An Introduction to Graphic Design

Take a minute to visualize your favorite brands. If you think Nike, chances are you are visualizing a black swoosh, or an outline of Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. If you think Apple, you are probably visualizing a grey Apple logo with a bite taken out of the side. If you think Amazon, a black and orange logo with a smiling arrow probably popped into your head. 

But graphic design doesn’t just apply to logo creation, graphic design is present in our everyday lives through a variety of different design related tasks, from icons to web pages and brand style guides, graphic designers are responsible for creating digital art that serves as the identity of an organization.

Because graphic design is so essential to business success and brand identity, it should come as no surprise that the popularity of graphic design is expected to rise. Increasingly, brands are finding that they have less and less time to connect with prospective customers. In fact, a recent study concluded that the average attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds today. With attention spans shrinking by the year, brands are interested in creating visual content because it is more engaging and more glance-able than long-form written content.

The world around us is becoming an increasingly visual place. Instagram has quickly become one of the largest social media networks in the world thanks to the fact that the platform features visual content front and center. Video games are being played by an increasingly large segment of the population because the medium is so visually engaging. And as mentioned above, brands are turning to graphic design in order to better connect with a target audience. In short, graphic design is shaping the world around us from all aspects of our lives.

That means that professions related to video game designing, advertising design, and design thinking, in general, represents a meaningful way to make a significant impact on the world.


How Perspective and Skill Can Shape Your Designs

Learning graphic design might seem like a daunting task. After all, great graphic designers know how to apply their design style via a number of different software that yields great looking results. They can create icons from scratch, design icons that are subtly different from an original, they can try their hand at t-shirt design, or at designing their own fabrics, and everything in between.

To be successful, it is important to find the right learning method for you. Some students prefer to learn graphic design by doing. Meaning that a student will learn a handful of core design principles, like design theory or the golden ratio in art before applying the principles themselves. Other students prefer watching a series of lectures offered by a graphic design course, and taking detailed notes on concepts related to concept design, magazine design, and visual hierarchy. By understanding the way you learn best, you will be better equipped to become a good graphic designer.

Learning to become a great graphic designer starts with perspective. Prospective students will be able to understand the demands of a graphic designer by looking at everyday objects with a new lens. Everything from the packaging the cradles a new electronic device, to the advertisements you see on television, to the fabric design you see on clothes are produced by a team of graphic design professionals. 

To produce designs for the mediums mentioned above, graphic designers use specialized applications built specifically for various projects. It is common for a professional graphic designer to use Photoshop to edit and retouch vector designs, and for a designer to use Illustrator to create vectorial illustrations. Graphic designers also regularly work with Sketch, which is a good tool for creating website mockups, Axure to create product mockups and prototypes, and InDesign to create presentations and marketing materials.

But design isn’t just related to creating various business materials; design thinking is a concept that can be applied to many different areas of daily life. From the way that you interact with products you use every day, to the layout of your office, to the website visitor flow you experience when visiting your favorite website, design thinking is at play in each example.

Consider this; Apple recently revealed a brand-new company headquarters called Apple Park. The new location features nearly 3 million square feet of office space. Since Apple is a design-conscious company, the team behind one of the world’s most valuable brands focused on designing a uniquely wonderful experience for visitors to the company headquarters. The company features uninterrupted views of a nearby park and open workspaces that bring employees together. This is just one example of how applying design thinking to a project can yield remarkably good results when done properly.


Poster Design 

Another area of design that is often overlooked is poster design. How frequently have you been inspired to view a new movie, or research a new product as a result of a well-designed poster? To design posters well takes skill and technical knowledge. Those interested in designing outstanding posters should understand that a number of famous posters have shaped graphic design styles for some time.



Photo Credit: Ellen Lupton

The 1997 poster Birth of the Cool helped to usher in a period of bold and un-restrained designs that were popular throughout the graphic design community. Another example of this is the 1967 poster advertising Knoll International (a home furnishings company). The poster used offset type in a rainbow of birth colors to promote the forward-thinking brand. As a result of this design, a number of other graphic designers began creating large posters featuring offset type.

Poster design, therefore, has a long history of influencing design trends, and graphic design thinking. Understanding historical poster design movements will help aspiring designers think of creative new approaches to graphic design projects.


