Learning Graphic Design: 9 Easy First Steps for Beginners

The reality is, getting started in graphic design is no easy task.


If you take the right steps to learn graphic design, you can teach yourself graphic design more efficiently and effectively.

So, here’s the deal:

After years of experience teaching graphic design to myself and others, I’ve found the crucial first steps you have to take to become a self-taught graphic designer.

These are the 9 most important first steps you need to take as a beginner to teach yourself graphic design: 

  1. Find your motivation
  2. Get passionate about design
  3. Learn the principles of design
  4. Get started with graphic design software
  5. Find and study design resources
  6. Look for inspiration
  7. Start working on a project
  8. Differentiate talent from practice
  9. Be patient and consistent

Below, I explain in detail how these fundamental steps helped me become a self-taught graphic designer, so you too can get on your way on the right foot. 

Let’s begin.

Step 1: Find Your Motivation 

There are different reasons for getting into graphic design.  Maybe you want to:

  • Create a logo for your website
  • Express yourself and be creative 
  • Learn a new skill
  • Learn to use complex software
  • Make a career change
  • Make money online 

The reasons can be endless, but the objective will still be the same:

Your motivation to learn graphic design has to be powerful enough to keep you focused on the goal, which is to become proficient at graphic design.   

This motivating factor must be the fuel that powers your quest to learn.  

What motivated me was the fear of not having practical skills as a media studies professor in a very competitive field. 


No matter what your motivation is, there is one compelling reason to learn graphic design skills:

We live in an increasingly visual culture.  

This means that we value images over words as a society.  We are surrounded by visual interfaces. Content is mostly organized around images.  Today, images are the most important and powerful form of communication.  


In today’s world, those who have skills in visual forms of communication are the most likely to succeed in their respective careers.  

So what’s the point: 

No matter what your motivation is, at the very least having graphic design skills will give you a professional advantage in a world in which images are the main form of communication. 

So go ahead and find the motivation that will power your learning. 

Step 2: Get Passionate About Everything Visual

You have to be passionate about graphic design in order to become a designer.  

In the Web 2.0, anyone can become anything he or she wants.  But most of the time, people fail not because they don’t have the talent or the skills to become what they want to be.  

In other words: 

Today, it’s simpler to become whatever you want, and yet the road is more difficult. 

So why do so many fail? 

The reason is lack of passion.  

What I have learned from my own journey and my students is that the capability to learn the necessary skills to become a graphic designer comes from passion: persistence, discipline, and the courage to put yourself out there.  

So, learn what motivates you to become a graphic designer but also what makes you passionate about it. 

For example:

Are you into websites? Facebook memes? Typography and lettering? Logo design? Video game graphics? Comics? 

Finding out what particular areas of graphic design you really like are key for becoming passionate about learning.  

But you might be thinking: 

It’s not only about passion. I am not a talented person. I can’t draw or I’m not good with computers. 


This is what exactly leads to the next step.   

Step 3: Understand the Difference Between Talent and Practice 

Graphic design is not primarily about talent. 

Do you need talent to be great at design?  Sure. The most successful designers I know and who inspire me every day are super talented.

However, absolute talent is not required.  This is key and you need to understand it. 

If you have read this far, chances are that you already have talent, or are in the process of polishing your talent in the raw.  

You have a certain orientation or aptitude that draws you to graphic design in the first place.  

This, believe it or not, is what most graphic designers had when they began.  

Here’s the deal: 

For most of us, talent is just a lot of practice.  

In fact: 

You don’t have to win an award or be featured in the most important publication or teach an online course to be a graphic designer.

You only have to be effective.  Talent, for the most part, is forged during the process.

You can go from having no idea about graphic design to being effective.  It takes some theory, experience, and persistence. It takes time, but not necessarily years.  

Some of my best students (with no previous graphic design experience) have accomplished excellent results in only one semester.  One of my students even got a job after only one semester of work! 

Step 4: Learn the Principles of Design  

Every discipline has a foundational set of rules that guide its best practices. 

Graphic design is no exception. You must learn the fundamental concepts that underlie the practice of design from the very beginning in order to become proficient and gain experience.  

What are design principles? The principles of design are the minimum framework needed to achieve successful results as a graphic designer.  

In other words: 

Design principles are time-proven and tested concepts that guide us in terms of what works and what doesn’t, visually speaking. 

That is: 

If we follow these principles, we will be able to create visual designs that are appealing, effective, and memorable. 

If you want to understand how design principles work, we need to study them first. 

It will take time to understand and internalize, so start as early as possible. 

Fortunately, the list of design principles is relatively short. People give different names for each, but we can pretty much boil them down to 6 major principles:

  • Unity
  • Totality or Gestalt
  • Dominance
  • Space
  • Hierarchy 
  • Balance 

Want to hear the good part?

You don’t have to learn design principles before actually starting to create something. You can study and apply them as you learn software skills, techniques, and formats.    

There are many resources in Self-Made Designer and other websites that will help you understand the principles of design.  

Step 5: Get Started with Graphic Design Software

Graphics editing software is a big part of graphic design. There are different types of software for different types of tasks. 

One of the most common types of software are vector and pixel editing systems. 

There are many makers of graphics software, but one of the most popular and recognized is Adobe, with Illustrator for vector graphics and Photoshop for pixel (or raster) graphics. 

