There's no doubt that the best way to learn your way around graphic design is by committing to a degree course and then following that up by learning on the job. But that route isn't for everyone, and luckily if you have a passion for design and a desire to learn then there are other ways that you can pick up the skills and knowledge that you need.
There are some great graphic design tutorials available as well as plenty of free ebooks (opens in new tab) packed with useful information, but if you're after more depth then there are also some really good online courses that can give you a proper grounding in various areas of graphic design. Even better, some of them are available for free. Here are six of the best available now; some will take a you a good few months to work through, and others will give you a quick schooling in under an hour.
01. Graphic Design Specialisation
Coursera's specialisations are series of courses built to help you master a particular skill, and its Graphic Design Specialisation (opens in new tab) takes you through four courses that'll give you a thorough grounding in graphic design. It starts with the fundamentals before moving on to an introduction to typography, then gets serious with an introduction to image making, and finishes off by putting everything in context with a look at ideas from the history of graphic design.
Taught by instructors from the California Institute of the Arts, this course will take around six months to complete and while you can access all the course materials for free – ignore Coursera's 'Free trial' offer and instead choose the 'Audit this course' option – if you want to get your work marked and earn a certificate at the end then you'll have to pay.
02. Introduction to Graphic Design History
Anyone serious about graphic design needs to have a sense of its history, and how the various design fundamentals that we all take for granted came into being, and the Introduction to Graphic Design History (opens in new tab) course from the faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art will give you just that.
Over seven sessions – with about six hours of work per session – this beginner-focused course kicks off with the origins of text and graphic design, and takes you through subjects such as the avant-garde, photomontage, typography and modernism. Most of the course is free – although each session features a premium exclusive lesson for paying students – but as with other free online courses, if you want a certificate at the end you'll have to pay up.
03. Introduction to Graphic Design
If you want to pick up the basics of design but you're in a hurry, Udemy's free Introduction to Graphic Design (opens in new tab) course could be what you're looking for. It consists of just one 23-minute video and one article, but it promises to teach you the fundamentals of what is and isn't design, the basic elements and five main principles of design, how to identify design elements in the wild and more besides.
Naturally it's aimed at complete newcomers to the world of design, but if that's you and you fancy a swish certificate of completion at the end, then this one's well worth signing up for.
04. Applying Design Principles
Suitable both for graphic designers just starting their career and working designers wanting to refresh their knowledge, Alison's course in Applying Design Principles (opens in new tab) will guide you through some fundamental design concepts such as composition, balance, contrast and hierarchy, and demonstrate how to apply them to your work.
After that it moves on to the application of colour, shapes, tones and points in design projects. Using some of the most successful designs in recent years as reference, this two to three-hour course should increase your understanding of key graphic design concepts and give your work a real boost.
05. From Doodle to Logo
Want to create your own logodesign from scratch? From Doodle to Logo (opens in new tab) is a quick course that'll help you take a simple doodle into a finished logo using Adobe Illustrator.
Aimed at beginners and intermediates in need of a refresher, this straightforward course will lead you through the process of taking a hand-drawn image, scanning and importing it into Illustrator, then using image trace and layers to turn your doodle into a polished logo with a unique flare. It covers three different examples of the course of a 30-minute video, and promises that all you need are Adobe Illustrator and a bit of creativity.
06. The Practical History of Typography
Even if you're not specifically a typographer, an understanding of typography is essential to a career in graphic design, and The Practical History of Typography (opens in new tab) from New York's School of Visual Arts will give you an historical appreciation of both the art and science of typography.
Serving as an introduction to Kadenze's Complete Typographer paid course, it consists of four sessions, each with a number of lessons covering different aspects of the history of typography, from its very beginnings through to the latest developments. You'll also pick up an understanding of the principles and basics of typography along the way. As with other Kadenze courses there are premium lessons only available to paying students, and you'll also need a premium membership to earn a certificate at the end.