Book Cover Design 

Book cover design is another area of graphic design that has influenced other areas of design from theories about complementary colors, to even the most basic element of design. Take the well-known works of book cover designer, and the current Associate Art Director at Knopf, Chip Kidd. Kidd is credited with designing the book covers of 1Q84, The Mind’s Eye, and The Snow Was Black, among hundreds of other covers. Kidd has become such an iconic designer because of his work, that he was invited to TED to talk to an audience of influencers about the importance of design thinking.


Icon Design

Icon design is another important aspect of graphic design that many people don’t understand well. Creating a great looking icon requires a precise template, on which to base designs. The design will need to come in a set of icons so that you or the client can use the design in various formats. Designing a great icon may seem easy, but creating a simple but meaningful icon takes skill and a discerning eye. Take the Nike swoosh icon as an example. The swoosh came about in 1971 when an aspiring design student was hired by Nike co-founders to create a company icon. After the long iterative process, the team finally decided on the now famous swoosh icon.

 56579c7bPhoto Credit: Kaique Rocha

Carolyn Davidson, the young design student who created the Nike swoosh logo, was able to create such an iconic logo because she cultivated a unique design language while studying at Oregon State. The best designers are able to cultivate a unique design language. This is what allows them to create novel creations that help organizations to stand out from a crowded marketplace. Just as Davidson was able to find a unique design language, so to was the founder of one of the most famous design studios in the world. Frog Design was founded by Hartmut Esslinger, and industrial designer, Esslinger is credited with creating the design for products like the original Apple computers, and Microsoft Window’s early user interface design.

Icon design is not always related to corporate work. Milton Glaser is a famous graphic designer who is credited with creating the “I Heart New York” icon that is now adorned by many a New York City tourist. The icon was commissioned by the city of New York during the mid-1970s. At the time, New York City had an image problem, and for a good reason. The crime rate in the city was at an all-time high. Residents were fleeing New York in search of safer places to live. As a result of these difficulties, fewer people were comfortable visiting New York as tourists. 

Glaser’s work shows the power that design can have on the world around you. The “I Heart New York” helped New York City to revitalize the metropolis’s image. What was once considered a place no tourist would go, slowly became regarded as a place worth visiting. Today, New York is one of the most desirable places to live in the United States, and it is in part a result of the iconic icon design created by Milton Glaser. 

Graphic designers who are serious about improving their work should consider investing their time in developing a unique design language. Doing so can help designers to create visuals and products that have a meaningful impact on an organization, or even the world. Just take Ms. Davidson and Mr. Esslinger as examples of what a unique design voice can do.


Telling Stories Through Your Work

Good design tells a compelling story. How you tell that story will vary depending on the design language you use. To illustrate let’s take two iconic design languages. IBM has an iconic company logo and recognizable design. Paul Rand was the mastermind behind the transformation of IBM as a stogy brand that produced time punch card machines, to a company known for making high-quality computing equipment. Rand introduced the now famous, eight bar IBM logo in the early 1970s. He was also the creator of the celebrated Eye, Bee, M poster from 1981. Thanks to the way in which Rand produced his designs, IBM is considered to be a highly professional and successful technology company.


71a8c66dPhoto Credit: Donald Tong

In contrast to IBM is Coca-Cola. The organization has a clear design language, but because the design was formulated differently, the language conveys playfulness and whimsy as opposed to conservative business efficiency. Established in 1886, the world-famous Coca-Cola logo was designed one year after the company was established, in 1887. Since then, the Coca-Cola logo has been modified to add the color red, and later the color white in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, the company launched a well-known advertising campaign called “I’d like the buy the world a coke” which featured an eclectic group of people thinking coke and singing on a picturesque hilltop. Thanks to a friendly, warm, and creative design language, Coca-Cola is regarded as a friendly brand and is beloved by millions of customers as a result.


Character Design

A specifically important aspect of design language is character design. Creating a company mascot, cartoon, or graphic design involving a character will require you to think about drawing characters in a specific way in order to achieve a specific result. Coke’s Santa Claus for example, features a warm, round, and jovial looking figure. This figure is well aligned to Coke’s design language. IBM, on the other hand, features an industrial-looking bumblebee in a well-known advertising poster. The bee is in keeping with the company’s conservative and forward-thinking values.

To take a more modern example, look at the compelling design language developed by Slack. Slack is an instant messaging platform used by millions of business people across the globe. While other work-oriented instant messaging platforms exist, some offered by large organizations like Facebook, Microsoft, and Atlassian, Slack remains successful thanks to their design language. All aspects of the Slack interface are friendly, inviting, and intuitive. As a result, people who trial Slack, usually end up liking the experience so much that they use it for some time.