Generally speaking, vector graphics are used for creating shape-based drawings and digital illustrations, such as logos, stylized text, and technical drawings of objects. 

Pixel graphics are used for editing photos and photo-realistic renderings, such as photography, magazine montages, and image manipulation. 

As a beginner, you shouldn’t worry about learning one brand or another, but on understanding the logic of each type of software. 

It boils down to this: 

All vector and pixel software work in the same fundamental ways because they derive from the same philosophy and structure. 

The most important thing is that you gain access to graphics software right away and start familiarizing yourself with vector and pixel editing. 

In this sense, I’m biased toward free, open-source software. 

The good news? 

Professional-grade graphic design software is available to you for free.  I personally use and recommend Inkscape and Gimp for learning vector and pixel graphics, respectively.

In addition to being extremely powerful graphics software, capable of competing with Illustrator and Photoshop, they are free and keep getting better.  

You can create your own personal design studio from a laptop at a café with virtually no startup costs.  

Download the software and start experimenting right now

Step 6: Look for Inspiration

One of the best ways to learn graphic design is to emulate artists, designers, and creators that inspire us. 

George Bokhua is an amazing self-taught graphic designer
George Bokhua is an amazing self-taught graphic designer that inspires me with his style.

When we look for inspiration, we will naturally gravitate to the styles and trends that we like, and we will start to recognize what works and what doesn’t. 

Getting inspired by designers we like or admire gives us a roadmap of what we need to learn. Also, imitating the work of others allows us to learn and improve on new skills. 

After all, as children we learn by imitating the people around us. The same is true for graphic design. 


Start looking for inspiration and learn what you like or don’t like. Start noticing which trends might apply to what you see and which designers are doing amazing work. 

Here are some ideas for getting inspiration: 

  • Start following high-quality graphic design Instagram accounts.
  • Follow specific graphic design hashtags on social media, such as #vectorgraphics, #logodesign, or #designinspiration.
  • Do searches on Google Images for keywords such as “logo inspirations” or “best website designs.”
  • Go to Pinterest and look for graphic design group boards. 
  • Follow graphic design social media such as Behance or Dribble. 

Step 7: Find and Study Graphic Design Resources, Tutorials, and Free Courses 

The great news about becoming a self-taught graphic designer is that all the information you need for learning graphic design is at your fingertips.  

High-quality tutorials and lessons are available to you either free of charge or for a small price, at least compared to college education. For example, beginner online courses from sites like Udemy, Skillshare, or Domestika are inexpensive compared to college and are of the highest quality.

But you need to understand this: 

A self-taught graphic designer doesn’t magically learn to design. You still need to study, read, and practice using all kinds of different sources, from academic books to YouTube videos and online tutorials.  

That is:

A self-taught graphic designer still needs to learn what others learn in college. However, you can do it at your own pace and without spending thousands of dollars. 

At any rate, you can begin learning graphic design on your own and later take formal design education, especially in an area of specialization (videogame, information, or product design, for example). 

So, get yourself an introduction to design book, download free vector and pixel software, and start following some good tutorials on YouTube. 

You will find that the amazing thing about this approach is that you will begin right away, focused on what matters the most to you. 

Step 8: Find Yourself a Project to Work On, Then Another, and Another (and Don’t Stop)

If you want to become a self-taught graphic designer, my single most important recommendation is to center your learning around a specific project.

The reason is that it is very difficult to learn a skill in thin air.  

If you start on a particular project, you will encounter specific problems that, in turn, will guide you to specific solutions. 

You will search for advice, tutorials, and knowledge that will be as specific as the problems that come up. 

The more a resource helps you, the more the quality of the resource.  This becomes your noise filter to all the resources out there. 

In addition: 

The more problems you are able to solve, the more experience you get, and the more qualified you become as a graphic designer.

So, if you want to become a self-made graphic designer, take on a specific project right now. 

Maybe you need to create a newsletter for a group, a business card for your friend, or a logo for your Instagram profile. 

By taking on a project that matters to you as an excuse to learn, you will learn so much faster and gain experience as you grow. 

Step 9: Be Patient and Persistent: Time is the Only Constant Variable

I do believe that the internet provides the tools and information to accomplish many, many endeavors.  

However, the only variable that is missing from most of the pep talk about learning something new, changing a personal path, creating a new business, etc., is TIME. 

So internalize this: 

Any lasting, meaningful, and permanent change takes time.  


You can use guidance, passion, and hacks to shorten the time a permanent change in your life will take. 

As a self-taught graphic designer, only with time you will gain the insight, skills, and perspective needed to become effective, if not a great, at design.  

So, the sooner you begin, the quicker you will obtain your goal.  Plain and simple. 

These are the 9 stepts to take to become a self-taught graphic designer
Become a self-taught graphic designer by taking the most important first steps.

Conclusion: Start to Design Right Now  

These proven 9 first steps will get you started as a self-taught graphic designer.

I have given you the first most important steps you need to take in order to learn graphic design. Take these steps and I promise you that you will lay a solid foundation for teaching yourself graphic design. 

Now, the most important takeaway from this post is this:  


As you do this, learn the principles of design. Understand why you’re doing this. Be passionate about it.  Aspire to be effective. Use your resources wisely. Understand that it will take time, but don’t hesitate to start.  

