Suggestions for Good Visual Design Courses, Books, etc.?

I keep facing the same problem- I can see in my head what I want to design (and feel good about my technical Storyline skills) but I just can't make things look the way I want them to.  I follow Tom's blog posts religiously and try to keep a list of websites I like or other things I see out and about.  I also always look at the samples in the forums for inspiration.  So many of you have brilliant design sensibilities.  Even with all of this great input, I've come to the conclusion that some further education in visual design is what I'm after.  

Any suggestions for great courses you have taken?  I am living abroad as my husband is a diplomat so online is best but I will be back in D.C. in the fall for 8-10 months while he learns Polish. (Learning Visual design has got to be easier!)

Great books you have read would also be appreciated!


7 Replies
Sheila Bulthuis

Heather, I can totally relate!  I can look at something and know if it's good or not, and I can often imitate something good, but my strength is not designing something from scratch that falls into the "looks awesome" category.  That's why I often partner with a graphic designer!

One book I've found really helpful is The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams.  It's short, pretty simple, a good intro for someone who doesn't have a design background (at least in my opinion!), with lots of good examples.

Mike Taylor

One of my favorites is  They have some great how to resources and they are very well done.

Also, this is something that has resonated with me.  It is from an interview with Ira Glass where he talks about how every designer has to fight through this feeling. I think you can find the actual interview on NPR too.

Anne Pead

Heather, I can totally relate! And I was going to suggest exactly the same thing as Sheila - the Non-Designer's Design book is an excellent resource. I got a copy out the library and went through it cover to cover and got a lot out of it. I decided to buy my own copy as it is really good to have on hand as a reference. And just practice, practice, practice. The forum is also a great resource, why not post some designs here and ask for feedback, you will probably get a lot of really good advice! Good luck!

eTam Miller

Hi Heather- You've picked a subject very close to my heart! Good design is all about balancing the 'Elements of Design' with the 'Principles of Design.' The Elements are:







The Principles are:





Center of Interest


The best design focuses on a limited combination of the elements and principles. It's what differentiates the good abstract art from the bad. Why is Jackson Pollock so popular, some people wonder? It's because he understood the effect he could achieve using just line and rhythm. And Rothko - color, harmony, and size. You could learn alot about design by studying abstract art and sculpture. Such a great subject. Good luck in your exploration!

Daniel Brigham

Me, too: Heather, me, too.

A few things that have helped me.

1. Sketch your visual ideas away from the computer (grab a legal pad and a pencil or whatever and just start sketching basic ideas for your slides.)

2. Try to come up with a key metaphor for the content (see Beyond Bullet Points book). A cool concept or metaphor is more important than first-rate graphic design chops. The concept will carry you through.

3. Don't be afraid to just dig in and start designing. Look back after 10 slides or so. Build the rest of the course on the two or three slides that actually look good.

4. Start paying close attention to the graphic design of stuff you already read: magazines, newspapers, food boxes. Save the examples you think are good in a "Cool Graphic Stuff" folder. Go to that folder when you are stumped.


  • Robin Williams Design Workshop
  • Beyond Bullet Points
  • Presentation Zen
  • Slideology
  • White Space Isn't Your Enemy

Hope that helps a little bit. --Daniel