never stop learning, use all the free resources you can get your hands on. Learn from these resources, and then some. Build your portfolio by working for real clients. One way to get clients when you’re still a newbie is by looking for them on Facebook groups.
Well, that should give you some things to think over and act on. Trust me when I say this: if I can be a designer, then so can your grandma, and even her pet! (OK, maybe not her pet… but you know what I mean…)
You’ve got this!