You will see that it is possible to learn graphic design on your own with the resources available to you. 

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37 Instagram Graphic Design Accounts for Learning and Inspiration (2021)

One of the best ways for learning graphic design and improving your design skills is looking at other people’s work. 

Instagram has become an excellent tool for learning graphic design given its emphasis on beautiful images and its scrollable interface. 

In this post, I show you 37 excellent Instagram accounts that will help you learn graphic design and provide you with daily inspiration. 

I cover a wide-range of graphic design accounts on Instagram, featuring topics such as logo design, brand design, logo creation, and design principles, including must-follow graphic designer accounts. 

These are the 37 Instagram graphic accounts that I personally follow and recommend: 

Instagram Accounts for Learning Graphic Design 

1. Learn Logo Design (@learnlogodesign)

This account uniquely showcases the logo process, which is actually an excellent resource for learning logo design by example. A must-follow. 

2.Logo Designer’s Community (@logo_lesson)

Excellent account featuring a daily lesson about logo design. Great for learning how professionals create logos.

3. Logos By Nick (@itslogosbynick)

Just one of the best content creators out there teaching how to use vector graphics software, especially Inkscape. Follow him on YouTube, you will learn a lot! 

4. Davies Media Design (@daviesmediadesign)

This is my go-to-guy when I need pixel graphics tutorials and problem solving (which is not my forté!). He also has an excellent YouTube channel.

5. Logo Books (@logobooks_)

Logo Books is a bookshop, publisher, and editor of books dedicated to logo and brand design. This is a heart place to look at classic, useful, and cutting-edge books on graphic design. 

6. Int’l Council of Design (@theicod)

International design organization, featuring world-renowned designers and artists. 

Logo Design Inspiration 

7. Logo Inspirations (@logoinspirations)

Very popular account featuring amazing logos from their community of logo designers. 

8. Branding, Logos & Design Inspo (@logos.ai)

Branding, logos and design inspiration with an emphasis on designs created with Adobe illustrator. 

9. Logo Positive (@logopositive)

Excellent account showing great logos in context. 

10. Logoday (@logoday) 

Account posting amazing logo work and occasionally recommending tools and tips. 

11. Soviet Logos (@soviet_logos)

Super interesting account “gathering, preserving and publishing logos created in the USSR.” It features vintage logos that have a distinct feel. 

12. Logo Expose (@logoxpose)

Popular account featuring top-notch logos and logo processes. 

13. Iconscout (@iconscout)

You can find lots of icons and other assets here, but they also post a lot of tutorials and step-by-step processes. 

14. Badge, illustration & logo (@badgedesign)

This account only shows badge designs, which are actually hard to make. I’ve seen truly amazing work here. Highly recommended. 

Graphic Design Inspiration 

15. Graphic Design Treasures (@pirategraphic)

Account posting daily inspiration, focusing on playful icon design. As they say, “Follow to become a pirate and get daily graphic art and design treasures”! 

16. Illustate: The Art Exchange (@illustate)

Illustate is a page for showcasing the work of upcoming artists on instagram. Great for discovering emerging designers from the web. 

17. Simply Cool Design 💫 (@simply.cool.design)

Get your creative juices with daily inspiration from this well-regarded account. TONS of creative and mind-blowing design. 

18. Vanila Design (@vanila.design)

Top-of-the-line account showing only amazing graphics. Excellent for professional inspiration. 

19. The TAX Collection (@taxcollection)

This account features super creative, even crazy work by artists around the world. Not to miss. 

20. D.Signers Products (@d.signers_in)

Account featuring beautiful product, industrial, and architectural design. Just a great place for learning design principles in general. 

21. GRAPHIC • DESIGN (@graphicroozane)

Another great account showing hyper-creative graphic design. A lot of crazy photoshop work here. 

22. The Design Tip (@thedesigntip)

Daily design inspiration with funny, clever graphic designs. 

Branding and Professional Advice 

23. gosmartpress.com (@gosmartpress)

Italian-based designer network featuring professional graphic design campaigns. Excellent for taking a look at how a studio produces design for clients. 

24. CBA – Design Agency (@cba_design)

Real design agency showing professional grade work within real campaigns. 

25. Melinda Livsey—Brand Strategy (@melindalivsey)

Melinda Livsey shares super informative posts on brand strategy and the graphic design profession in general, with excellent advice, hacks, and knowledge of professional design. 

26. Tidal Creative (@tidalcreative)

Australia-based graphic design studio specializing in branding, packaging, print, illustration and web design. Excellent account for looking at real-world, professional product and packaging design. 

27. BrankiS | Designer & Developer (@branki.s)

Brankin.S is a UI/UX designer and web developer from Serbia featuring well-designed phone-app interfaces. Good place for learning UX design.  

Graphic Designers to Follow on Instagram 

28. Rafael Serra (@faelpt)

Account of type designer and lettering artist Rafael Serra. You will be amazed by his transformations of famous logos. 

29. Aaron James Draplin (@draplin)

Draplin is kind of like a rock star in graphic design. His bold, vector-heavy designs and logos are just awesome. He’s also a nice guy. 

