The Ultimate Guide To Graphic Design Basics For The Creative Eye

Do you want to become a graphic designer and use your creative eye to influence big businesses? Here is your ultimate guide to the graphic design basics, from how the career took off and what it’s turned into today to how you can become a designer and more. 

If you have a creative eye and think you might enjoy working in art, a job in graphic design may be the best route for you. Learn everything you need to know, from the history of the industry to graphic design basics and design principles. We’ll show you how you can become a graphic designer and explain the types so you can find the right career path for you.

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is a profession in visual art that uses words, images, and ideas to communicate with an audience. In this role, you may create billboards, logos, video games, magazines, raster graphics, and vector graphics. Designers arrange various elements, like an image, symbol, or typography, to convey something to the viewer. It’s common in multiple technology and advertising industries.

Before you can design these visuals, however, you must learn the elements of art such as color psychology or typography and various principles in basic design practices. The people in these roles communicate huge messages with visuals and solve problems. They commonly work in one of three settings:

  • ?An industry-related company, such as branding agencies or design consultancies
  • ?Work in-house for nearly any company
  • ?Freelance and work remotely on your own time

In a typical workday, a graphic designer will gather materials or information to plan and create a concept. This design uses essential elements of art in a layout that matches up with the intended use of what’s being designed, like a website, video game, or book cover. They create by hand and use computer software to design ideas that communicate and inspire consumers or create design layouts for other mediums like magazines.

?A graphic designer’s job duties include:

  • ?Talk with clients and art director to brainstorm a project and pinpoint the scope
  • ?Offer advice on design strategies and ways to reach your audience
  • ?Determine how to convey the message you want
  • ?Make images to show off a product or convey the message
  • ?Create graphics like logos and website layouts, including the colors and images
  • ?Present final designs to clients or higher-ups and incorporate changes as needed

Most graphic designers work for people in advertising and promotion, as well as marketing and public relations positions. However, they will also specialize in a type of graphic design work or what kind of clients they take on. Some designers, for example, create and work with retail products such as the packaging and graphics used for the product like a book jacket.

History of Graphic Design

Although graphic design as a profession didn’t begin until more recent years, it has been practiced since ancient history in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and China. The graphic designs they created were more of an early manuscript to illustrate text and image to convey an idea or a moment in time.

The Book of the Dead, for example, is an ancient Egyptian text that was created to help the dead find their way during the afterlife. It’s full of hieroglyphic narratives on papyrus paper, telling the story as penned by scribes in colorful illustrations. The words and pictures blend to tell a cohesive story while expressing the elements into a horizontal, repetitive structure. Together, they communicate.

Cave paintings created by the first humans thousands of years ago feature art to tell a story in the same way ancient hieroglyphs do. Subjects often involve animals, and the early depictions date back to prehistoric times. They’re found around the world, mainly in Australia, France, Spain, Argentina, and Indonesia, and they tell stories about history.

In the Middle Ages, early manuscripts and books were considered sacred. The writing and illustrations were on sheets of animal skin that were treated and named parchment. Sewn together, the sheets of parchment created the first contemporary books. The people who designed these books were often European monks, which were the scholars of the past. They were written in Greek or Latin, and scribes (the first typographers) trained to design perfect letters while scholars spearheaded the production.

Once printmaking hit the stage, books, and other manuscripts were more widely available because the addition of moveable type made the processes more accessible than ever. Although China has shown evidence of developing printmaking processes during the 6th-century, much earlier than any other civilization, printmaking became mainstream in the 14th and 15th centuries.

This time is when dictionaries and things like grammar and vocabulary became more needed, as books were made faster and more widely available. More people learned to read, and typographic books used woodblock decorative borders to stand out. Typeface designs begin to surface as well, such as the popular style we now call Old Style types, which were inspired by the capital letter in ancient Greece and Rome’s manuscripts. From here, printers start to commission their own types.

