As a graphic designer, keeping your design skills sharp is an essential part of the job.
Graphic design is an ever-evolving industry; design styles and fashions constantly change, and as so, designers need to keep up.
In this article, we’re going to look at 8 ways to improve your graphic design skills. Whether you’re a seasoned freelancer or a newbie intern, these pointers will help to advance your design expertise.
I’ll share with you the tips I use to improve my own design skills, even to this day. These learning methods have lead me to a world of professional graphic design, without a formal qualification. So if I can do it, you can too!
Here are my top 8 tips for keeping your design skills up to par:
1) Follow online tutorials often
In times gone by, improving your design skills could get expensive, however, nowadays, there are a plethora of free tutorials available online.
Instead of wasting hours on Netflix, spend some time following a free online tutorial. Brush-up on your Photoshop skills or learn a new program altogether.
Heard of the 10,000 hour rule? Author of “The Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell, explains that reaching the 10,000-Hour Rule, which he considers the key to mastery in any field, is simply a matter of practising a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.
So even if you’ve been a successful designer for many years already, don’t think you’re past learning just yet. There’s always something new to be picked-up in graphic design, so take an extra hour here and there to polish your skills.
Here are some places to find free graphic design tutorials online:
- Adobe’s own tutorials for Photoshop, Illustrator & InDesign
- Design & Illustration tutorials by TutsPlus
- Abduzeedo – A range of tutorials for Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom and more
- Phlearn – hugely popular Photoshop tutorials
- Design Stacks – Photoshop tutorials
- Learn Sketch – a growing collection of tutorials for Sketch
- InVisionApp’s range of Sketch tutorials
2) Download templates
Search google for tips on improving your design skills and you’ll find very few articles – if any at all – recommending to download pre-made templates. That’s a shame, as this gem of a tip gives you direct access to professionally designed source files.
By downloading premade templates, you get to see exactly how a designer created a particular image. You get to see the exact settings she used, the way she composed the layout and what hidden tricks are buried beneath the layers.
Best of all, most professional template websites offer free samples of their products, giving you plentiful files to choose from.
Here are some places you can download free design templates:
- BrandPacks – Hundreds of free templates in Photoshop PSD & Illustrator Vector
- SpoonGraphics – A variety of free resources for graphic designers
- GraphicsFuel – Free PSD mockups, patterns, textures and more
- 365PSD – Free PSD templates primarily for UI designs
- DesignerCandies – A small but useful collection of professional freebies
- GraphBerry – Dozens of free templates for web designs
- FreebiesBug – A wide selection of free templates for different design tools
- Sketch App Resources – Thousands of resources & templates for Sketch App
3) Re-Learn the basics: typography, contrast, colour theory
Let’s take a step back for a minute. Before we go looking at how you can improve your current designs skills, let’s ensure the basics are covered; aka, the design fundamentals.
Design fundamentals have, and always will, remain the same. Here is a good article to learn more about design fundamentals.
It can be very tempting – especially as a new designer – to want to learn the latest trending design style, or how to create a specific effect – but unless you have the fundamentals down already, you won’t effectively improve your skills.
Here are some articles to help you re-cap on each of the fundamental design principles:
4) Join a Facebook group and ask for feedback
Just as I mentioned few articles recommend downloading other designer’s templates, you won’t find many offering up this tip either. Ask for feedback in Facebook Groups.
In days gone by, amateur designers – myself included – would join forums related to Photoshop, Illustrator and graphic design. In these forums, we’d post our designs and ask the more experienced designers to give us useful feedback.
Unfortunately, today, many popular graphic design forums are a thing of the past – but that doesn’t mean forums are gone altogether. Nowadays we’ll find them as Facebook Groups.
There are dozens of Facebook Groups now available for each and every aspect of graphic design. Many of these groups have hundreds of thousands of users – perfect when you want quick feedback.
If you want to improve your graphic design skills, find a Facebook group related to the software you use or the style of design you create, and post your most recent work and ask for feedback.
Here are some groups which I’m a member of:
5) Enter design contests
Many professional designers dislike design contents, and to be fair, a large part of me can see why. However, entering a design competition pits you against professionals, which is gold-dust training for an amateur.
Heck, entering a design contest once in a while could be a good thing for established professionals, too!
I’m not suggesting to use design contest websites as a means for fulltime income. Some designers do, very successfully, but in this case, I’m suggesting you use them for training purposes only. Though, an extra few dollars won’t hurt!
Top design contest sites to consider:
6) Improve your software skills
Multi-skilled graphic designers with other software knowledge such as animation & 3D design earn almost $20,000 more than average per year.
Graphic designers, especially amateurs, have a tendency to learn one piece of software (namely Photoshop) and then give up on all other design programs.
I was the same myself when I started out – I conquered the basics of Photoshop, and for years I used no other tool. Later down the line as I started winning more prestigious projects, I was unable to complete them on my own because my software skills were limited.
This meant that later on in my career, I had to go back and learn new programs – like Illustrator, 3DSMax and Sketch. It was tiresome, frustrating and something I wish I’d done as a beginner designer.
A note on learning shortcuts:
Regardless of which graphic design software you use, learning the applicable keyboard shortcuts will make you much more efficient. It’ll save you time by helping you more quickly compose designs and should be something you invest time into learning.
7) Copy a design
Similar to following online tutorials, copying a design, especially from an artist with similar stylistic choices to your own, is a great way to learn.
I’m not suggesting to do this in your client work – although we’ve all heard the quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal” – but rather, I’m suggesting you do this in your spare time as an exercise in improving skills.
More often than not, online tutorials only take you so far. Eventually, you need to figure things out on your own. Spending time with another designer’s work on your canvas and meticulously trying to replicate it can lead to those “Aha!” moments we all crave when learning something new.
8) Lastly, keep improving
As I said at the beginning of this article, design trends and fashions are ever-changing. As a designer, hanging up your coat and “sticking to what you already know” is a surefire way to end up stagnant and out-of-demand.
That’s why it is essential – no matter how skilled, experienced or successful you are – to continually improve and keep learning.