30. Brenden Goodcuff (@goodcuff.design)

Amazing work by Brenden Goocuff. Lots of iconic logos, typography, and bold design. 

31. Raffaele Nicoletta (@raffaele.nicoletta)

Incredibly talented Italian designer focusing on icon design. 

32. Bit (@allopoietic) 

Amazing work by award-winning designer Breno Bitencourt. Lots of gorgeous vector illustrations. 

33. Tamari (@tamari.chabukiani)

AMAZING designer from Tbilisi specializing in patterned, mind-blowing icons and logos. Excellent for learning geometry in vector graphics. 

34. George Bokhua (@george_bokhua)

George Bokhua is a self-taught designer who creates amazing logos and icons using grids. He also teaches some top-notch classes on Skillshare

35. Ellie Morris (@elliemdesign)

Ellie Morris is a graphic designer showcasing beautiful vector-based illustrations. Very artistic and talented. 

36. MONICA AHANONU (@monicaahanonu)

Monica Ahanonu is an artist, illustrator, and designer who focuses on brilliant vector illustrations that have been showcased in prestigious publications, such as Vanity Fair

37. Ozant Liuky | vector art (@ozantliuky)

Amazing illustrations skills, mostly using the free software Inkscape. 

How to Become a Graphic Designer (2021 DEFINITIVE GUIDE)

Graphic design is an excellent career path that is completely aligned with the careers and skills of the 21st century. 


With so many education options and advice on graphic design, it can be very difficult to grasp how to become a graphic designer. 

Having taught graphic design in college for the past 10 years, I have identified the most important steps to become a graphic designer. 


How to become a graphic designer? To become a graphic designer, you need to follow a repetitive process that includes the following action steps: 

  1. Study and understand graphic design principles 
  2. Develop competent skills in pixel and vector graphics software
  3. Practice graphic formats, such as logos, business cards, flyers, and newsletters 
  4. Develop a visual vocabulary by looking at other people’s work 
  5. Build a portfolio of your best work as you continue to progress in each step  

Of course, there’s more to becoming a graphic designer than these 5 steps. 

In this complete guide, I will give you actionable answers that will put you on the right path to become a graphic designer. 

Let’s begin. 

How to Become a Graphic Designer 

Over the years, I have taught graphic design to hundreds of students with no experience, and some have successfully quick-started their design careers after only one semester. 

Most leave the class having learned enough design principles and skills to feel confident about their next steps and keep on learning and growing. 

This is exactly where you want to be. 


They all have followed a method in which they are studying design principles, practicing software skills, learning the specifics of graphic formats, and looking at other people’s work progressively

The following diagram illustrates what I mean: 

To become a graphic designer you must follow a repetitive process.
Becoming a Graphic Designer Involves a Progression of Steps

As you can see, every level focuses on pretty much the same areas. 

However, as you practice and put in the time, you move on to another level in which these same areas and actions become more challenging. 

My point is this: 

The main aspects of graphic design are all part of the process. You just have to practice, study and get better at them. 

Let’s look at the process in more detail: 

1. Study and Understand Graphic Design Principles

To become an effective graphic designer, you need to understand the principles of graphic design. I cannot stress this enough

As I tell my students, you can become an expert at clicking buttons in pixel and vector graphics software, but if you don’t know how to apply the principles of design into your work, you will not produce professional results

The better you get at applying graphic design principles to your work, the more you will progress at becoming a professional graphic designer (as opposed to an amateur one).  

2. Develop Competent Skills in Pixel and Vector Graphics Software

Knowing design principles is only part of the graphic design equation. 

In order to be successful, you need to actually be able to render visuals that will communicate a message in a compelling, pleasing way. 

By using graphic design software effectively, you are able to manipulate visuals for communicating ideas and messages to an audience. 

The only way to learn to use design software is by starting with basic projects and progressing to more difficult ones with consistency. 

The more design problems you encounter, the more problems you can solve. The more you learn to solve problems, the more experience you gain. 

Think about it: 

What skills would you have after 1 hour of using graphics software? 25 hours? 1,000 hours? 

The more time you put in, the more experience you will have earned. The more experience you have, the more effective and comfortable you will be as a graphic designer. 

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a single dime. There is AMAZING and FREE graphic design software available to you, such as Gimp and Inkscape

So, start with a graphic design project right now. 

3. Practice Graphic Formats

Now that you have started to learn design principles and use graphics software, you need to start learning the basic formats. 

You know the ones: 

Logos, icons, badges, flyers, business cards, etc. 

My advice is that you begin mastering the logo first, because logo design teaches you a great deal about design principles


Logos are encompassed in all other design applications. That is, you find logos within business cards, websites, and flyers. 

A flyer or a newsletter is another excellent design application that will teach you much about layout. 


Start creating a logo for a family member or start to design a newsletter for your local community organization. 

These real design projects will allow you to learn and gain experience. 

4. Develop a Visual Vocabulary (Look at Other People’s Work) 

From the beginning, immerse yourself with the work of accomplished graphic designers and draw inspiration from them. 

Ask yourself some questions: 

  • What are the characteristics of their work? 
  • What makes it beautiful or effective? 
  • How do they use design elements, such as lines, colors, and shapes? 

The more you look at good examples of graphic design, the more you will understand the principles of design. In addition, you will start to develop your own style by understanding what you like. 