William?? A. Dwiggins, a typographer, came up with the term “graphic design” in 1922. Fifteenth-century graphic design mainly involved producing books in print, and the profession developed over time into designing the pages of a book and setting the type, often working alongside compositors and typesetters.

During the 19th-century, the trade evolved yet again into the profession we now know and love in the West. Most of the jobs began and still take place in the United States with the emergence of the internet and vital other technologies that make graphic design possible. The Industrial Revolution also brought on new commercial opportunities, making America the place for this profession to kick off.

Throughout the 19th and 20th-centuries, book publishers, magazines, and advertising agencies hired a considerable number of art directors who had experience in each visual element used in communication and used them to create impressive brand content. With the combination of these new technologies and a vast commercial sector primed with possibilities, graphic design as a profession widely expanded.

Today’s designers create everything from packaging, signs, trademarks, stamps, and posters to book jackets, magazine pages, websites, advertisements, tv programs, and motion pictures. The profession now takes place around the world and uses advanced technology to allow designers to work anywhere.

Types of Graphic Design

books  laptop and other design tools in the table

?Image Source: Unsplash

Graphic design has changed a lot over the years, as the overall term is used to cover various fields and professionals with different specializations. The most common types of graphic design roles include the following.

Corporate Design

In this type of design, you will focus on the company’s identity and brand. All the visuals should match this brand identity, including the logo. It’s often used in partnership with brand marketing to clearly communicate all the company’s values adequately through the use of color, shape, and images.

Marketing and Advertising Design

The most commonly known type of graphic design, marketing, and advertising design involves creating magazine ads, infographics, vehicle wraps, billboards, postcards, social media graphics, email marketing visuals, brochures, menus, website and blog images, content marketing, and more.

Publication Design

While this type of design originally meant print design only, the digitalization of the publishing world has revamped this medium. Publication designers of today often work in close relation to an editor or publisher to create layouts, typography, or illustrations for the publication. Publications can vary from books, magazines, and newspapers to eBooks, e-newsletters, and online publications. A recent rise in digital publishing has led to an increase in jobs designing book covers, especially for eBooks.

Environmental Design

An overlooked form of graphic design, environmental graphic design involves using visuals to connect people to their surrounding environment. With the purpose of boosting a person’s experience in a place by making it more meaningful or memorable, this type of graphic design is wide-ranging. The environmental design includes murals, architecture, signage, road signs, retail store interiors, museum exhibitions, office branding, public transportation navigation, stadium branding, and event spaces.

Designers in this role are often familiar with both sketching out detailed architectural plans and creating industrial design concepts. The landscape must flow with the design, and the industry collaborates on specific best practices such as how vertical handles on doors always should pull while horizontal must require pushing to operate.

Packaging Design

No matter what type of product you buy, it probably came with packaging that features visuals on the label or sticker wrapping around the product. Sure, this wrapper is used to prepare products for easy distribution, but the elements on the packaging are crucial for a sale. Marketplace trends regularly change and dictate what visual elements and best practices to follow for successful product marketing techniques to work.

Motion Design

Motion graphics such as animation, apps, video games, GIFs, trailers, advertisements, promotional or tutorial videos, and other website features that move are a newer region of graphic design. Technology has allowed designers with skills in other areas to explore these mediums in recent years further, and motion graphics are becoming more popular by the day.

Art and Illustration Design

Graphic artists who focus on art and illustration create original artwork that tells a story or take on various forms of art to illustrate a story. It’s popular among t-shirt design, stock images, comic books, book covers, album art, concept art, technical illustrations, and graphic patterns for textiles or picture books.

Web Design

Web design may not be a type of design exactly, but it is an crucial element worth mentioning. Web designers combine many of the above-mentioned graphic design types into one medium, focusing on using images, layout, and typography to create a website that users enjoy. Many designers teach themselves how to design their own websites alone, but make sure to learn about UX and UI design to work on sites.

UX vs. UI Design

User experience or UX is all about boosting the user’s experience, which includes the structure and logic of the design and how the user interacts with the elements. Good UX design can increase how much a product is used and how users perceive interacting with a product, boosting satisfaction.

