How to Get Started Self-teaching Graphic Design – Simplified

I was taught Graphic and Web Design at a college, but since I’ve graduated I’ve outlined mini curriculum’s for myself to gain deeper knowledge in subjects as varied as sales, Information Architecture,…

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How to Get Started Self Teaching Graphic Design - Simplified
YouTube video

I was taught Graphic and Web Design at a college, but since I’ve graduated I’ve outlined mini curriculum’s for myself to gain deeper knowledge in subjects as varied as sales, Information Architecture, User Experience, Search Engine Optimization, client relationships, hand-lettering, logo design, and conversion optimization.

How to get started self teaching Graphic Design - Simplified

In short, I’m a lifetime learner.

Here’s how I create structure around the discipline of learning, and how you might apply that to learning graphic design.

Determine your primary objectives

What is  the main reason you’re coming to the idea of wanting to be a graphic designer, is there a particular problem at hand that you’d like to solve now?

Before you put a ton of time in, how is the time going to pay you back?

Do you have the idea that learning graphic design by itself is going to pay you back? Because it is a lot of time to expend as energy and there’s not a lot of guarantee’s unless you hustle and adapt. For this reason alone, might I suggest considering working towards a knowledge web design, user experience, and digital product design and development? To me, if I’m going to put in all the work of learning a new field, I want it to have the highest likelihood of demand in the market so I can put all the info I’m learning to good use.

Break it into smaller chunks. Graphic Design is a huge field and overwhelming.

Really, attending school for Graphic Design, the first thing you really study is overall design principles. I suggest this as a place to start.

Write it down. Outline your plan, focusing on the first small chunk primarily.

Writing is a great way to solidify your intention into a definite plan. So potentially you have a sheet of paper in front of you, and you’re ready to write. The first couple elements of your outline could be (depending on your reasons for getting into this and your focus):

– Learn the principles of design 

– Break 3 pieces of paper down into 6 blocks of space each by drawing lines in a grid, and use the space to add shapes, in ways that demonstrate those key fundamentals of design. Here are 30 more creative design exercises you could use to start.

– Create a visual design for a hypothetical client (3 versions of the design that are significantly different from each other)

– Ask for and receive feedback for the design (Either through a design savvy friend, you can e-mail me!, or upload it in this section in Reddit for beginning designers to receive feedback.) Along with this phase, give feedback and critique to other beginning designers as well, it will help you hone your ability to speak fluidly about design principles in relation to work besides your own.

To me, the first 10 of your outline of the self defined curriculum should have to do with the principles of design primarily. You don’t have to let me define your next steps though, feel free to change based on the things that you need.

Here’s a video with an overview of 8 principles of design, which you’ll be needing to consider as you begin your work.

YouTube video


Here’s a cheat sheet on the principles of design

A bit more in-depth discussion of the principles of design


You could create a hypothetical client such as Bill’s Dry Cleaner, and start designing a solution for a brochure for Bill’s. You can use any program you want, though industry standard is pretty strongly in favor of Adobe products at this point. Pick up a copy of Photoshop (you will indeed have to buy these products and become familiar with them, if you want to pursue this as a career.

Buy Adobe Creative Cloud on Amazon

Photoshop and friends are well-built and you can be sure that the things you learn can follow you if indeed you do make this a career. Other slightly less well-built though decent examples of graphic design software are Gimp for free, and Pixlr for cheap. If you’re taking my advice about pursuing web design, user experience and digital product development, Sketch by Bohemian Coding is a great option for layout and even some work with vectors.


After you’ve gotten into the principles of design the next step is deeply learn a graphics software

You can learn Photoshop through a great online source,, and to really understand it is a much longer conversation than the 1,200 words I can give you here.

Suffice at to say, if you’re getting into Graphic Design, have determined it as smart life decision, have outlined your own self-determined curriculum, and have thoroughly inundated yourself with the principles of graphic design, diving headfirst into photoshop will not be a bad idea. Just buying it and starting to mess around will be useful. Google specific questions you have, because there are an incredible amount of resources and tutorials.

Don’t ever think that knowing photoshop is the extent of what graphic design is, but it really helps. Always return to pen/pencil and paper to get rough ideas of what you’re thinking out on paper before returning to graphic software.

Simultaneously may I suggest adding the history of Graphic design to your self-determined curriculum

Graphic Design is a term that has only started being used fairly recently, though the roots and history of the discipline is long and varied dating back to hieroglyphics. To fully appreciate and wield the fullest power of the craft it’s important to understand it’s place in the march of history and to appreciate where we are in it’s development curve.

A period by time period discussion of key historical elements of the development of Graphic Design as we know it.

I love simplicity in design and thus fell in love with the Bauhaus movement’s philosophy and esthetic. In the 1990’s there was a movement towards a more scattered free flowing and almost punk rock use of typography and layout. Now I believe there is a return to the simplicity that is representative of Bauhaus. The film ‘Helvetica’ goes into depth about the typeface Helvetica, and watching it could help you have a deeper understanding of typography.

Watch the documentary Helvetica online


After principles of design, Photoshop, and the history of graphic design

Like I’ve said focus on the above elements first, but after you’re done with these, you can start to dive deeper into the incredible niches of design. Some very important ones are:

Layout- Create another mini-curriculum like the one starting with the principles of design above, with reading, exercise, hypothetical client and critique and feedback involved in this phase as well.

Typography – This could also be a large phase in your self-determined curriculum.


These are just the first 5 key disciplines from my perspective on getting started. It’s important though to not get overwhelmed when getting started with Graphic Design. Always break it into smaller chunks and focus exclusively on the chunk at hand, rather than the full outline of your plan. Doing this is smart for any goal-setting or self-initiated, self-defined curriculum you might come up with.

Here are some other resources to help you get started putting together your plan, but do get started. Don’t allow the abundance of available resources intimidate you.

Teach Yourself Graphic Design: A Self-Study Course Outline

How to Become a Designer Without Going to Design School

Teach Yo’self: A Guide to Online Graphic Design Education

How to Become a Designer without Going to School

What is the Best Way to Self Teach Graphic Design – Quora

Here is a discussion of how self-taught Graphic Designers fair against those with a degree

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