You can start looking at other people’s work on a site like Behance or start following graphic design accounts on Instagram

5. Build a Portfolio of Your Best Work as You Progress

A graphic design portfolio is a selection of pieces that showcases your most refined work. 

Now that you have a system in place for learning and practicing, you will naturally start producing work that, in time, will showcase your skills, style, and experience in graphic design. 

Today, digital portfolios are an excellent way to show your work. 

A Wix website, an Instagram account, or a Behance page can all be excellent ways to build a portfolio. These portfolio examples will give you a good idea of how a digital portfolio looks like. 

Now, realize this: 

We all sucked in the beginning! 

This means that it will take time and effort to build a competent portfolio. However, you could start right now. 

In fact, there will be multiple “versions” of your portfolio, which will improve over time. 

Even George Bokhua, one of my favorite contemporary graphic designers, said this about his early work: 

Designer George Bokhua talks about the importance of practice to become a graphic designer.
Practice is Your Best Approach to Becoming a Graphic Designer

Becoming a Graphic Designer: FAQ

Now that you have a clear idea on how to become a graphic designer, let’s look at some frequently asked questions about becoming one: 

Is Graphic Design Hard?

This is a very reasonable question: 

Is it hard to become a graphic designer?  Becoming a graphic designer is not hard if you understand the basic knowledge and skills you need to master as a designer, have dependable and quality resources for study and reference, and develop consistency for practicing and improving from the very beginning. 

However, IT WILL TAKE TIME. It’s a fact you need to accept off the bat.

Let me explain: 

You can’t become anything without sweat, consistency, and persistence. Period.

At first, you will probably suck at graphic design. But if you stick with it, you will slowly but surely get better.

So, start right now

The trick is to continue practicing, figuring out problems, studying, and learning to understand what makes up good design.

You need to be very persistent and patient.  

I look at some of my fist logos and I am ashamed. They are absolute crap!

However, I got better with time, finally getting a firm sense of what’s good design and what isn’t. 

Keep in mind that you will not suck for the entire time you are learning.

You will go through different levels and each level will bring you new projects, opportunities for revenue, challenges, and, most importantly, learning experiences.


Learning on your own doesn’t mean that you’re not getting “formal” education.

You will learn from books and great quality courses, and also from actual designers on the internet.

In sum:

You can learn to design in different ways, and it all boils down to the time spent on the actions that matter the most:

When I look back at my own process of becoming a graphic designer, I don’t think it was hard. I just see that it took time.  

What is the Graphic Design Profession? 

Understanding what graphic design is will give you a good idea of how hard learning graphic design would be for you. This is the first step in knowing whether you can actually stick with it long enough to become a designer.  

What is graphic design? The profession of graphic design is concerned with the strategic communication of concepts, ideas, and emotions through visual means.  

In other words: 

Graphic designers are visual communicators who create effective solutions for communicating to an audience through visual representations.

Sounds cool, right?

It is.  But the task of graphic design entails much more than simply creating graphics on a computer.  

Graphic designers are communicators and their skills go beyond the graphic aspect of the profession. 

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Graphic Designer?

A graphic design career entails much more than just sitting in front of a screen drawing or retouching photos.  

In fact, design is a very dynamic career in which you need to engage in different processes before you even start to design.  

As visual communicators, graphic designers must be good at planning, strategizing, researching, and evaluating information.

In general, graphic designers must become proficient in the following skills:


Designers must be good at evaluating and investigating ideas, brands, and organizations in order to produce visual products that are appropriate, unique, and effective at communicating intent (a logo, for example, entails a lot of research before even sketching a design).


Graphic designers must have a solid grounding in the theory and fundamentals of design. They are always learning and fully understand the principles that underlie both good design and communication.


Designers understand the fundamental principles of communication and how they apply to visual language. For example, they know how to appeal to people’s emotions, how to apply the psychology of color, and about clear channels of communication.  

Visual Elements

Designers understand what works visually and what does not. 

They have developed a sense of beauty and functionality through experience, observation, and modeling their favorite designers.

Apart from these macro-skills, graphic designers at least must master the following visual skills:

  • Color
  • Layout
  • Composition
  • Typography 
  • Proportion

If you want a more extensive list of skills, check out the O*Net website (from the US Department of Labor), which compiles data from multiple graphic-design related job titles:

List of Skills Related to Graphic Design
List of Skills Related to Graphic Design in 2021, US Department of Labor

Is Graphic Design A Good Career? 

As with any job in the creative economy, graphic design continues to be a career choice with good prospects. 

Think about it: 

Today, graphics and visual information are at the center of everything we do and consume. Just about any industry, from tech to education to health to advertising, relies on images to convey messages. 

This is because graphic design is all about the communication of information in visual terms. 

However, this means that a lot of people want to become graphic designers. In other words, there is competition in the field. 

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a graphic designer was $53,380 in 2020, with higher average salaries (above $63,000) in states such as Washington, Massachusetts, New York, and California:

Top Mean Salaries for Graphic Design,  US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Top Mean Salaries for Graphic Design, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
States with the Most Graphic Design Jobs,  US Bureau of Labor Statistics
States with the Most Graphic Design Jobs, US Bureau of Labor Statistics

And there’s something else: 

Related fields, such as web development, have higher average salaries (above $75,000 per year) and are growing at an above average rate

This doesn’t mean that you now have to become a programmer. 

