8 Ways to Teach Yourself Design

A group of questions I get a lot are...

"How did you learn to do what you do?"

"How can I get started with graphic design?"

"Should I take college classes?"

Maybe you're debating whether or not to get into the graphic design field. Or maybe you want to get started freelancing or just learning as a hobby. 

I majored in graphic design in school but honestly, I didn't love it and I don't think it's the only route. You can be a designer without going to school and it does really depend on how you want to USE your skills. 

There's a lot you can learn through experience and online training. And luckily, there are so many free, up to date learning opportunities right at your fingertips because of the internet. 

In case school isn't an option for you or you don't want to wait, I'm going to share 8 ways you can easily get started with design today using online resources.


Why I Didn't Love College Design Classes

Just to be clear, I am NOT anti-college. 

I went to college for graphic design. It was okay but I actually feel like I learned the majority of what I do outside of school.

When I got started in college, I had the idea that I'd be taught the latest design techniques, use the top programs, and learn everything that I needed to know on the job. This wasn't the case for me.

One of my biggest frustrations throughout the process was that everything I learned was extremely DATED. 

Graphic design rules are pretty consistent but styles and techniques change very rapidly. For that reason, I felt like I was wasting time buying and studying school books with really outdated, overused design styles. The rules still applied, but it wasn't inspiring and motivating. At all.

Secondly, I had a few design jobs while taking classes and I couldn't help but notice that a lot of what I was being taught wasn't applicable to what I was doing on a daily basis. I had to teach myself most of that work through experimenting with the programs and online tutorials from other designers.


What WAS Helpful In Class?

Critiques. I loved that I could regularly get feedback from my classmates and teachers who also had a creative eye.

Design rules. Learning things like spacing, repetition, balance, contrast, hierarchy. Those things don't change often and were helpful for applying to more current styles of design.

Dabbling. I liked that I was forced to learn a little bit of everything regardless of what kind of design job I wanted. So I got to test out different avenues and now know at least the basics of art, typography, illustration, animation, web design, etc.

Again a lot of this you can learn online if you force yourself to stay well rounded and also get feedback from design mentors. 

So if going to school just isn't an option for you, don't lose hope!


8 Ways to Teach Yourself Design - Everyone Starts Somewhere

8 Ways to Teach Yourself Design

1 | Adobe Tutorials - If you have absolutely no experience with design programs, this is a great place to start. Adobe has tutorials on how to use design programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, After Effects, Premiere, etc. They give you all of the basics for free so you can methodically get more and more comfortable with these tools. You can also request private trainings & certification if you want to get more in depth and become an expert.

2 | Creative Live - These online classes are strictly for creative fields like photography, video, design, music, etc. and they are more along the lines of a live workshop. You can catch online classes live and watch them for free. Or you can buy a class and watch at your own pace. I love that these can sometimes be a few days' worth of material and you really get to know the instructors. It feels a lot like sitting in a physical class or going to a workshop because of the live environment.

3 | Skillshare - Short online video classes that teach you creative, business, technology and lifestyle skills. You can sign up for a premium membership and take an unlimited amount of classes. In this way, you can quickly learn a lot of beginning or advanced skills from great teachers who actually use those skills in their careers on a day to day basis.

As an example, you can take my Typography Art Print Class in a little over an hour know the basics of Photoshop, a few design rules and know how to create 3 types of art prints for your house or shop.

4 | Udemy - Similar to Skillshare. But it has a bigger variety of skills and the classes tend to be longer or sometimes even open-ended. I've used it to learn workouts, dance, business, and brush up on other languages. Rather than a monthly subscription, you pay for each video class individually. Some can get pretty expensive but there are a lot of reasonable classes on there too. 

5 | Youtube Videos - Especially when I was first starting out, I'd have a design idea (like creating type in the shape of a circle for example) but I wouldn't know how to do that in Photoshop or Illustrator. So after quickly searching and watching a 3-Minute Youtube tutorial, I could immediately put it into practice. Those tiny tips add up.

6 | Envato Tuts+ - These tutorial guides are fun for stretching your creativity. My favorite tutorials are the photomanipulation techniques. Some of these are so inspiring and fun for when you're feeling burned-out. They may not be as applicable to a job as a Printing class for example, but they do expand your knowledge of the design programs and what they can do.

7 | Simply Experimenting - You can watch a ton of classes and get a lot of design knowledge, but actually putting it into practice is key! In my early days, I practiced all the time as a hobby (creating really awful cutouts of my friends or ridiculous photo collages of family members - "Look Dad! It's you shopping with Paris Hilton!"). The more you play around in design programs, the more confident you'll be when it's time to use them for a paid project.

8 | Design Mentors - One of the BEST things you can do is learn from those who are killin' it. Ask for critiques and feedback on places like Behance. Read other designer's blog posts. Explore design hashtags on Instagram or browse Pinterest for art inspiration. Make friends with other creatives instead of compete so you can learn from each other and multiply your mutual success.

To this day, I still follow a lot of amazing designers just to have an eye on what's new and trending, what resources they're loving, what business tips they have, etc. In the beginning I also learned from their different design styles, not by copying, but by taking notes. For example, noting what colors they frequently used, what fonts paired well together, or how they created layouts in a more modern way than what I learned in school.


Be Confident In Your Skills

Everyone has to start somewhere. And it's not like you graduate and automatically become a professional. You become a professional with practice, experience, honest feedback, great mentors and with time. So be confident and don't feel like an imposter if you don't have a degree. Most clients will care more about your portfolio and unique gifts than where you learned them. 

So just get started! You got this!