The 10 best free graphic design courses online

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Want to learn new skills, or refresh the fundamentals of your graphic design knowledge? We’ve previously brought you some great graphic design tutorials, not to mention some amazing free ebooks. But perhaps you’re looking for something a little meatier and more in-depth?

We don’t all have the time and money to spend three years doing a university design degree, or even to take an evening class at the local college. But in today’s internet age, it’s possible to do some pretty advanced study of design online, led by academics and other experts. And some courses are actually free!

In this post, we round up the best free graphic design courses online, from leading design course providers Coursera, Kadenze and Udemy. However, if there’s a great free course you feel we’ve missed, do let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Coursera courses

Coursera is a venture-backed, education-focused technology company founded by professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, which offers online courses from top schools such as Stanford and Yale.

And best of all, for some of them you can get the course materials without spending a penny.

Be warned, though: you won’t be able to get your work marked, or get a certificate at the end, without paying. But if you just want access to the lectures and associated quizzes, you can get all these for free.

To do so, ignore the ‘Free trial’ offer, as that just means you start paying after seven days. Instead, choose ‘Audit this course’, which lets you access the materials for free, with no time limit. (If you’re still confused about how to get the lessons for free, then check out this blog post from Class Central.)

01. Ideas from the History of Graphic Design

Louise Sandhaus and Lorraine Wild trace the history of design as a practice

This California Institute of the Arts course is aimed at beginners entering the field, or students interested in learning more about visual culture and analysis. 

Taught by Louise Sandhaus and Lorraine Wild, it traces the emergence of design as a recognised practice, explains why things look the way they do, and how designers approach specific design problems in their work. No previous design experience is required to take this course.

02. Graphic Design

David Underwood explains the fundamentals of good graphic design

Taught by design and media teaching consultant David Underwood, this course from the University of Colorado, Boulder, teaches the essentials of good graphic design.

You’ll learn to use contrast, repetition, proximity, and tension in the design of presentation slides, professional reports, business websites and more. You’ll need some presentation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote, to take the course.

03. Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Michael Worthington explains the basics of graphic design, and gets you making things

In this California Institute of the Arts course, taught by Counterspace LA founding partner Michael Worthington, you’ll learn the foundational skills of graphic design, including image making, typography, composition and working with colour and shape.

This course is not just about listening but doing and making, so it also offers exercises and practical projects.

04. Introduction to Typography

Anther Kiley explains how to select and combine typefaces

This course from the California Institute of the Arts explores the characteristics of letterforms, how to select and combine typefaces, and conventions and best practices in setting type.

Taught by LA-based graphic designer Anther Kiley, this is not a software course, so a basic working knowledge of and access to Adobe InDesign or similar page layout software will be necessary.

Kadenze courses

Kadenze is a commercial, massive open online course (MOOC) provider that offers courses geared towards art, music and creative technology.

It follows a similar model to Coursera, so choose the ‘Audit Course’ option and you’ll get access to the following course materials for free.

05. Graphic Design History: An Introduction

Brockett Horne and Ellen Lupton introduce the history of graphic design

This course from Maryland Institute College of Art asks: where did graphic design come from, and where will it go next?

This introduction to graphic design history addresses everything from fonts and letterforms to posters and brands. Taught by Brockett Horne and Ellen Lupton, this self-paced course is aimed at beginner level.

06. Introduction to Graphic Illustration

Junichi Tsuneoka explains how to turn your drawing skills into a marketable commodity

This course from Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, helps you to explore the translation, production and distribution of your visual ideas through a series of projects. Taught by Junichi Tsuneoka, its aim is to help you discover new possibilities for your illustration abilities in the market.

To take this course you’ll need basic drawing skills, basic digital tool skills such as Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop, as well as an understanding of fundamental design theory.

Udemy courses

Udemy is an online learning platform aimed at professional adults. Unlike the other two providers on this list, Udemy is not centred around traditional academic institutions but provides a platform for experts of any kind to create courses which can be offered to the public, both free and paid-for.

On top of the 10 of the best free Udemy courses for designers that we found before, we've got these four more great free courses that are aimed more at graphic design beginners.

07. Introduction to Graphic Design

Sean Berg answers questions about what design is and what designers do

This beginner-level course by Sean Berg is aimed at helping you understand the fundamentals of good graphic design. He doesn’t appear on screen, so it’s essentially a series of audio lectures accompanied by text-based slides.

From the history of communication to the five basic principles of design, this course answers questions such as ‘What is design?’ and ‘What does a designer do?’, and includes exercises to help you observe how design elements are used in the real world. 

08. Learn Adobe Photoshop from Scratch

Learn how to use Photoshop from scratch in this course from Eduonix Learning Solutions

From Eduonix Learning Solutions comes a complete beginners' guide to learning Adobe Photoshop. This practically-focused course, taught by Matthew Brown, starts with basic introduction to the software and then examines features such as selection tools, manipulation tools, creation tools and workspace tools.

Along the way you’ll learn some of the fundamental principles of good design and handy tips and tricks to help you get the best out of Photoshop.

09. Logo Design From Concept to Finish

Lindsay Marsh shows you how to design a logo in Adobe Illustrator

In this course, Lindsay Marsh takes you through the process of designing a logo in Adobe Illustrator from initial idea to finished files. Rather than talk to the camera, she instructs you over the top of a screen capture of what she’s doing in the software.

Along the way, she explains important concepts including font types, weights, styles and how to execute good font hierarchy in design.

10. Professional Logo Design in Adobe Illustrator

Learn the fundamentals of logo design and how to create one in Illustrator

This course from Rawson Uddin explains how to identify the components and design techniques behind the most successful logos and how to create your own.

Talking over the design process he’s pursuing on-screen, the tutor deconstructs logos in order to explain why and how they work, and offers a methodical approach to creating your own designs in Adobe Illustrator.

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