It means that, as you learn graphic design, you will benefit from learning skills that directly relate to graphic design for the web. 

The more you combine graphic design with the field of web design, the better your chances at succeeding in the field. 

Here’s the good news: 

You don’t necessarily have to know code to design for the web, as there are many aspects of web design that don’t require complex computer science skills. 

Do You Need a Degree To Become a Graphic Designer?

You definitely can become a graphic designer without a degree.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

School or university education can help you in achieving a career in graphic design.  The thing is, I truly don’t think it’s required for your success. 

Let’s analyze this: 

These are the pros of getting a graphic design college degree:  

  • It can give you a clear path as to what you need to learn and the skills you must master.
  • It can provide you with expert guidance and assistance from a professional along the way. 
  • It could help you find a job or internship experience right out of school through special university programs.  

But don’t be fooled:

I’ve seen many recent graphic design graduates who are no better, or worse, than self-made designers.

In addition, school can be expensive, will take time, and results are not guaranteed.  

To give you perspective, according to the report Trends in College Pricing 2020, by the College Board,  average out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year universities were $27,020 in 2020-21, a .9% increase from 2019-20.

It Can Be Costly to Get a Four-Year Education in Graphic Design, $27,020 in 2020-21.
It Can Be Costly to Get a Four-Year Education in Graphic Design

On the other end of the spectrum, platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, Domestika, and Creative Live, have an extensive list of graphic design courses, which range from a couple hundred dollars for a course to memberships of about $40 per month. 

This means that a graphic design degree is an investment of time and money. But some investments are more risky, time consuming, and costly than others. 

In sum:

A graphic design degree makes sense if you:

  • Need pressure and external motivation to get things done.
  • Have the economic resources to pursue it.
  • Need external validation factors (such as grades) to keep improving.
  • Need someone to tell you what to do to get organized.
  • Need constant external pressure to accomplish tasks and assignments.
  • Are in no hurry to become a graphic designer (you will have to take courses other than graphic design, go at the pace of the curriculum, etc.).

If you are diligent with a degree, you can actually end up with a great portfolio, which is, ultimately, the only variable that will land you a graphic design job, period.  

But a self-made graphic designer could also accomplish a reasonable portfolio, probably before the four-years it takes to get an undergraduate degree, if the person is diligent and passionate about it.

In the end, it boils down to this:

The path you take depends on many factors, such as your motivation level, economic resources, time restrictions, and your eagerness to become a designer.  

Can Anyone Become a Graphic Designer? 

Now that you have some understanding of what graphic design is, you’re probably asking the big question:

How do you know if you have what it takes to become a graphic designer?

Judging from my own learning journey and my experience teaching college-level graphic design, over and over I’ve seen certain characteristics that separate my most successful students from the least successful ones.

Answer the following “quiz:”

  • Do you have at least a little bit of talent?
  • Are you a creative person or do you feel the need to create something?
  • Do you have a need to communicate something? 
  • Do you have a passion for art and design or enjoy other people’s artwork or creations?
  • Do you know what you like in terms of design (how things look, feel, or what they represent)?

If you can truly answer “yes” to at least 3 of the previous questions, you probably have the right aptitude to pursue graphic design.

But no so fast:

This in itself is no guarantee that you will succeed.  

Ultimately, success will always be determined by your level of commitment in terms of studying design principles, practicing, and getting involved in actual design projects.  

However, understanding whether you fit within this description at least will give you some idea if you would enjoy graphic design as a line of work.

Conclusion: It’s All About The Timeline

Learning graphic design is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I am still on mine.

If this is what you want, your only regret will be that you didn’t start any sooner.  

So start right now: Get a book, download free software, and start on your very project.  

And, of course, you can follow selfmadesigner.com!

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What Is An Icon [In Graphic Design]

Understanding what icons are in graphic design is crucial to the creation of logos, visual identities, and visual information.


What is an icon? Icons are simple graphic representations designed to express the essential visual characteristics of things and ideas in order to communicate or inform in a direct and universally recognizable way.

Getting an icon right is an essential skill for any graphic designer. So, if you want to become an effective designer, you need to understand what icons are, their essential elements, and how they communicate.

Let me explain:

What Are Icons in Graphic Design?

Icons are everywhere. You see them in logos, at the airport, on charts, and phone apps. They are a huge part of communication today, since everything we consume is first and foremost visual information.

In fact:

Icons are information. They express actions, ideas, or feelings. They communicate with minimal effort, in a universally (or widely accepted) recognizable way. Icons are direct, straightforward, and to the point. They are simple but accurate. They can be cute, clever, or slick.

The first thing to understand about icon design is this:

Effective icons show only the most minimal characteristics of an object or idea, and yet they are accurate and undisputable. They are not open for interpretation or ambuiguity.

That is:

An effective icon is able to extract the most essential visual qualities of a thing or idea in order to make the representation readily recognizable.

Here’s an example:

An icon versus a referent in graphic design.

This image shows two representations of a cat. The photo of the cat represents the thing as it is, full of richness and visual details, such as colors, texture, and depth.

