13 Steps to Improve Your Graphic Design Skills

Being a graphic designer places you in a field that is constantly evolving, creatively and technically. With your imagination and skills being your only limitation, it only makes sense to improve and hone them to the best you can. Though discovering new technical skills can be done quite easily, it is also important to pay attention and push the limits of your creativity. So, even if you are new to graphic designing or have been one for a while, here are a few steps to help expand your creativity to improve your graphic design skills.

1. Start collecting

The next time you go out shopping or happen to pass by an exhibition, look out for designs that might catch your eye. If you can, take them home and file them. These brochures, pamphlets, posters and many more can be a great source of inspiration that is also easily accessible.

Besides being a source of inspiration, they can also serve as an insight on how to better narrow down your designs to suit different target audiences. The more you collect, the more similarities or differences you may notice, which can give you an edge in coming up with more unique ideas.

2. Snap Photos

Wall with muralIt is most likely that you own a smartphone or at least a phone with a camera. Use it take pictures of designs that you cannot take home, such as a wall with a pretty mural. Similar to the previous point, file the photos away for later before you forget. Keep in mind that some designs cannot be photographed or duplicated for copyright reasons so look out for signs saying so.

There are other sites that provide similar pictures with high resolution too. Sites like 500px or Flickr not only provide this service, you can also download high-resolution pictures with no copyright issues for free.

3. Invest in books

Time to go back to basic by buying books to aid your learning and ideation processes. There are countless books on inspiration, technical skills and education. Books written by successful graphic designers can give you a better perspective of their careers and most include examples of their works.

It can be educational to look into the minds of graphic designers whom have been in this line of work for a long time and still manage to come up with ideas that are relevant to the current day and age. Being able to adapt some of their methods can drastically improve and possibly speed up your next ideation process.

4. Read blogs

Another treasure trove of information readily available for free. There are many kinds of blogs to cater to different designers. Avoid costly mistakes and know what to look out for by reading blogs on tips and tricks. These can be very helpful to those whom are fairly new to designing or even to corporates looking into elements that appeal to the mass audience. Here’s a blogpost that might be useful for such a situation.

Getting an art block is quite common when coming up with ideas. You can overcome this by visiting other designers’ blogs or e-portfolios. Behance is a great platform for searching e-portfolios. Some designers may even have a link to their blogs for you to browse their work.

5. Publish your work

Man bloggingSo you have been designing for a while now. It’s time to start your very own blog or make an online portfolio. It can come in handy in keeping tabs of your progress and maybe even develop your own art style.  Doing this can help you in being more aware of the design community and be more analytical of your own work.

There are many platforms to start blogging. Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Squarespace, to name a few. These platforms are mostly free and you may find yourself spoiled for choice. Choose which platform you know you’ll be the most comfortable using and blog away.

6. Actively participate in the design community

Now that you have published your work to the online community, you might receive feedback or critiques from other designers. If you receive good feedback, then great! You’ve designed something appealing to others. However, don’t be discouraged if you receive criticisms. Only through criticisms will you understand any mistakes that you may have made in your design or if it can be improved.

By being active in the community, you will be able to keep yourself up-to-date with the activities in the design world. Just as software have updates, keep yourself updated to stay relevant too.

7. Work on fake projects

If you have the time, it can be good practice to work on fake projects. Come up with a fake brand and design a corporate kit for them. The corporate kit can include marketing materials such as pens, notebooks, bookmarks, coasters and many more that you can think of. Doing this once in a while can keep your job as designing fun as there are no limitations that may hinder your creative flow.

This of course, allows you to tackle brands you are not familiar with. If you are used to urban designs, try taking on a vintage design. No designer can say they have enough experience and need no more.

8. Redo designs

If coming up with a new brand is too much work, then try redoing other people’s projects. No two designers are the same and you can judge what they did wrong with their designs. At the same time, you can see what you can improve in the design or put a whole new spin on it.

This also works for your own older designs. Looking back at your older designs may have the same effect as scrolling through your first few Facebook posts. Although you may feel a strong urge to delete the designs immediately, it is highly encouraged to keep them so you can be sure you are progressing and constantly improving. Let them be and try redesigning them instead.

