Your business website, your logo, and any visual content that you create looks a lot better when you know something about graphic design. Some basic knowledge and a few simple tools can turn up the quality of your visual content without forcing you to hire a graphic design professional.
Start With the Right Tools
If you’re going to work with graphics, you need a computer with good processing power. Most graphic design professionals prefer Macs or MacBooks for their work, although you can certainly use graphic design software on a PC.
Adobe’s Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop are the trifecta of graphic design software. Generally, graphic designers use Illustrator for drawing, InDesign for designing publications and Web pages, and Photoshop for adjusting and adding effects to photos. The full Creative Cloud costs $49.99 monthly, but you can choose a single application for $19.99 monthly.
If you’re not ready to spend that much on Adobe Creative Cloud, try the free, open-source program Inkscape as an alternative to Illustrator. You can also do some respectable desktop publishing with iStudio or with MultiAd’s Creator. As an affordable alternative to Photoshop, check out Affinity Photo, which is currently in beta testing but will soon become available in the Mac App Store.
Always back up your design work on something besides your Mac so that you don’t lose everything if your computer crashes. Macs tend to have far fewer problems with malware than PCs, but purchase some antivirus for Mac to make sure that you don’t lose your designs.
Learn Some Basic Concepts
Let’s look at this illustration by Copenhagenize Design Co. to learn some of the basics of graphic design.
Good graphic design has a nice symmetrical balance unless it’s emphasizing one section of the design either to create tension or project a mood. Notice the symmetrical balance of this design: almost mirrored proportions with images above and below the “Change the Question” bar and similar proportions in the size and typography of the text boxes.
Notice how the text is center-aligned through out the image. Also, each transportation icon is centered within its lane. The consistency communicates simplicity and makes the page very easy to comprehend.
The mirror imaging and vertical lines in the piece makes it irresistible for the eyes to move up and down the page.
The proximity of the top text box to the top traffic image causes the mind to perceive them as one unit. Also, the red “Change the Question” bar breaks up the road, making it clear that the design has two main sections, keeping the two sides from merging into one image.
Repetition and Contrast
The designer repeated the same font and similar icons throughout the piece to unify the design. Also, he repeated the use of a larger font size for “Cars” and “People” in the upper and lower text boxes to emphasize the exact way he wanted to change the question. Contrasting colors separate the green transportation side from the car side. The use of red for the “Change the Question” element indicates that it’s both the title and the focal point of the design.
Notice how the icons have just enough space not to look crowded within their lanes, and the entire design has plenty of white space around its margins. Too much space makes design elements look like isolated islands while too little space makes a page look cluttered and disorienting.
To improve your graphic design skills, you need to take two main steps. First, you need to review and analyze others’ work, and second, you need to spend time creating work on your own. To get inspired by what others are doing, check out designers’ work on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Behance. You should also check out graphic design publications, like Computer Arts.
Over time, you’ll become a better judge of what others do well, and you’ll begin to see what you’d do differently. Experiment with drawing and using software to recreate what others have done.
If you want some more formal training, take some online courses through Lynda.com, Udemy, or another source. Then, mix and match the elements you like to create your own unique designs. With time and practice, you’ll be designing like a pro.
Change the Question brochure by Colville-Andersen from Flickr Creative Commons.