Being a solopreneur is a bit like being a Jack-of-all-trades. You have to be a writer, an accountant, your own marketing department, and of course, a designer too. This is not only the case because you can’t afford to outsource these things, but because you want to be involved in everything. There’s no way around learning certain skills, like graphic design, to make this possible.
Can you really learn graphic design without going to a design school?
The thing is, you can’t replace years of education, training, and experience with watching some Youtube videos. But that doesn’t mean you can’t design your own stuff. The goal isn’t to become a graphic designer, the goal is to gain some skills to be able to create something that looks good or to improve what you have. And this is possible. There will be things you want to give to a professional like bigger projects or a logo design but for the day to day work e.g. social media post images, you want to have the ability to do this by yourself.
Some things you can do to become your own designer
Graphic design isn’t witchcraft. Even though it might sometimes seem like magic power is involved, professional designers rely on some basic rules, everybody can learn and apply. Some of these rules you can find in this post if you’re interested. Following now are some things to help you get started:
Related Post: The Basics of Good Design
Pick the right tools
There are many apps available now which are intuitive and easy to use like Canva, PicMonkey or Adobe Spark. These tools are specially made for those who aren’t professional designers. They help you to create images even without knowing much about design rules or typography. However, the possibilities are limited. If you want or have to create on a regular basis, I recommend investing a bit of time to learn to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
Learning by doing
It takes time to learn a new skill. Don’t get frustrated if your first creations don’t turn out like you wanted. The thing is to create constantly and improve step by step. You can only improve if you do the work. I am still learning after over 10 years and I don’t think I will ever stop to learn new things.
Creativity needs to be exercised like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! – Brian Tracy
Learn from mistakes
Don’t just throw away designs you’re not satisfied with. Use them to improve your design knowledge. Always take a look at what doesn’t work and, even more important, why it doesn’t work. Use that knowledge for your next creation.
Start with a plan
Before every design project, think about the goal for this project. This helps you to put the focus on the most important and don’t get sidetracked with unnecessary things that don’t add value to your project.
Knowing the facts
A plan is just as important as the main facts which are required for the project. Before you start to design, you have to check what you need e.g. image size, file format, print standards, max. file size for upload. It’s always hard to change these things afterward. Make sure you get it right from the beginning.
I always think of creativity as a bucket. You have to constantly fill this bucket with inspiration in order to keep your creative flow running. Make it a habit to collect and do things that inspire you. This could be creating an inspiration board on Pinterest but also going to an art exhibition or a concert. Find out what keeps you creative and make sure you never run out of inspiration.
Yes, you’re reading that right. I tell you to copy stuff. While looking for inspiration you come across things you like. And you start asking yourself how did they do that? How did they make this glow e.g.? That’s the best thing that can happen because now you’re motivated to learn design. I am not telling you to copy a design 1:1 and then selling it as your own. I just want you to discover what really makes a good design or what pleases you and learn how to do this yourself.
Learning basic rules
You can’t improve without learning and understanding the basic rules of design. These rules are especially helpful when you don’t know where to start or when you feel stuck. They are not like a one-for-all recipe you must follow, they’re more like a set of spices you use as you need. Like the typography rules, I listed in this post or go over to j6 design and take a look at this article: The 6 principles of design. Make sure to use design rules often and ignore them when they don’t fit.
Related Post: 14 Typography Rules for Beginners
Stick to simple
Design is not a competition in which you show off everything you’re capable of doing. This is the most common mistake beginners make. They fill their canvas with unnecessary decorations and take away the focus from the main element. Simple design looks more professional. Design should be a way to express something clearly and to guide not to confuse. Keeping it simple doesn’t mean your design is boring. It’s quite the opposite. And the more you add to your design, the more you tend to overthink things and make mistakes.
Use premade graphics
You can’t learn everything in a day and even if you can figure out how to create the design you want (Youtube is your friend to ask here), sometimes it can be good if you can rely on others who have already done the job for you. I am talking about premade designs like graphics, patterns or illustrations. Creative Market is a great place if you need a graphic element to spice up your design or if you want to profit of a design template you can customize to your needs.
Learn to write
Here we are again, Jack. Looks like you have to be a writer too. Design is often based on text. Apart from understanding typography and how it affects your design, it’s also important to have good copy. Design can do a lot to present your copy in an awesome way but it can’t hide bad copywriting.
When you don’t have much experience, it can be hard to decide if a design looks good and if it works like you want without seeing it in action. Don’t be shy to test drive. You can create digital mock-ups or print it out on your home printer. It often helps to see your design a different way. You will remark things that didn’t cross your mind before.