Next to it is an icon of a cat. Compared to the cat photo, it is only a very minimal representation of a cat. And yet, we are able to indisputably tell that that, in fact, represents a cat. Some essential elements are the ears, the tail, the whiskers, and the overall silhouette.

This is the gist of iconic representation.

Here’s another thing to understand about icons:

Because they are a reduction of the thing or idea, they are “lightweight.” This means that they can be used in many contexts, especially those that depend on readily accesible, reliable communication. This is why icons are everywhere we look and are used for a ton of graphic design applications.

And, finally:

Icons are extremely important in graphic design because us humans are primed to read and extract information from them. That is:

Icons are useful pieces of information that make our lives easier.

In fact, many studies show the importance of icon design for human communication and actions, such as icons for finding information, or the different levels of human recognition of iconic design.

It all boils down to this:

In today’s visual culture, icons are a huge part of our navigation and understanding of the world around us. We depend on icons for reference, information, and coordination of actions. We need icons for looking through a large menu, navigating web apps, or finding our way in a foreign country.

As humans, we depend on icon design, which is why effective icon design is an essential part of the graphic design profession.

Pictograms and Ideograms: Elements of Iconic Design

There are two important concepts that closely connect to iconic design that you need to understand: Pictograms and ideograms.

What Is A Pictogram?

What is a pictogram? A pictogram is the literal representation of a thing that exists in real life and that is universally recognizable.

In our previous example, the icon of a cat is a pictogram because it represents the thing in real life (the animal). Someone from the US or Japan would recognize the pictogram since the thing “cat” exists universally.

For this reason, pictograms are easier to design, since there is no ambiguity in what they represent.

Examples of pictograms in icon design

What Is An Ideogram?

An ideogram is a little different from a pictogram.

What is an ideogram? An ideogram is the iconic representation of an abstract idea. Because ideas are not fixed and vary from culture to culture, ideograms depend on cultural knowledge for communicating effectively. Contrary to pictograms, ideograms do not communicate universally.

An example of an ideogram may include the “heart” icon that cultures from the West recognize as “love” or the symbol that represents “radiation.”

Note that there is nothing in the “heart” or black and yellow triangles symbol that inherently or intrinsically communicate being in love or nuclear fallout, respectively. By growing in a specific culture, we become accustomed to recognizing these symbols for these purposes.

There’s another thing about ideograms:

Because ideas are sometimes hard to express visually, sometimes we use combinations of pictograms to express an ideogram.

That is:

We may combine different representations of real things to express an action or idea that is taking place.


You should always use the minimum amount of pictograms to just communicate the idea you want to express, and no more. For this, you may combine pictograms and abstract symbols, as long as they are recognized by your audience.

Examples of Icons in Graphic Design

There are many, many examples of icons in everyday life. Airports use icons for directing people, the military uses icons for communicating its complex rank system, logos use icons to express a quality of a brand, digital apps use icons for showing us how to interact with it, infographics use icons for synthetizing data and information.

Below I show you examples of icons in different graphic design applications:

Icons in the Olympics

Otl Aicher is deemed as a pioneer of icon design. He is famously recognized for the pictograms he created for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. His work represents the universality, simplicity, and accuracy of effective iconic design:

Examples of pictograms Otl Aicher 1972 Olympics

Icons in Logo Design

Icons have become an integral part of the visual identity of brands and organizations. In fact, logo design in many ways is iconic design, since logos have to communicate simply and decisively the essence, attributes, objectives, or feel of a brand.

Icons in logo design

Icons in Digital Applications

User interfaces depend on iconic design. The reason is that interfaces must be plain and compact, and therefore can’t rely on textual information to direct user actions.

Susan Kare is a pioneer of iconic design in user interfaces. As a designer for Apple, she created a revolutionary array of icons that directed user actions but that were also fun and precise.

Icons created by Susan Kare
Icons created by Susan Kare

Icons in the Military

Complex hierarchical structures, such as the military, rely on icons to denote rank and establish relationships among their constituents.

The US military, for instance, has a complex system of symbols for demonstrating rank and order and, thus, directing human action inside their institution.

Conclusion: Icons Are Everywhere

As you can see, icons are an essential part of graphic design. Understanding what icons are, their elements, and how they work will teach you immensely about graphic design and will allow you to master different design applications, such as logo, information, and user interface design.

Here’s the summary of what you need to know:

  • Icons are graphic representations whose objective is to visually express an object or idea unambiguously.
  • En effective icon is able to extract the bare essential characteristics of a thing or idea in order to represent it simply and effectively.
  • At the base of icons are pictograms and ideograms, which represent literal objects and things and ideas or abstractions, respectively.
  • Icons are everywhere, and are used in information design, visual identity, user interface design, and even the military.

Advantages of Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are widely used for creating digital graphics today because of the many advantages of vector graphics over other image editing processes, such as pixel graphics.

Here are the most important advantages of vector graphics:

  1. They have “infinite” resolution
  2. They are scalable
  3. They are lightweight (small file size)
  4. They are intuitively created
  5. They are easily manipulated
  6. They are easily reusable
  7. They are multipurpose
  8. They can produce very realistic results
  9. They can be animated
  10. They can be edited with code
  11. They can be interactive

In this post, I cover the most important advantages of vector graphics in detail. Also, I explain how they work and some of their most important uses.

