The ABCs of design you need to know

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Written By Emma Jukic

Design – it’s a skill more and more of us need some familiarity with as part of our work. Here’s how to get started with the basics.


 a person designing on a graphics tablet

A is for Adobe


If you haven’t heard of Adobe, they’re the folks who make the professional-standard suite of design programs. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are many a designer’s bread-and-butter software tools.


If you’re serious about learning graphic design, or are just hoping to upskill so you can bag a job that requires some basic design skills, you’ll want to learn these three programs too. Whatever design task is on your list, from designing a basic image for a social media post, right through to laying out an entire magazine, it’s likely the Adobe suite of programs will sort you out.


You can get started with a free trial, and then jump into a month-by-month plan. We like the Photography plan, which gives you access to Photoshop as well as Lightroom, a program for digital photo processing and editing.


If you’re not quite ready to jump into a paid program, there are free alternatives out there. GIMP is still arguably the most popular alternative to Photoshop, but there are others, too.


After all, an artist’s work is more about their ideas than their tools. Having said that, getting started with the tools many people in the profession already use will help you out later. If you need to use them – you won’t have to relearn other programs.



B is for bold


“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Goethe


Good design has something to say – it’s not just a pretty image. So when you design something, be bold. What’s your message? Who are you telling it to?


If you’re a writer, you can translate a lot of the thinking you’d use in developing a piece of writing into your design thinking. You’re just using a different, or additional medium – a visual one. Think colour, shape, texture, contrast.


If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Pinterest, Flickr and online magazines like Desktop. And don’t forget about print – your local library or bookseller is sure to have a stash of books and magazines you can rifle through for ideas.


a woman at a desk with text books laptop and notes studying

C is for craft…


You might be thinking, ‘Hey, shouldn’t ‘C’ be for creativity?’ Yes, creativity plays a big part in design. But with the way the word is splashed around these days, you’d think it was the solution to everything. That’s why, in our book, ‘C’ is for craft.


Treat design as your craft. This means it’s not some gift that has magically been bestowed on you, or any other 21st century aspiring ‘creative’. You need to work at it. Like any craft, the time you put into developing and practising your design skills will have a direct relationship to the rewards you reap.


This might mean doing something small each day. Set yourself some exercises and diligently work on them, exploring everything they can teach you. Don’t expect the products of this practice to be perfect, or even good – this is about the process, not the end result. Having said that, you might be surprised – sometimes quantity is just what we need.


… and courses


Lastly, but most importantly, get amongst it and take some of the online design courses out there. Many of them are free, some aren’t, the choice is yours. Check out tuts+, General Assembly, and this excellent blog post, ‘how to be a designer without going to design school’ for starters.


There’s so much out there – don’t get overwhelmed by choice. Pick one or two, get as much as you can out of them, then jump in and start working on your ideas.