How to learn graphic design for non designers


This is part of a series of posts that unpacks each of the 12 skills I outlined in 12 Skills you need to build a damn good product in a little more detail.

First lets recap why you should bother finding out how to learn graphic design.

People make snap judgements on the quality of your product. You need to be damn sure they make a good first impression.

Design every interaction, think about the whole experience.

Key responsibilities

  • Make things pretty
  • Design for target devices and user needs
  • Design is how it works not just how it looks
  • Design the whole system
  • Make the small things matter

That all sounds good and well but where do you start gaining the skills needed?

Start with the fundamentals

There are 2 courses available on and 1 on that cover the basics of graphic design . I prefer the treehouse courses but the one is also pretty good.

Treehouse offers a 2 week free trail so it’s a good place to start.

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Aesthetic Foundations

Aesthetic Foundations will cover the elements and principles of art, along with color theory. This basic knowledge will provide a design language that enables more effective communication amongst designers and other team members.

Design Foundations

Have you ever wanted to understand and create aesthetic designs for the web? In this Deep Dive we will learn what design is and how to harness its power. Breakdown the components that conjure the perfect aesthetic. Also create and fix a design of your own. online training tutorials

Before & After: Graphic Design Techniques

Take a creative refresher course with these 18 simple design techniques that will immediately improve your layouts, brought to you by John McWade, founder and creative director of Before & After magazine. These tutorials combine instruction on topics like designs without graphics, extreme cropping, big and small type, logo design, and more, with John’s distinct visual learning style.

If you prefer learning at your own pace a good place to start is with The Elements of Graphic Design


This pioneering work provides designers, art directors, and students–regardless of experience–with a unique approach to successful design. Veteran designer and educator Alex. W. White has assembled a wealth of information and examples in his exploration of what makes visual design stunning and easy to read.

I also recommend that you check out this Google I/O talk from 2012 “Advanced Design for Engineers” by Alex Faaborg and Christian Robertson

Design isn’t black magic, it’s a field that people can learn. In this talk two elite designers from Google will give you an advanced crash course in interactive and visual design. Topics will include mental models, natural mappings, metaphors, mode errors, visual hierarchies, typography and gestalt principles. Correctly applied this knowledge can drastically improve the quality of your work.

Then dive in deeper.

Once you have a solid grounding in the basics it’s time to delve a little deeper.

Have a look at the books, courses and videos below.


Typography is one of the most important aspects of design.

This is especially true for web design where text is still such an important medium. Having a strong grasp of typography and an eye for type is essential.

Again has a fantastic course on the topic Foundations of Typography online training tutorials

Good typography can add tremendous power to your design and your message, whether it is a print- or screen-based project, a still or motion graphic, a 3D or 2D graphic. This course explains good typographic practices, so that you can develop an “eye” for type and understand how to effectively use it. Author Ina Saltz explains type classifications (serif vs. sans serif, display type vs. text type), how type is measured, sized, and organised, and how spacing and alignment affect your design. She also explains how to use kerning, tracking, leading, and line length, and covers the history and current trends in typography. The course teaches the principles of legibility, readability, and compatibility, and how they should be considered when you’re selecting and designing with type.

If you prefer your learning to come on dead trees you can check out Thinking with Type: A Primer for Designers: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students

thinking with type

Grid systems

For designers working in every medium, layout is arguably the most basic, and most important, element. Start with Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop


Making and Breaking the Grid is a comprehensive layout design workshop that assumes that in order to effectively break the rules of grid-based design, one must first understand those rules and see them applies to real-world projects.

For a short but well put together intro to grids check out the videos below.

Design on a square grid, part 1

Design on a square grid, part 2

Colour Theory

Hue and Saturation

Lecturer and landscape artist Scott Naismith explains concepts of hue and saturation using the color wheel. Concepts behind complementary colours revealed with a demonstration.

This video is intended as an educational aid for artists, graphic designers and illustrators to better understand the concepts of colour balance in terms of hue and saturation in order to assist colour mixing.

The Truth About The Colour Wheel

This video reveals the true colour wheel for artists and designers. that can be understood by looking at additive and subtractive color systems

For an in depth look at colour get yourself a copy of The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color

I couldn’t find books or courses dedicated to these last few subjects. If anybody knows of better sources of information please let me know.

White space

When used effectively, empty space can provide visual impact in a design. Learn how to work with empty space in this tutorial

Visual Hierarchy




That should be enough to give you a firm grasp of the basics of design you will need to learn graphic design.

You still need to practice though!

Try apply these principles in your every day work. Even if you aren’t a designer you do design every day. Writing word documents, designing power point presentations, writing your CV; these are all opportunities to use design to stand out from the crowd.

If there are any books or course you think deserve to be on this list, please leave a comment below.


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