9. Enroll for classes

If you think having a lecturer can benefit you, try looking for colleges or universities that offer design classes without enrolling full-time. You can not only pick up new technical skills, you also get to meet other people like you.

Other designers whom are more well-known may hold a lecture or forum in colleges or universities. By being a student, you may have easier access to such events. By attending lectures or forums, you get to meet and network with the designers. Talking to someone with more experience and have higher skillsets can help push you to work harder in improving yourself.

10. Meet up with other designers or studios Meeting business

Don’t limit yourself to just classes or online tutorials. There are some questions that cannot be answered by these mediums and can only be answered by people working in the graphic design field. For example, “What inspired (designer/studio) to adapt this style in the design?”

Talking to an experienced person face to face can be extremely beneficial to understand the people in the industry, the opportunity to speak to inspiring people and obtaining valuable contacts. Here’s another chance to network yourself to obtain any advice you may need or create an impression of yourself to be noticed.

11. Get out

As a designer, you may spend hours to days on your computer screen. Well, time to turn it off and go out. Talk a walk in your neighborhood, travel to another state or get out of the country altogether. Experience different cultures, talk to people of different ethnicities, be inspired by another culture’s artwork and their take on design.

Of course getting out and simply being in a completely different environment may do little to inspire you. For example, travelling to another state and staying in a hotel in the city may not do as much as living in a homestay with a local family. All in all, immerse yourself completely in the local environment and you might find yourself coming home with a huge creative boost.

12. Acquire new knowledge

yoga class

Inspiration and unique ideas can come from anywhere, even sources completely unrelated to design. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and learning new things may help your creative juices flow again.

There are a number of communities or non-profit organizations offering casual evening or weekend classes. Try learning how to play an instrument, pick up a new language or maybe even a yoga class.

If you’ve previously acquired knowledge in other fields, don’t forget them. They may come in handy in the future, such as Steve Jobs and his study of calligraphy. This knowledge was applied in designing the interface of the first Macintosh computer, which became the first computer ever with beautiful typography. This then advanced to the gorgeous interface of Apple that we all know today.

13. Start sketching

If you haven’t already, get yourself a sketchbook and start sketching or doodling in your free time. It keeps your brain busy when you would be fidgeting with your phone. Sketching can help visualize your idea and find out if the design you had in mind will work out.

Ever had moments when the idea you had in your head turns out very differently when executed? By drawing the ideas out first, you are able to see what works and what does not. You may even gain new ideas for your design when sketching.

Note: So there are the 13 steps to help you become a better graphic designer. Of course, becoming one takes more than just these steps. There are plenty of other skills to master when it comes to designing such as improving your typography skills. Or perhaps you are running a page about yourself or a company, in which case a good impression is everything. Head over here to give your ‘About Us’ page a boost!

Typography Tips and Tricks – Errors and Mistakes

Man doing typography and writing lines of textNow that you’ve read on how to create a good logo, your design project looks great. The colours are on point, the illustrations are perfect, but wait! Are you sure you used the right font? You sure you spelled that word right? Designers, you all know how typography makes or breaks a project. So here are some typography tips and tricks to make sure your great masterpiece stays a masterpiece.

1. Increase line spacing, or leading

Leading (it rhymes with “wedding”), is the space between a line of text and the next line of text. Remember when our teachers would insist that we write our text on alternate lines in our exercise book? That is actually really good advice.

The bigger the line spacing, the easier it is to read a block of text. A common typographical error is setting a small leading to your paragraph, which makes all those words appear cramped and messy. Due to this, it is easy for readers to lose their place when reading.

Fonts differ from each other, so there is no leading that is “one-fit-for-all”. It is important to judge how far apart line spacing should be for different fonts.

2. Change tracking for different fonts

Tracking, or letter-spacing, literally refers to the space between letters of a word. It works to prevent letters from running into each other. We don’t like people invading our personal space, we also don’t want letters doing the same.

Lowercase letters or the capital letter of a word needs no letter-spacing since they fit quite nicely with the letter next to them. However it becomes different when you type a word with your “caps lock” button on. The spacing between capital letters would appear too narrow if you don’t increase the tracking.

