Filling Graphic Design Gaps

Hi.

As an instructional designer, I'm finding my work requires more and more graphic design skill. Often, I'm figuring out how to create and edit images myself with Photoshop and Illustrator. I'm also using InDesign to create supplemental job aids and such. I feel like I've come pretty far with what I'm able to create, but I also feel like I'm missing some foundational graphic design knowledge and skills.

Have any of you experienced this dilemma? If so, what resources have you used to fill your graphic design knowledge and skill gaps? Has anyone taken an online "certificate" program (e.g., through Session College or similar) or any individual courses that have been helpful?

Thanks for your input!

Rachel

21 Replies
Tim Slade

Hi Rachel,

Great question! This is something that a lot of people struggle with. Like you, I self-taught myself Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. I use these tools on a daily basis; however, I've also learned that there's also you can accomplish in PowerPoint alone!

One thing I've learned over the years, is that no amount of training will turn someone into a graphic designer. You either have an "eye" for it or you don't. Assuming that you have a talent for it, you just need to develop it. I still don't think a formalized class will help you with that (just my personal opinion).

I learned to develop my graphic design skills by emulating others. When I'd see something cool, I'd figure how how they created it and do it myself. I'd also suggest taking the time to learn some of the basic rules and best practices regarding the use of color, fonts, shapes, etc. You'll find a ton of resources like that here. The weekly e-learning challenges are also a good way of doing this.

There's no quick fix to becoming a good graphic designer. It take practice and time. Eventually you'll find your style.

Jerson  Campos

I come from a graphic design background and I can tell you that good basic graphic design skills can be learned. A few courses on color theory, positive and negative space, UI design, can go a long way. Photoshop and Illustrator are great to learn, but these are just tools that help you put your graphic design ideas into place. Just learning photoshop and illustrator (or any graphic design software) won't make you a graphic designer much like me buying a stethoscope will make me a medical expert. Don't worry about the tools too much, but focus on the fundamentals.

Daniel Brigham

Welcome to the forums, Rachel.

Tim makes good points above. I admit, I struggle with creating interesting, appropriate visual looks for my courses, but I usually create something serviceable. Sure, a true graphic designer could do better, but I'm an e-learning pro, not a graphic designer. BIG difference.

How I get better:

1. Practice playing with ideas. I do most of my design work in PowerPoint, and just keep playing with an idea till I have a sort of Master slide that I can create different layouts from. There's only so many layouts you'll need. Tom Kuhlmann created an informative post on different layouts.

2. Keep a folder of cool designs I see: everything from cereal boxes to magazine ads to whatever. For instance, I recently "borrowed" a menu from a popular chain restaurant, because I liked the graphic design. When you get stuck (or want to challenge yourself) take a look at the folder and try to create something similar.

3. Get a hold of Robin Williams' Design books. I have the Non-Designer and Workshop books. She's great at explaining design concepts to non-designers. Hope that helps somewhat. --Daniel

Simon Perkins

+1 Slide:ology - an excellent book, as is Garr Reynold's Presentation Zen.

Also, take a look at resources from places like GraphicRiver as they often have designs/images/logos/backgrounds/etc that you can either get very cheap or at least use for inspiration. Sometimes it's far better to spend say $6 on an set of images like these instead of spending hours and hours trying to build your own.

Rachel Healey

Thanks for all the insight! I actually have some of those books (Slide:ology and Presentation Zen), and they're incredibly helpful.

At this point, I'm keenly feeling a lack of understanding the "fundamentals," as Jerson mentioned above. I feel like I have a decent eye for design, but I don't know what I don't know. I might make some good choices by chance, but I want to make sure I can back up my graphic design choices with solid theory, the same way I can back up my instructional design choices. In my organization, more and more graphic design responsibility is falling to me, and I want to make sure I'm well qualified to handle it.

Has anyone supplemented their reading and experimenting with extra GD courses or certificate programs?

Marissa Carterud

I agree with posts here and I read the non-designer's design book which was helpful to me when I first got started designing training.

We have graphic designers on staff in my current position, but I use pixlr to edit photos as needed. I agree with Daniel - I focus on eLearning development and I'm not a graphic designer, but I do see the value if you have both skill sets. I would love to learn Photoshop in conjunction with graphic design skills at some point, or at least the basics geared toward what eLearning developers need to know.

Daniel Brigham

Rachel: While you are checking out certificate programs, you might check out the following titles on lynda.com:

  • Introduction to Graphic Design with Justin Seeley (who's well-respected among lynda authors)
  • Foundations of Color
  • Foundations of Layout and Composition
  • Foundations of Typography
  • Before and After: Things Every Designer Should Know

Perhaps I'll take my own advice. --Daniel

Mike Taylor

What a great conversation. I'll second all of these suggestions and add John McWade's Before & After Magazine. (He also did one of the Lynda.com video.) There are some free resources and a YouTube channel in addition to the paid content, which is very much worth the money.

I love Daniel's design inspiration idea! I still have a folder of things I've torn out of magazine's etc but that stuff is getting pretty old. So I'm curious what works best for you to keep track of the inspirational designs you find online? Bookmarks - either in your browser or online ala Diigo etc? Pinterest? Something else?

Pamela Davison

Great thread! I use pintrest alot for design inspiration. There are so many fabulous design examples on it and when I have a specific project I'm looking for inspiration on I'll create a pintrest folder and anything I find that could be useful I'll pin into that folder. I also use pintrest when I take pictures of interesting things, then I send them to my pintrest account so I can find them easily later on. There are some design blogs I check out pretty often too, like http://blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/ and http://www.smashingmagazine.com/ .

Michael Volkmar

I wholeheartedly agree with Jason's first comment. Good design can be learned. It's just hard to do on your own.

I've used many resources and taken a few online courses, but if you're trying to get a good grasp of the fundamentals, nothing beats taking a live class where you have 1 on 1 instruction with a live teacher and a class to critique assignments. The instructor can give you "what you don't know" and class critiques will give you great insight on how different people respond to different designs.

Typical college courses would be Design I and II and Color I and II, then you can move into graphic design, UI design, instructional design, etc.

Jay Yearley

I've always found Websites that have video tutorials are useful for those beginning graphic design. Like YouTube, for example has thousands of tutorials on different techniques in Photoshop. I'd suggest video tutorials first, as they show the motions and the process.

You can just search for the basic effect/technique you're wanting to create (or a different feature in Photoshop), and usually there's a tutorial for it there. Also Websites like Lynda.com are great for learning Photoshop, Illustrator techniques and such.

Like most things, it can be learned over time, and with and ongoing practice.

Nancy Woinoski

Rachel Healey said:

Thanks for all the insight! I actually have some of those books (Slide:ology and Presentation Zen), and they're incredibly helpful.

At this point, I'm keenly feeling a lack of understanding the "fundamentals," as Jerson mentioned above. I feel like I have a decent eye for design, but I don't know what I don't know. I might make some good choices by chance, but I want to make sure I can back up my graphic design choices with solid theory, the same way I can back up my instructional design choices. In my organization, more and more graphic design responsibility is falling to me, and I want to make sure I'm well qualified to handle it.

Has anyone supplemented their reading and experimenting with extra GD courses or certificate programs?

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