Specific elements that can be found within the Slack platform include, emojis that playfully convey the latest information about product updates, a clear use of color that makes finding and reading messages visually pleasing, and helpful icons that are well placed throughout the platform.

Slack also has a memorable logo. The Slack logo, or Slack mark as the company calls it, is a diagonally placed hashtag multi-colored hashtag. The logo is so well executed that in a few short years, the Slack mark has become synonymous with the company’s brand, which means that upon seeing the Slack mark, the viewer usually knows that it is associated with Slack without needing to see the company name.

Slack is an example of a company that has been able to grow through product driven design. Readers can learn how to create great product interfaces by creating a product design course. Many product design courses will cover things related to data design as well since data plays a big part in many design decisions. Those who want to learn design basics can learn more by viewing available courses on Skillshare.


Graphic Design Specializations

Graphic designers can choose to specialize in one aspect of design creation, for example, logo design. Or designers can choose to build up their skills to become experts in a wide array of design tasks. Paul Rand is an example of a designer who was able to acquire a broad set of design skills, allowing him to develop a number of iconic designs in various mediums.

It is because Rand was able to develop a wide variety of skills, that he was able to strongly stick to his design opinions. While it is ok for designers to specialize, having at least some general design knowledge can make it more likely to colleagues will pay attention to your opinions when it comes to design questions outside of your day-to-day purview. 

Designers who are able to level up their skills over time will also be able to get into a creative routine. Each day can bring with it new design challenges that provide knowledgeable designers with unique stimulation. Take Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of Frog Design as an example of this. Esslinger was a design generalist, able to design the shell of Apple computers one day, while the next day he was able to advise other companies on user interface design. Since Esslinger was such a knowledgeable designer, he was able to constantly ply his trade, and in so doing, he impacted the everyday lives of millions of end users.


Logo Creation for the Modern Business

Business logo design is a key component of many designer’s skillsets. But creating a logo does not just require basic graphic design skills, it also requires an understanding of how to design logos that speak to an organizations goals and reason for being.

The best logos can help organizations create a brand identity and brand recognition. Let’s take a look at a few iconic logos to get an understanding of what a successful logo design looks like.

Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, has one of the world’s most recognizable logos. The Amazon logo appears to be simple, but it actually conveys the organization’s reason for being quite effectively. The yellow arrow at the bottom of the logo is shaped like a smile, indicating that Amazon is dedicated to providing outstanding customer service. But the yellow arrow is also pointing from the first “A” in Amazon to the letter “Z,” indicating to the organization is committed to providing customers with a wide variety of products, from A to Z.

FedEx is another company with an iconic logo. When the company was founded in 1973, the original logo was Federal Express written on a diagonal slant. The logo was designed to evoke a sense of trustworthiness and speed. In 1994, FedEx rebranded from Federal Express to the shortened FedEx. With it, the company logo changed to the now famous block purple and orange letters. If you look closely at the negative space between the second “E” and the “X,” you’ll notice an arrow. The arrow is intended to evoke a sense of accuracy and speed, giving FedEx customers piece of find that their parcel will get to where it needs to go on time.

Creating an iconic logo takes true dedication to graphic design, passionate, and knowledge. It is because logo design can be so challenging that many graphic designers enjoy creating logos. To create an iconic logo, there are two schools of thought. One school of thought encourages designers to work within a grid system. Grid systems allow designers to create logos that have proportionality, and that are easily modifiable. If a business owner needs a logo in a new size, it is easy to re-size a logo created using the traditional grid system.


0ed7f208Photo Credit: George Bokhua

Another way of designing a logo is to opt for a circular design. BMW is an example of a company that created an iconic logo using a circular logo framework. The BMW logo was created in 1917 when two German airplane manufacturers merged. One manufacturer’s logo included a black horse, and another manufacturer’s logo included a Bavarian flag (which is checkered in blue and white diamonds.) As a compromise, the newly formed company opted for a black ringed logo with a blue and white checkered flag in the middle. Since then, the logo has undergone few changes. The round design has become a recognizable company logo across the globe.

A key to good logo design is to design the logo with the company’s purpose in mind. Remember that the Amazon logo, for example, includes logo elements that speak to the organization’s dedication to customer service and to providing customers with access to a wide variety of product. The FedEx logo uses an arrow to convey the company’s mission of fast and accurate delivery. The IBM logo was designed to show that the organization was traditional, yet forward thinking. Even the Coca-Cola logo was designed and later modified to evoke a sense of friendliness and togetherness when viewed by the organization’s target audience.