The user interface or UI design, on the other hand, involves the interactive elements. For this, you’ll need to understand a user’s needs while on a device and anticipate what users want, incorporating steps to make that possible. It’s all about how users interact with the images, like progress bars, toggles, dropdown lists, breadcrumbs, or notifications.

Principles of Graphic Design

Designer performing graphic design basics using a tablet

?Image Source: Unsplash

The principles of graphic design are essential to learn so that designers know the best way to arrange a page layout, for example, to balance the elements on the page with the overall design of another subpage. Things like color, type, shape, size, and texture are vital. There are five main principles of graphic design also to consider:


Visual balance when it comes to graphic design involves symmetry or asymmetry. To do so, the plan is balanced in weight. This means anything, such as lines, shapes, or any other element, must be evenly distributed with similar components even if the two sides aren’t the same. Without balance, a piece has no real structure of stability.


Designs must be organized, and alignment helps frame the visual connection you hope to make between the elements. Everything should align with the bottom, center, top, or sides in some way.


To create a compelling relationship between each element of design, you need closeness. Connecting the components in a visual way can help tell a story. You can use proximity to minimize clutter, create a focal point, or boost viewer understanding.


Determine how you want to display your elements and create patterns to establish real consistency in a piece. Repetition can tie each part into a single cohesive design and strengthen an organized feeling of movement throughout the piece.


Colors alter each viewers feeling on a design, and using contrasting colors can help you emphasize an aspect of the design or stress a considerable difference between the elements in your piece and whatever you want to stand out.

Graphic Design Tools and Software

A woman making her graphics design in laptopdesign

?Image Source: Unsplash

Technology has evolved the design process considerably along with the digitalization of the current world. However, many graphic designers still use a blend of digital and traditional techniques to complete a design. The process may begin by sketching out ideas with regular tools such as a sketch pad filled with paper and a pencil. Once the design’s concepts are finalized, more work is completed on the computer while some designers start the process using technology like an iPad.

Tools like iPads and smartphones make it easier than ever to work on-the-go. Over the years, they have changed the way people work and boosted the creative process by giving designers the freedom to go anywhere and explore their ideas in ways that feel comfortable. Technology also allows graphic designers to create digital images much faster than they could by hand-rendering the entire process.

Graphic designers also have a wide range of software available to help them arrange the use elements of various media types, whether it’s a poster or a website.

?The most common software programs graphic designers use include Adobe Suites options like:

  • ?Photoshop
  • ?Illustrator
  • ?InDesign
  • ?Fireworks
  • ?Freehand
  • ?Dreamweaver
  • ?After Effects
  • ?FrameMaker
  • ?PageMaker
  • ?Flash Player

Designers who are on a budget and can’t afford to pay for Adobe Suites can also take advantage of the many open-source alternatives. Adobe applications are standards in the industry, but you can try GIMP rather than Photoshop, Inkscape instead or Illustrator, and Scribus instead of InDesign.

How To Become a Graphic Designer

Although it’s not mandatory, most graphic designers have background and training in the art. Designers used to be able to land a position with as little as a creative portfolio featuring what they can do, but today, employers seek designers with more education. A college degree (bachelors or associate degrees) or a certificate in a similar field may be enough, depending on the job you apply for. Those with a bachelor’s degree hold the most job prospects.

It’s crucial for students who want to become a graphic designer to study subjects like art history, drawing, website design, and graphic arts in high school. These skills are vital for later use, and high school students can get started by producing their school’s yearbook or newspaper. The most important thing for a graphic design to have, however, is a creative eye and problem-solving abilities. Software fluency and practical skills can come later.

Accredited programs are widely available at art schools and traditional universities or public colleges. Online programs are also available at some institutions, and the coursework often includes learning subjects like studio art, the principles of design, web design practices, graphics computer technology, advertising and marketing concepts, and commercial graphics. Some programs require an internship, which involves gaining hands-on practice job experience in a professional setting.

