How to Learn Graphic Design: 7 Steps to Build Your Skills (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Thinking about becoming a graphic designer? Here’s how to learn the skills you’ll need.

How to Learn Graphic Design: 7 Steps to Build Your Skills (1)

Learning graphic design can be an excellent skill, whether you want to land a job as a graphic designer or become a well-rounded communications professional. Graphic design is a broad creative discipline that encompasses many types of visual design and communication, from designing brand logos to touching up photographs.

Companies and organizations use graphic design to communicate to their customers or users what they do and who they are. Graphic design is a skill needed in creative fields such as brand marketing, to government agencies that need infographics, to UX departments that need UI designers to create web pages.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to learn essential graphic design skills and point you toward resources for kickstarting your journey.

How to learn graphic design

Learning graphic design starts with the basics, like understanding the principles of design. Step by step, we’ll take you through how to learn these skills.

Read more: What Does a Graphic Designer Do? And How Do I Become One?

1. Learn the basics.

Graphic design is about using visual communication to convey different messages to specific audiences. The basic design principles involve how those messages are represented. Graphic designers need to know color theory, typography, hierarchy, composition, shapes, and layout, and how these work together in an image or website or poster to engage different market segments.

Learn color theory and image formats with UC Boulder:

2. Build your skills with online courses.

Once acquainted with the basics, you’re ready to learn the fun stuff. It’s easy to build your skills with the wealth of online courses and resources available to us today.

Here are some courses to get you started:

And some guided projects to build specific skills in two hours or less:

  • Create eye-catching logos using Canva for an ebrand

  • Create Animated Social Media Posts using Canva

  • Building Digital Media using Graphic Design in PowerPoint

  • Create a Promotional Video using Canva

  • Build a free website with WordPress

Graphic design vs. UX Design: What’s the difference?

Graphic designers often specialize in brand-centric work designing visual elements for companies. They use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other design tools to convey messages and ideas.

User experience (UX) designers work with product teams to design user-centric interactions using tools like Figma, Sketch, and Miro. In recent years, UX design has gained popularity as a well-paid career path and is expanding from just tech firms to nearly every kind of organization.

Read more: UX Design vs. Graphic Design: Choosing the Right Career Path

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3. Master the ins and outs of design programs.

To truly learn graphic design, you’ll need to be proficient in graphic design software. Most designers use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop for the majority of their work.

If you’re just starting out, or hoping to dabble in graphic design, Canva is your best bet. Built mainly for the average person to deliver beautiful social media posts and resumes, designers can peruse Canva to understand which types of aesthetics and designs are trending.

As a graphic designer, you’ll want to create designs from scratch on Adobe and bring them to life using the talents you’ve developed.

Read more: 5 Popular Graphic Design Software and How to Choose One

4. Create a portfolio of projects.

Since graphic design is such a visual field, a portfolio is the best way to demonstrate to potential employers your unique skills and work. After you’ve mastered some skills, you may want to take on projects here and there to build a portfolio.

If you have trouble finding freelance projects, make up your own. Give yourself a prompt, such as creating a logo for a health care technology start-up that focuses on well-being, or assist in designing a series of social media posts for the launch of a cosmetics brand. In your portfolio, you’ll want to include the brief, the final designs, and any positive feedback you received.

Tips for creating an impressive portfolio

Ready to start building your portfolio? Here are some tips.

1) Show your best work.

2) Express your personality through your designs.

3) Document the impact of your designs, such as increased brand awareness (with real percentages and analytics!).

Read more: Tips for Creating an Impressive Graphic Design Portfolio

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5. Grow your network.

As you build up a portfolio, you’ll also want to grow your network. Connect with fellow designers at meetups or networking events. Search for design leaders on LinkedIn and ask for an informational interview. Think of an industry you may like to focus on, such as non-profit organizations or branding agencies.

To grow your personal brand, you might even think about creating content and sharing it on Instagram, Pinterest, or another platform. Graphic designers often develop a style or niche over the years, and you can land a job easier if companies can get a general idea of what your designs will look like.

6. Get some work experience.

It may feel difficult to land your first job or consulting gig. Remember that you can volunteer or start with an internship to gain more experience on the job. Fiverr and similar freelance platforms can connect you with people willing to pay per gig for work like designing a resume or presentation. This can be a low-stakes way to gain work experience.

Networking can also help you gain contract or freelance work that will build your portfolio, so you can continue adding to your skill set and experience.

Work from anywhere

Learning graphic design can be a useful skill because it can be done anywhere. Graphic designers are one of the top jobs with flexible hours, meaning you can work remotely or even while traveling. Social media marketer is another common remote job that sometimes involves a basic understanding of graphic design.

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7. Continue to learn and grow.

Once you've mastered the basics, continue to learn and grow, so you can flourish in your graphic design career. There are always new software tools to learn and innovative ways of designing for brands.

As you grow as a graphic designer, you can take additional courses to learn a specific niche or align your skills with a particular industry. You can focus on mastering motion graphics or another user interface (UI) design field that is gaining speed. Honing your craft and talent while being open to opportunities will help you move quickly in your career.

Learn graphic design with CalArts

Learn the principles of graphic design and skills like typography, image-making, motion graphics, interface design, and editorial design with CalArts’ Graphic Design Specialization. Get hands-on experience in the capstone project that you can add to your portfolio.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

How to Learn Graphic Design: 7 Steps to Build Your Skills (2024)
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