That means that it is important for designers to understand the organization’s intended brand voice. One way of doing this is to determine what the company’s purpose is, from there creating a meaningful logo will likely be an easier task.

Readers may notice that some of the most iconic logos have actually been redesigned over time. It’s important to remember that good design may need to be revitalized over time. The Apple logo is a good example of how revamping a company logo can help the brand to tell a new narrative. When the company was founded in 1976, Steve Jobs designed a little know version of the Apple logo. The logo featured Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. The company’s name, Apple Computers was wrapped around this illustration. One year later, Jobs commissioned Rob Janoff to design a new version of the Apple logo. This new version featured an Apple with a bite taken out of the side. The logo was divided into a rainbow of colorful bars. It is said that the rainbow is in homage to Newton’s separation of various color spectrums, and in celebration of the Apple computer’s ability to display a full-color interface. Since the 1977 re-design, the Apple logo has been updated four more times. Today, the official Apple logo is a minimalistic chrome variation on Jannoff’s 1977 version.

The Apple logo serves to evoke the company’s mission, while also remaining timeless enough that it has successfully stood the test of time, with only a few variations for 30 years. The best logos are ones that provide the brand with a basis for visual identity but are also able to evolve over time.

To begin creating timeless logos, consider taking a company logo designing course, most courses will include a logo design tutorial that covers line drawing, concept art creation, design branding, and other design elements that are essential to successfully making a great logo.


Master Graphic Design

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that “the ten-thousand-hour rule is a definite key to success.” By that, he meant that anyone who commits to deeply practicing a skill for ten thousand hours is likely to master the skill. Once they master the skill, they will usually become expert practitioners.

This rule is especially true when it comes to graphic design. In order to become a great designer, you must practice your skills every day via a variety of different projects. For example, a class on botanical drawing can make you a better freehand designer. While it might appear that botanical art has very little to do with the demands of graphic designs today, remember that graphic design often requires a broad set of technical skills. Practicing a technique that is out of your comfort zone is a great way to prepare yourself for future unknown projects. 

Additionally, a number of well-known companies employ botanical designs when promoting products or services. Slack often uses botanical design in content marketing pieces, as do other tech companies who are interested in attracting attention by promoting content with unconventional design.

  • Take a Graphic Design Course: For those who want to know how to become a graphic designing, the answer lies in taking online graphic design courses. Courses will help you to practice the craft of graphic designing via a variety of different mediums. Some Graphic design classes will teach you how to design games, others will focus on branding logo design tips, while other classes may focus on designing book covers. Whatever the subject, taking a series of design courses will help you to hone your graphic design skills over time.
  • Find Freelance Work: Another way to practice the craft of designing is by taking on freelance design work. There are many different platforms available to those interested in creating a freelance design business. Upwork is one platform used by millions of freelancers. To use the platform, simply create a profile which includes some examples of your design projects. Then, use the Upwork search console to look for businesses in need of a graphic designer. You will be asked to submit a proposal. If selected, you will both be earning money and honing your design skills all at the same time. There are other freelancing platforms that may be of interest as well. Elance and Fiverr are two other platforms that graphic designers (and other professionals) use to connect with businesses in need of their services.
  • Build an Online Portfolio: Readers may find it easier to acquire new clients by creating an online portfolio on platforms like Dribble, Forest, and Behance. Each platform serves as a visual search engine for those in need of graphic design inspiration. The platforms also allow graphic designers to showcase some of their best creations, either for the purposes of earning praise from other designers, or from winning new business. Designers who are interested in finding an incentive to create interesting new designs can think of small design tasks they can create that is worthy of being displayed on a portfolio platform like the ones mentioned above. 
  • Create a Website: Graphic designers can also work on their craft by creating a great website. While it may be necessary to take a web design course to learn the design basics associated with web design, it can be a great way to build a portfolio and to earn new business. Today, the most interesting websites use a combination of clean and attention-grabbing design, which also include a resume and examples of past work.
  • Design A T-shirt: Designing t-shirts is another way for aspiring graphic designers to gain exposure, improve their craft, and earn business. To get started, readers can take a graphic design course that focuses on creating compelling t-shirt graphics. T-shirt design courses will guide aspiring designers through the entire design lifecycle. From getting to know the goals of the client, and outlining the organizations brand identity, to packaging the design so that it can be properly printed using a wide variety of digital printing techniques, t-shirt design courses expose attendees to a wide variety of important graphic design concepts.
  • Research Other Graphic Designers: Lastly, for those interested in graphic design to get started is by looking through the works of notable designers to pinpoint what about the design you find interesting. Then you can recreate the design using your own language to shape the outcome. A great resource to search through timeless graphic designs is the scrolling through the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Collection online. This digitized collection features works by world-renowned designers from a wide variety of eras and design movements. By viewing the collections, and doing your best to create an interpretive design of the collection, you will be both educating yourself about famous visual movements, while also practicing important graphic design skills.

