Good design goes to heaven
June 27, 2012 7:29 AM   Subscribe

How to get started in graphic design?

Mrs. allkindsoftime is looking to get into graphic design. While she's most interested in web design, she'd like to become comfortable working in several fields, including branding and logos. She's taught herself the basics of Photoshop and InDesign and done a bit of design work already - she just knows she needs more training to get beyond the basics.

A couple details: We live in Kenya currently but may relocate within the year, so enrolling in a good design school isn't an option right now (unless its a 100% correspondence thing). We're looking for advice on how to get started independently for the time being - what she'll need and what online sources/resources are best.

Basic questions:
- What computer is best? She currently has a MacBook that's pushing 5 years. We know we need to get an upgrade and the appropriate software. Recommendations? System requirements?
- Are online courses and tutorials sufficient to get good training in design? If so, what are the best online sources for this training? She already has a bachelor's and master's in other fields and isn't too keen on going back to school (and back into debt) for another full degree.
- What other questions should we be asking at this juncture?

Extra bonus points for links to anything on the blue or green that may be helpful in this regard. Thanks!
posted by allkindsoftime to Work & Money (5 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
What computer is best?

Whichever one doesn't cause her to want to tear her hair out, fidget impatiently and can handle 8 gigs of ram, the Indesign Suite and at least a 500 gig hard drive AND one (preferably two) 500 gig external drives for backup.

Mac or PC is doesn't matter too much. I totally prefer Macs, but cheerfully admit PCs can work. But jesus, who would want to spend all their time on one

I would strongly suggest she find a job at a print shop or some sort of output agency, so she can become knowledgeable in how computers handle files, fonts and color, yet lots of designers don't know this information, which can cause mistakes and errors when a site goes up or job is output to print.

Doesn't have to be long time, six months to a year should do it, even if it's part time. Plus she'll come into contact with people who need design work done and may find a client or two.

She should watch a 50 minute video, titled "Fuck you, Pay Me"

Book wise, some of the classics are
The Mac is not typewriter. It's relevant to PCs also and there is PC version if you Google.
Designing with Type

For logos and branding, Milton Glaser is an iconic designer. There are others, she should definitely be studying them and their work.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2012

You can get all the newest Adobe apps for $50 a month. Not sure about internationally. A newer apple laptop, and a Wacom tablet (cheap one is fine) will make the whole world look like it is full of beautiful rainbows compared to working on something older.

can she do design work for companies that are related to her current degrees/professions? expert knowledge about your clients business is valuable.

read books about design and advertising. graphic design is ultimately about selling, either an idea or a product. Read books about and by Ogilvy or Paul Rand.

She has to have a good eye. Anyone can learn the technical aspects of design with computers. Even drawing is a a technical exercise that anyone can get better at with practice. At a certain point though, there needs to be a part of her brain where taste and training combine and let her know what works aesthetically. That is the place where some fall short, they have technical skills and desire but not good taste.

Lack of taste can be made up for by working hard, and by communicating well with clients, and by not being a prima donna that insists that they get their way.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a graphic designer and art director with 8 years experience working in an advertising agency in a midwestern town.

Everyone I know in this city that does what I do has a 4-year degree in Visual Communication. In my 4 years of college, I had a total of 2 classes that taught you how to use the tools of the trade. You were expected to teach yourself that. In other words, being a great graphic designer is a lot more than knowing how to use Photoshop.

I don't want to be discouraging, or an old curmudgeon. I just want to be realistic.

Web Design is a very large and vague description. Does she want to design comps of websites and then work with developers to have them made, or is she interested in writing her own HTML and CSS to make the site work? Those two aren't mutually exclusive, but they often are.

That said, there are jobs for technicians, or production artists. Often times these people are employed to do photoshop re-touching, or build-out layouts based on a template (say we have to make a 300 page book. I might do the cover and a couple of sample spreads. The Production Artist would then build out the rest.) These jobs aren't as devoid of creativity as I just described. They are also about the only way into the career without any formal schooling.

All this said, here's a list of resources she could check out:

Brand New
Method & Craft
Smashing Magazine

All of those links should provide a lot more inspiration and give her a lot of things to consider in terms of the kind of designer she wants to be.

After all this, please feel free to memail me directly if you've got some more specific questions.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Honestly, a masters is probably the fastest way to do it, especially if you want to get hired. Basically you get a job based on your portfolio (and friends) and a masters is a good way to get a solid set of projects (with a range of experiences). It would take two years.

Alternately, you could do what I did, which is get into an agency as a project manager (because I had project management experience in another field) > have that agency expect very basic UX visuals and convince them you could do that much > move to a place that had a bit higher expectations > move to a place with even higher ones > finally feel okay with all the skills to do graphic design. It has taken six years and there are still things that I struggle with. I don't really recommend it. (This was in New York and SF. I don't know if it holds for smaller markets.)

That said, given you are in Kenya for another year anyways, I would suggest learning to code up basic designs in HTML/CSS/JS. It is a good differentiator that should get you over the hump of not having gone to school. In addition to the links above, Graphic Design for Non Designers has some good intro projects, and these tutorials from Veerle are the closest thing I can think of to my favorite way to learn, which was to take apart files from better designers than I.

And yes, a Wacom. Changes your life and honestly necessary if you are going to be spending hours in Creative Suite. A big monitor is also nice.

Good luck.
posted by dame at 1:46 PM on June 27, 2012

Learning the software is easy. She needs to learn how to take criticism without taking it personally. She also needs to learn good people skills!
posted by jmd97 at 8:33 PM on June 28, 2012

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