“I just don’t have an eye for that sort of stuff.”
“I am the last person you would want to design a logo.”
“I wish I could do that, but I’m not very creative.”
Whenever someone finds out I’m a graphic designer, I usually hear something similar to the responses above.
And while I agree that some people are more clued into design than others, I’ll be the first to tell you that you don’t have to have a design degree to implement great design.
Whether you’re a self-taught designer who’s just getting their feet wet with client work or you’re a business owner who’s faced with the task of designing graphics for their brand and website, you can absolutely create beautiful designs… You just have to be willing to learn and practice!
And with the help of these 9 resources and actions, you’ll improve your design skills in no time.
1 | Subscribe to design blogs
One of the best ways to improve in an area is to immerse yourself in it.
Consider adding the following blogs to the list of blogs that you’re already following along with:
Canva’s Design School - This blog is a treasure trove of helpful posts on design. From inspirational roundups on great presentations and banner ads to how to implement pop art to your designs, you can learn so many great design principles and strategies by following along with Design School’s content.
The Design Blog - Keep up with the latest fonts and upcoming designs for branding, illustration, packaging, stationery, print, and more. I could stay on this site all day looking around for inspiration!
50 Best Design Blogs - This list is chock-full of relevant design-based blogs. If you want to lose yourself in beautiful work for the next 3 hours, pay this link a visit.
2 | Take an online course
One of the biggest hurdles in learning how to design is actually bringing those designs to life, and that comes through learning how to use design software.
While there are tons of tutorials out there on Adobe Creative Suite, you’ll gain so much more from investing in an online course or taking a class at a local community college.
Instead of having to piece together YouTube videos, you’ll be guided through exactly how to use the program from start to finish.
InDesign Field Guide - Kelsey from Paper & Oats takes away all the overwhelm of learning a complicated program like InDesign in this course. It’s also specifically geared toward self-taught designers and creative business owners, which is an added bonus!
Adobe Illustrator Basics - My Illustrator Basics course uses video lessons and practice files to walk you through Adobe Illustrator functions that will help you create custom, one-of-a kind graphics for your business.
Once you’ve learned the basics of design programs, you can continue improving your skills and picking up new tricks by watching YouTube videos like this one. (I could watch fast-motion Adobe Illustrator videos all day long!)
3 | Read books and magazines
Reading books and magazines is another great way to immerse yourself in great design.
And the more you surround yourself with great design, the more you’ll begin to pick up and implement for yourself.
These books and magazines are at the top of my list:
Logo Design Love - This book is a great guide for designers and business owners who want to understand what the mysterious business of logo design is all about. David Airey doesn’t use a ton of designer jargon; instead he explains the logo design process simply and makes it approachable for people at every level. Logo Design Love is a fantastic resource!
Thinking With Type - Typography is a critical element to good design. In this book, Ellen Lupton shares all about the ins and outs of everything you need to know about designing with type. This book was required in many of my design classes at Virginia Tech because it’s so useful and applicable, and I continue to return back to it often.
HOW Design Magazine - I could spend hours upon hours in Barnes & Noble’s magazine section browsing through design magazines and getting inspiration for new projects. HOW Design is one that always seems to be on the racks and I continue to keep a stack of old issues in our apartment.
A few others that I haven’t read but are currently sitting in my Amazon cart:
- How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World
- Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
- Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits
- Graphic Design Thinking (Design Briefs)
- Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team
4 | Follow along with other designers/design agencies
This isn’t an endorsement for copying other designers’ work. There’s a fine line between inspiration and stealing.
But surrounding yourself with other designers (even if it’s just on social media) is a great way to pick up new design ideas; it’s almost like their talent rubs off on you the longer and longer you follow along with their work.
I also come across new designers all the time by following along with AIGA on Instagram.
5 | Pay attention to great design to see what they’re doing right
Good design and bad design is all around you, whether you’re passing by storefront signs or billboards on your morning commute, walking down the aisles at the grocery store, reading magazines in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or scrolling through the internet.
Anyone can decipher good design from bad design, but not everyone could tell you what separates the two.
If you want to improve your design skills, start paying attention to good design and try to determine why it’s visually pleasing.
Is the color palette? The font choices? The layout? The iconography? The photography?
You can take the same approach with bad design. What are they doing wrong? Why isn’t the design working?
Before you know it, you’ll start to decipher what works and what doesn’t work (especially if you’re also reading some of those design books and blogs listed above) and you’ll be able to implement what you’ve learned in your own designs.
6 | Utilize templates
It’s okay to start with templates if you’re just getting your feet wet in design!
The more you use good design templates, the more you’ll become aware of what design elements work well together.
I have several Adobe Illustrator templates for things like blog post graphics, opt-in images, icons, slides, and more in the Elle & Company Library.
And Canva has numerous design templates as well!
7 | Recreate designs for practice
During my freshman year of design school, one of my drawing professors had us choose a famous work of art and recreate it.
You might be having the same reaction I had at first: “Wait, you want me to copy their work?!”
But this was simply an exercise, and it was extremely helpful.
By trying to recreate the work, I learned a lot about technique and I gained a new appreciation for the talent of the artist.
So while I don’t encourage you to copy work and claim it as your own, I do encourage you to try to recreate some designs you’ve seen and admired from other designers.
This is purely for practice; I don’t recommend sharing it anywhere. But by trying to mimic the work, you’ll learn some new techniques and gain an appreciation for the work.
8 | Experiment
I don’t know about you, but my perfectionism often holds me back from my creativity by keeping me from experimenting.
I like to play it safe and stick to what I know, which never gets me anywhere.
Design is all about taking risks and putting your own spin on things. Developing your own style comes from experimenting and willing to be different.
So grab a sketchbook or open Adobe Illustrator and just have fun!
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; no one else ever has to see what you’re working on.
By trying new things and relying on the design knowledge you’ve acquired, you’ll come up with your own unique style and begin to set yourself apart. That’s the sweet spot.
9 | Ask for feedback and critiques
This is definitely the most humbling of all the ways to improve your design skills, but I would argue that it’s also the most effective.
We often have blind spots in our work. Because design is so personal, it’s easy to overlook areas that we could improve on.
You’ll never see your blind spots and get better if you don’t ask for feedback and invite critiques on your work.
I say this knowing full-well just how hard it is to accept criticism (class critiques in design school were the worst), but also seeing firsthand just how much critiques improved my projects.
Are you having trouble finding someone to give you feedback? Reach out to the Elle & Company Community Facebook group!
There are a good mix of trained designers, self-taught designers, and encouraging business owners who are always great about providing insight on design work.
Which one of these tips or resources are you most excited to implement? How are you currently trying to improve your design skills?