Help me learn graphic / visual design fundamentals.
September 2, 2013 1:15 AM   Subscribe

I’m a fine artist who wants to move into design (for web) and I want to get up to speed on graphic / visual / communication design fundamentals.

As I have a degree in contemporary fine art, I have a general understanding of many art principles, but I want to gain a more detailed understanding of the fundamentals of good visual design. Basically I'd like to give myself a home education, so I'd be particularly interested in hearing from those who have studied Graphic Design, Communication Design, Visual Design, etc. My questions are...

What was your first year curriculum? What were / are the names of your courses?

What skills were you expected to have gained by the end of those courses?

What reading material / lists were you given?

What skills were you expected to have gained by reading that material?

Extra question: What is the number one thing I need to learn / understand to become an excellent visual designer?

Bonus points for second year curriculum…!
posted by halcorp to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The grid (!); how to create visual information hierarchies; typography & the differences between running text, heads, and titles; legibility/readability and issues of size, color, & emphasis; how to address usability issues; how to use templates & the importance of consistency; the importance of buttons, labels, and other kinds of navigation; what a Call to Action is; the purpose of a tagline; how to functionally and aesthetically listen to and respond to the needs of content.

Above all, you need to learn that visual design is more like architecture than painting or sculpture. It needs to serve multiple functions and respond to conflicting needs. When it fails to do that, it fails, period, regardless of how pretty it is.
posted by Violet Blue at 1:34 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a friend with a degree in fine art that went back to school to be a graphic designer. She did the Parsons Graphic Design Program. You can see from the curriculum offerings that some of the classes are art based (color theory) but most are not (typography, digital layout). I think that program is one of the most prestigious in the country, so looking through their course descriptions might be helpful for you.
posted by frizz at 7:52 AM on September 2, 2013

Best answer: To answer all four questions: Typography. First semester: Typography I. Second semester: Typography II. Third semester: Typography III and Typography for Web & Broadcast. Fourth Semester: Designing a Typeface and Advanced Typography. Subject of most dreams: Typography. Nightmares: Typography.

Every other skill will come if you master this one area. And if you master every other skill and not typography it's all for nothing.

Here's a good starting reading list:
Meggs History of Graphic Design (look at this book cover to cover to familiarize yourself with examples of the best design)
Grid Systems by Josef Muller-Brockmann
The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton
Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
Anything by Tufte actually
The essay The Crystal Goblet by Beatrice Ward
The Form of the Book by Jan Tschichold

Watch Helvetica The Documentary.


Do a google image search for "object posters" and "swiss posters." Do not do a google image search for "graphic design" or "typography."

Good luck!
posted by MaddyRex at 10:09 AM on September 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

So many questions here and so many possible answers.

One thing you will find with web-based visual design is that there is a structure to it that a fine artist may initially find rather . . . technical and confining. It's not just about establishing a good look and feel. You are designing for humans and robots alike. An understanding of the separation between semantic content (html), styling (css), and interaction (javascript) and how they relate to one another will be essential.

For a straightforward UI/UX perspective, check out GoodUI as a simple introductory example. Does this look boring to you? Or does it look interesting? Think about it.
posted by quadog at 1:32 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

MaddyRex mentioned most of the books I would recommend, but here are a couple of other great ones:
posted by oulipian at 10:46 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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