I often receive emails with people asking me how they can teach themselves graphic design. Having taken the traditional college route I find it a difficult one to answer. I know from personal experience that what I learned at college was only a drop in the ocean (a starting point) and much of my current design experience has been gained from experimentation, friends and former colleagues.

There clearly are people out there who have taught themselves graphic design:

I asked Amanda Vlahakis from www.trulyace.com how she taught herself graphic design

I can only talk about how I self taught because I should imagine each person learns differently if you know anything about the different learning styles that each person will respond better to. For myself self teaching involved mainly ‘doing’ – so mainly practising by myself and nothing else in the way of tutorials or online courses or anything else like that.

Obviously I’m still learning, as we all are, I don’t think it ever ends.

My Methods

So I essentially sat down with the software and just started attempting to create things and then I practised for hour upon hour, for years, until I got better. Each time I didn’t know how to do something that I felt I needed to learn and couldn’t figure out for myself through trial and error I would go to Google and search for a solution, so research was part of my self teaching.

This searching for solutions via a search engine tended in my case to revolve not around the design itself but the technical things one has to learn; for instance about printing methods, printing file requirements and so on….to ensure that what one has designed comes out right at the other end when printed and to learn how to layout a design for print for different types of print product.

Another part of my learning, specifically my illustrative learning, was to the study the technical ability of other illustrators. For instance if I wanted to achieve the appearance of ‘glossy lips’ for an illustrated fashion character I would stare at the work of top illustrators and see how each different illustrator achieves these sorts of effects and learn from them.

It’s always a good idea to look at other designers anyway (not just graphic designers but all sorts of designers), for creative inspiration and to avoid becoming stale, which is actually quite a hazard I find, anyway I digress…..

They say there are three types of learners:

  1. Visual Learners, who learn through seeing. They need to see their tutors body language and facial expression to understand the topic, and may think in pictures and learn best from visual learning aids such as diagrams. Design tutorials with screen grabs would be perfect for this sort of learner I expect.
  2. Auditory Learners, who learn through listening. This person will learn most effectively by listening to a lecturer for instance, or a mentor who verbalises the topic to them. They may struggle to injest information in written form until it is heard. For this type of learner, it might be worth seeking out tutorials that are auditory as well as visual, and podcasts.
  3. Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners, I believe I am this type of learner, as I have always struggled to learn from listening to words (I tend to zone out within minutes and learn nothing) and although reading things I must learn isn’t too bad, it isn’t as ideal for me as actually ‘doing’ the task. I’ve always learned things much quicker and better if I physically do it. I have noticed this since I was about 16 (I’m nearly 35 now eek!)

It is said that this type of learner prefers the hands-on approach and may find it difficult to sit still for long periods become distracted by their need for activity. This is definitely true of me, I find it very difficult to relax for any period of time unless exhausted. But I must say that having your own business is ideal for tiring yourself out of an evening!

So I guess it’s a good idea to think about what of what sort of learner you are before you start, and expect to put in plenty of hours into practising no matter what type of learner you are. Never give up and no matter how rubbish you are to start (I was awful, not even joking here – really really awful), have complete faith that you can only get better and better if you just keep practising and never stop practising.

Max, a graphic design blog reader asked three questions about learning graphic design on my post about Open University

1) I am looking for a Graphic Design course online from some reputable institution which offers the course with a certificate and is least expensive and can be finished in shortest possible time.

I have yet to find anyone who has said they have taken an online graphic design course so I would love to have any blog readers input on his one. Are online Graphic Design Courses any good, I don’t mean learning programs like photoshop and Quark, but a real Graphic Design practical and aesthetics course. I tried a web design course with the Open University but was unimpressed by the course. W3 schools have free online lessons in HTML and CSS which lots of people swear by but this is purely for the coding side rather than design.

My suggestion for anyone teaching themselves graphic design would be to:

2) A real good book/learning CDS or DVDS which is good to learn/ study Graphic Design and perhaps is used in in some leading universities as a course material.



  • For learning all your graphic design and web programs I know many people are big fans of www.lynda.com where you can subscribe for $25 month to watch all the tutorial videos on the site. You can buy the DVDs and some books too.

3) Web sites where one can-FREELY- read or study and download materials for Graphic Design.

Did you teach yourself Graphic Design? How did you do it?