Remember, graphic design is about telling a unique story. The stories that designers tell inevitably end up shaping the world around you, and around everyone who comes into contact with your design. Paul Rand created a timeless series of logos that helped IBM to become a world-famous technology company. Rob Janoff created the well-known Apple logo; a creation that is both studied by design scholars, and is readily recognized by millions of Apple customers all over the world. Hartmut Esslinger founded a legendary design consulting firm and created products and interfaces that helped brands successfully develop from nascent early days to successful and influential global companies.

By practicing various design projects, be they through online graphics design courses related to company design, experience design, or commercial design, or via small freelance projects that test your skills and develop a client base, you too can create designs that shape your world and that shape the world of those around you.


A Company Driven By Design

Airbnb is an example of what happens when design-oriented thinking is let loose on a company. Airbnb was founded by a group of designers, led by the now-CEO, Brian Chesky. Before starting Airbnb, Chesky graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he received a degree in industrial design. When Chesky speaks about Airbnb, he says that the company is driven by design. This statement is visible throughout every touchpoint where a prospective user engages with the brand.

The Airbnb website is clean, unique, and highly usable. The Airbnb app feels well designed, clear, and on-brand. Even the Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco was carefully designed to bring employees closer to the experience the company provides for both hosts and guests. For example, meeting rooms within Airbnb’s office are patterned off of guest’s homes. This helps employees to put themselves in the shoes of their users when talking about the future of the company.

The example of Airbnb serves as a tale of inspiration for all aspiring designers. Design-driven thinking can positively impact a business in many different ways. From the creation of a compelling logo to a usable user interface, to an inspiring office, design-driven thinking can play a powerful role in an organization’s success.


Explore Your Creative Expression


Photo Credit: Shantell Martin

A professional graphic designer is not a robot where a senior manager provides you with a directive that you follow to the “t.” Instead, you are a creative professional tasked with expressing your unique perspective as it relates to a specific design brief.

Paul Rand, the head designer at IBM was famous for refusing to change a design recommendation once he made it. He is known for saying “you hired me to design, so let me design.” Rand was the epitome of a professional designer. He was someone who carefully listened to the needs of those around him by asking probing questions and by having a keen intuition about other’s needs. But once Rand made a professional design recommendation, he would regularly refuse to change his work simply because another person within IBM preferred a different series of colors or a different design.

Graphic design can be an incredibly rewarding career, in which you have the ability to shape the visual language of an organization. If done well, this language can live on for decades to come and can become an iconic image that is revered by professionals, laypeople, and academics alike.

Design also provides professionals with a way to share your work with the world, and with an opportunity to express your ideas, preferences, and personal voice on a regular basis. Most professionals are required to keep their ideas to themselves. Instead, they are tasked with carrying out a specific mission described by corporate leadership. Designers are afforded a unique luxury, to apply their own interpretation to a design brief. This is a uniquely valuable opportunity in a traditionally hierarchical work culture.

Finally, remember that design thinking provides all sorts of people with the opportunity to begin a creative pursuit, whether it be professionally, as a freelancer, or as a hobbyist. Practicing graphic design can make you a more creative person, able to tackle other design related thinking challenges when the need arises.

Design-oriented thinking is not just about creating a t-shirt graphic, 3D design, or Photoshop art. Instead, design-oriented thinking can be applied to all sorts of problems, from layout of Apple’s new campus to a corporate rebranding, to a personal art project, design-oriented thinking can have a significant and positive impact on your work and on your life.

The next step to becoming a more creative thinker and a proficient graphic designer is to take a series of graphic design courses. Graphic design tutorials can teach you how to create a watermark, how to visualize data, or simply the principles of design. Whatever the course, the content is sure to make you a more creative and successful thinker.

So, go ahead and take the plunge by signing up for a graphics design course today.






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