If you want to learn how to work on advanced graphics or conquer project management roles, a master’s degree may be more ideal for you. There are two graduate degrees in graphic design: the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or the Master of Arts (MA). Professionals seek an MFA, while theoretical and academic designers prefer the MA. To graduate, you must write a dissertation or portfolio. Learn more about online and graduate courses if you want a long, prosperous career in the arts.

Many of the graphic designers who decide to earn a Ph.D. want to teach art in design schools or at a college or university. Postsecondary teachers often require at least a graduate degree, and there is a wide range of schools that teach art and design today.

You’ll still need a portfolio to demonstrate your abilities. Combine your best print ads, online advertisements, television commercial reels, animations, and website graphics – anything you can demo that shows the full range of work you can perform. Digital portfolios often come on a DVD or a website page and include an interview while traditional paper portfolios are in bound books. Include only the highest quality pieces and samples to reach your prospective employers.

After you land a graphic design career, you may still need to stay current in the field. Commercial and artistic trends are ever-changing, and you must stay up to date in the industry, or you may find yourself left behind. New software programs, technologies, and computer graphics programs are also released all the time, and you’ll need to know which tools to update.

After around a year to three in each graphic design position, you can expect to work your way up the ladder. Advancing to higher positions, such as a chief designer, art director, or creative director, includes supervising a team of graphic designers and may lead to a higher paycheck.

You can also complete vendor-specific programs in design software to boost your credentials or skills and land new jobs. Certification programs are easy to find through a software product vendor of your choice, and you can earn certification in graphic design-centered software to demonstrate your competence and know-how for future job seekers.

Do You Need to Go to School to Do Graphic Design?

In short, the answer is yes.

The graphic design didn’t use to be a profession you needed to go to school for as long as you had experience in art and a decent portfolio to showcase your work. However, graphic designers of today require at least a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a similar field. Employers want candidates with a well-rounded education who can demonstrate the creativity they possess through a mix of original art and a professional portfolio full of your best previous designs.

That said, people with a bachelor’s degree in a different field may meet some employer’s hiring qualifications if they pursued art or a similar type of technical training program. Although most of the people with full-time graphic design jobs have at least an associate or bachelor’s degree, there are thousands of qualified professionals without college degrees as well.

Today most employers will seek a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement, so it’s safe to earn this degree, especially if you hope to find an in-house position. Graduates have more job opportunities now and into the future. If you go on to work for a business or agency, your education and certifications can help you compete for jobs and earn a higher salary.

Older graphic designers who previously found positions with their skills alone may still be able to do so, mainly if they’ve worked up into director positions over the years or held graphic design jobs for the majority of their adult career. However, skills in Adobe software and other types of software are vital.

Freelance ss. Working for a Company

designer working his design on desktop

?Image Source: Unsplash

While most graphic designers work full-time in-house positions just to meet their deadlines, freelance designers have more flexibility because they’re self-employed. They sometimes work odd hours, including nights and weekends to service a client and job contracts are never final. You must learn to bid for jobs and offer your services to clients you find and help to build up an ongoing client roster.

However, in-house positions in the most lucrative industries are bound to pay well if you want to work for a company, depending on your industry. Graphic designers who work in the computer systems design industry are expected to be in high demand. The employment of designers in the print newspaper and book departments will decline though, while eBooks and magazine design jobs are increasing. Jobs are projected to grow in varying degrees, and they vary based on industry.

The choice between working for a company of freelancing often comes down to your interests, family life, and skills. Some designers enjoy the flexibility of working from home brings that also allows them to spend more time at home with their family. Freelancers also don’t need a traditional education to become successful, while in-house positions require bachelor’s degrees. In both roles, your skills are the most crucial factor as to whether you’re the right person for the job.

Starting a Graphic Design Business

Staring your own graphic design business takes a lot of time and consideration. You may work long hours, put your employee’s paychecks above your own, and take on new worries as a business owner that you don’t think about as a designer. In any business venture, planning and executing your plans effectively are the key to success. With a strong plan, online presence, and self-promotion skills on top of your design skills, you can expand your business and put your stamp on the industry.