3. Kerning is not tracking

Instead, kerning is the space between a letter pair in a word. It functions to reduce or add the space between a pair of letters in a word. Kerning is best used when dealing with logos, full capital letters, and headlines, as it helps improve readability.

A good typography trick is to not set the kerning by computer default. Tweak around with the kerning until you find the one most suitable for your text.

4. Avoid too many words in a line

Did you know, our eyes only record groups of three to four words in a sentence for a couple of times before feeling tired? Writing long lines of words really exhausts your readers. Moving their eyes and heads so often, reading line after line after line… (and it goes on).

Optimally, you’d only need around 9-12 words in a line, which is approximately 50-60 characters. Anything shorter than 9 words may break the flow of the sentence; and anything more than 12 can be tiring to read. Not to mention, we also forget that sometimes we tend to miss a line or even reread the same sentence!

5. Use consistent typeface and weights

Typography example of a design with a mixture of various typefaces and weightsFonts are like personalities, some go well with others; some don’t. Choosing which typeface to go with which is not easy, even more so in trying to get them to work harmoniously.  A mix of too many different typefaces can be distracting and disorienting, which is a grave typographical error. Limit each project to contain three different fonts at most.

Using too many different weights might confuse readers since they won’t be able to tell what the text is actually trying to highlight. This can cause misinformation.  

If you do insist on a variety of typefaces and weights, a good tip is to pair serifs with sans serifs. Try Futura and Rockwell for that playful feel!

6. Use serifs for long paragraphs

It’s not a myth. Serifs do work better for lengthy text, like in books or newspapers. They typically have a flowing mark at points which is said to direct the reader to the next letter, improving readability and preventing eye strain.

The trick between choosing serifs or sans serifs is to figure out what platform you’re writing for. In high resolutions, like for newspapers, use the serifs. Sans serifs are actually optimized for pixel-based displays, like on blog posts.

7. Pair different value of colours together

There is no such thing as a bad combination of colours, but there is bad combination of colour saturation and hues. Imagine printing pale yellow text on a white background; or dark blue text on black. The only time those combinations would work is if you’re trying to send a hidden message. It makes reading that much harder.

The best way to overcome this common typography mistake is by pairing colours opposite of the color wheel together. For example, orange and blue.

8. Use contrasting colours

Typography of light colored font on dark background Print light coloured text on dark backgrounds. If you can’t remember this typography tip, remember zebras. They’re black-skinned with white stripes on top.

Printing white text on anything less than 50% tint makes the design look less distinct and hard to read. The words become less visible as they get lost in the background. Good practice is to pay attention to how one colour interacts with one another. You don’t want to place clashing colours together.

9. Hold back on the center align

If you’re designing a restaurant menu or a wedding invitation, please, by all means, use the center align all you like. However, for the times you are not, justify your text to the left or right, depending on which suits your graphics.

Centered text can sometimes be seen as amateurish as the sentences may appear broken and jagged. They also appear disconnecting, breaking the flow of a sentence, which will make readers feel dull and bored.

10. Write small body copies

Once again, you need to take into consideration what platform you’re writing for. Text for print and for online viewing are very different. If you’re designing an online ad, take a step back and try font sizes smaller than your standard 12pt. With a monitor screen, readers will be able to zoom in if they need to read something easier.

Larger font sizes would be fine for a children’s book, but for professional design projects, it is important that your body copy looks concise and straightforward.

Bear this typography trick in mind: Always use font sizes of 7pt or more. Fine prints, like the one in terms and conditions, really just means you want to make it hard for your readers.

11. Learn the Grid System

The Grid System is a guideline in which designers can use to arrange and structure their content, to maximize readability and enable easier navigation. You will be able to design your projects in proportions, as well as balance the text and use of other media forms contained in your design.

With the system, your designs will appear clearer and more interactive. You can refer to The Grid System site to find more information and ideas on how to utilize it better.

 

Now that you’re a typography guru and want to take it up a notch, check out how to write an appealing “About Me” page to level-up your blog, website or social media! Or if your typography journey has you worn out, young Jedi, just kick back and refuel at these food stops that has fed us while we work to bring you more good stuff!