It feels a little strange to call myself a graphic designer. I didn’t go to art school (although thinking back, I really should have), I have never worked in a professional graphic design setting (which actually sounds pretty fun to me) and talk to me in technical graphics speak and I’ll probably miss half of what you’re saying (it’s happened and I just pretend I understand, then quickly google the terms once I have the chance).
I’m not a professional, in the traditional sense of the word, but the super cool thing about living and working in this day and age is that you have endless opportunities to learn unconventionally and make your own way. Since I create graphics and artwork and stationery for a living, I have decided (and so has Better Homes + Gardens, apparently) to just go with the graphic designer title.
Drawing and doodling is fun, watercolors are always peace-inducing, styling and photographing our house feels creative, but my real love is designing digitally on the computer. I’ve been at this for over 15 years (first with custom stationery, now with blogging + art prints + paper works) and have been thinking through what I wish I knew before starting.
I’m often asked how I got started in designing and I always enjoy chatting with others who want to learn graphic design. For those who want to join a design firm or work in a professional setting, I’m probably not the girl to talk to. But for those who want to make their kid’s birthday invitations, turn their doodles into artwork, create a new logo for a handmade business, or sell their designs online, I’m totally with you.
I call it graphic design for the every day because there are seriously a million ways to use your design skills in your day to day life (here are 18 ways, for example), both for personal and business use.
If you are new to designing with your computer or thinking about learning, this post is for you.
So here’s my list … 5 things I wish I knew before jumping into graphic design.
1. You don’t have to be an expert
I do not want to discredit professional graphic designers at all, so let me begin by saying if you want to work in the industry and get the very best training possible, go the traditional route, get a graphic design degree and become an expert.
If you are not wanting to go that traditional route and you just want to try your hand at graphic design – like if you want to design your own wedding invitations, or you want to start a small business selling clip art, or you’re helping your sister create a logo for her new blog – don’t let your amateur status stop you.
When I started designing stationery I literally had zero experience. I just learned as I went, playing around with different techniques, figuring things out along the way and faking it the whole time. You don’t have to be an expert.
2. Start with the right program
My experience with graphic design began with Microsoft Publisher – mainly because it was what I had. When that didn’t do all I needed, I moved on to a free design program which worked okay, but became frustrating when, again, I couldn’t do all I needed (like automatically centering items or undoing without having to completely start over).
I was super intimidated by Adobe Illustrator because it seemed like something way over my head, but little by little, I figured it out and believe me, it is a million times better than any other program I’ve tried. It’s robust, that’s for sure, but you don’t have to use all the functions to enjoy the benefits it offers. Useful things like adding special characters (called glyphs) and spacing out letters (kerning), making clipping masks (think words or shapes cut out of a photo or background pattern) and picking colors are all simple to do with Illustrator. Start with the right program from the beginning and you’ll avoid all sorts of creative frustrations. (Learn how to get Adobe Illustrator at the bottom of this post)
3. There’s no need for a fancy computer
You’ve probably heard it said that a Mac is best for creating graphics. This is true and I’m a big fan of all things Apple, but I didn’t start out with anything special. In fact, the laptop I used when I first began designing sounded like the motor was about to take off after about an hour of use and it got so hot I had to keep it off my lap while working. Definitely nothing fancy. There’s no need to go out an invest in a new computer, just make sure the one you have has enough memory to run Illustrator (find details for system requirements here).
4. And you don’t need any special gadgets either
Several years ago Ryan saw that I was loving this design stuff and he bought me a Wacom tablet and pen. It was so, so sweet and a really great tool for digital creating and yet, I’ve only used it twice (#sorryhusband).
Moral of the story is: don’t go out and buy the extras until you know you need them. Most of the time I design using my wireless mouse on my main computer, occasionally with the trackpad on my laptop and when I really need details, I’ll draw on paper first and scan it into Illustrator to turn into a vector graphic (see more of that here).
5. You will get (so much) better with time
As with most learned skills, practice makes a huge difference. As you learn new techniques and helpful short cuts you’ll get faster and more proficient and over time, you’ll really hone in on your style. It’s fun to see how your designs progress with time. You may cringe a little at your first work (I sure do!) but that’s all part of the learning curve.
BONUS: take a class
A few years ago, my best friend and I decided to take a beginning Adobe Illustrator class at a community college. I had been using Illustrator for a few years – all of it self-taught with a few pointers from a designer-friend – but I knew there was so much more to learn and taking the class with K.C. was a great excuse for some girl time. We did learn a ton and it gave me an extra boost to my graphic design confidence. I should have taken a class (or two or three) much earlier in my design career.
If you are itching to learn how to create graphics, if you are needing a refresher on Illustrator, if you and a friend just want an excuse to get together to take a class, you will love Simplified Graphic Design.