If you want to learn how to start your own graphic design business, sta??rt here by considering your commitment level and everything it takes to get a business off the ground.

Common Graphic Design Mistakes

Frustrated graphics designer in work

?Image Source: Pixabay

Mistakes in graphic design can hurt a business’ identity, convey confusing messages, and potentially cause irreversible damage to a company. On the flip side, a well-thought-out design turns companies into trustworthy brands. Use the following ten most common severe mistakes as a basis of what not to do:

?The most common software programs graphic designers use include Adobe Suites options like:

  • ?Not understanding and following instructions – Brainstorm with the client and project heads and ask questions if anything is ever unclear.
  • ?Using too many fonts – No more than three fonts is ideal
  • ?The classic over promise and under deliver – Especially important if you work on a freelance basis, as client satisfaction is above-all important.
  • ?Misusing kerning in your fonts – Also known as adjusting the space between the fonts, kerning can make words more pleasing and legible or cause misinterpretations when done wrong.
  • ?Using stock images – They’re free but using too many stock images can make your project appear cheap and unprofessional.
  • ?Not checking spelling and grammar – Typos are a type-don’t. Always use spell-check and pay attention to the small details.
  • ?Design for yourself – Remember what you’re creating isn’t for you, it’s for the client.
  • ?Using hard-to-read fonts – Readability is vital. Keep fonts in the same family and use the same one for headers throughout and likewise for your body text.

Tips and Tricks

With so many techniques to learn and software programs to adapt to, graphic designers rely on a few ways that make any type of creative project better, easier, and faster. A few of the most essential tips and tricks beginners need to know include:

?The most common software programs graphic designers use include Adobe Suites options like:

  • ?Use contrasting colors to grab your audience’s attention.
  • ?Take advantage of white space. Simplicity can help focus.
  • ?Stick with the flat design technique, which is super popular today.
  • ?Keep with a consistent element throughout, such as the background, other images, lighting, etc.
  • ?Use simple fonts, and never more than three.
  • ?Sketch out your ideas by hand and scan them or take a photo using your smartphone to import the image into Photoshop or Illustrator.
  • ?Align and structure text whether it’s a header or body text to remain consistent throughout.
  • ?Incorporate icons into your design where you can, especially if they’re highly recognizable.
  • ?Lines can help incorporate style.

Graphic Design Basics Resources

Helpful graphic design basics and resources for beginners are widely available across the internet. Some of the best graphic design resources include:

?The most common software programs graphic designers use include Adobe Suites options like:

  • ?Free stock photos – Vexels, Pexels, Unsplash, Pixabay, Free Pik
  • ?Icons – Noun Project has tons of modern images with designs from around the globe.
  • ?Stay up to date on the latest design news on DesignTAXI.
  • ?Free Design Resources has over 12 million downloads for artists to use.
  • ?Subtle Patterns offers freelancers a hiring platform and tons of free patterns to use.
  • ?Graphic Burger is a massive website with freebies like icons, text effects, and backgrounds for commercial or personal use.
  • ?Free fonts – FontSquirrel is one of the best free font websites full of commercial use, high-quality options.
  • ?Best free fonts for designers
  • ?Create your own color palette or gain inspiration with Adobe Color CC.
  • ?Growing your freelance graphic design business – AndCo helps freelancers manage their tasks and time accordingly so that they can get paid faster.
  • ?Find designer jobs and gain inspiration and free design elements on Dribble.
  • ?A place to find inspiration – Niice helps designers and an entire design team find inspiration and share creative ideas.
  • ?Learn new design skills on Skillshare, with over 18,000 courses to choose from.

A Final Word

Graphic design is an artistic profession with many different mediums and options when it comes to the type of design you want to focus on. The trade is lucrative and offers plenty of ways to work up in your career. Use this information on graphic design basics and best practices to jump-start your career.

Featured ?Image Source: Unsplash

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