#BONUS: I discuss when to use raster (pixel) graphics software, such as Photoshop or Gimp, instead of vector graphics.

What Are Vector Graphics?

Graphic designers continually work with vector images as part of their daily routine.

So, you naturally ask yourself:

What are vector graphics?

An example of a vector graphics drawing

Vector graphics are made up by points (or coordinates) on a screen that are connected through lines and curves called paths. Vector graphics are widely used for creating logos, line art, 3D-like renderings, and animations, among other examples.  

First, a little history:

In the early 1960s, Ivan Sutherland pioneered one of the very first computer programs for generating graphics on a screen.

He used his software Sketchpad for drawing lines on a screen. This program was a precursor of CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software and vector graphics in general.  


The mathematical grounds for vector graphics date back to at least the 1800s with Euclidean vectors, which are able to describe two points on a plane by determining their location and direction.

Why does this matter?

Well, vector graphics are basically coordinates on a plane.  

If we know the position of at least two points on a plane, we are able to draw a line between those two points.  

Remember those connect-the-dots drawings from our childhood?

Vector graphics work like connect-the-dots drawings
Vector graphics work like connect-the-dots drawings

This, in a nutshell, is how vector software renders drawings.

Now, let’s look at their advantages.

Advantages of Vector Graphics

Vector graphics have a very specific set of advantages that make them unique and powerful.

Let’s look at each one more closely:

1. Vector Graphics Have Infinite Resolution

We say vector graphics have “infinite” resolution because they never lose their quality, even if you zoom in on them indefinitely.

This means that they are “resolution independent,” unlike pixel (raster) graphics, which depend heavily on the resolution of an image.

Vector graphics have infinite resolution
An advantage of vector graphics is that they have “infinite”resolution.

Because vector graphics do not depend on pixels but on coordinates on a plane, we can enlarge a line, curve, or shape to whatever size we want and always see their exact form and features.

Because the software always knows where the points are on the screen, it always knows the line that connects them.

In other words, it knows the position and direction between two points.  

If we were to zoom in on a line at 3,000%, we would see a black screen indefinitely (unless our screen is the size of a buildings).

2. Vector Graphics are Scalable

Scalability is “the capacity to be changed in size or scale.”

With vector graphics, scalability means three main things:

  • You can view objects in any size you wish
  • Objects can be easily scaled down or up
  • You can export vector graphics at any size you want without compromising quality

First, this means that you can grab an object and quickly zoom in on a tiny detail and examine all its features and quickly return to a more manageable size. With vectors, you can zoom in and out effortlessly.

Second, vector software allow you to grab an object (a circle, square, or star, for instance) and simply scale it down to microscopic or huge proportions in a heartbeat.

Vector graphics are scalable
Vector graphics are scalable.

Finally, you can export any vector object to any dimension you want without quality loss. This means no unwanted pixelation or blurring and, more importantly, not multiplying the size of the file.

3. Vector Graphics Are Lightweight (Small File Size)

Vector files have less information in the them than, for example, pixel files (such as a picture taken by a phone or digital camera).  

They only contain in them a bunch of coordinates instead of more complex information, like the thousands, or even millions, of pixels in a digital photo.  

This comes as an advantage of vector files, since they can have very compressed drawings in them that require less information to produce.  

What does this mean?

You can have a very complex vector drawing, with many shapes, text, colors, and gradients, and still have a very lightweight file.

Moreover, you could increase the dimensions of the object and still have a light file.

The same drawing in pixel format would require much more information and, therefore, would create a heavy file (in terms of resolution).

4. Vector Graphics Are Intuitively Created

You can create vector graphics in ways similar to the way you draw on paper. This is so because the building blocks or vector graphics are lines.

Vector editing software allows you to easily create shapes such as squares, rectangles, circles, and stars with gestures that resemble drawing on paper.

Vector graphics are created just like drawing
Vector graphics resemble drawing

Also, you can draw lines to create anything you want, just like drawing. You can join lines to draw simple shapes or even complex, realistic illustrations.

5. Vector Graphics Are Easily Manipulated

In addition to creating objects intuitively, You can manipulate vector graphics easily and precisely.  

For example, you can create a square, pick it up, and move it around the canvas (the computer screen). You can now take that square and scale, rotate, skew, or invert it.

You can create a line (called stroke) with two points (called nodes) and easily add other nodes to it.

You can also create curves or arches along the way by moving and editing the nodes (these are called Bézier curves).  

Vector graphics can be easily manipulated
Vector graphics can be easily manipulated.

You can also easily add color to the objects you create, even gradients.  

6. Vector Graphics Are Easily Reusable

With vector graphics, you can easily create an object, duplicate it, and put it anywhere else on the canvas.

Also, you can grab an object and duplicate it exponentially, quickly and easily creating numerous copies of an object.

You can even create clones of an object that change according to the transformations of the original.

Finally, you can copy any element of a drawing and composition and export or copy it to another vector composition effortlessly.

7. Vector Graphics Are Multipurpose

One cool thing about vector graphics is their versatility.  

Modern vector graphics programs, such as Inkscape or Illustrator, can do so much more than lines on a screen.

Here’s a few of the things you can do with vector programs:

  • Draw shapes, such as rectangles, circles, stars, polygons, and spirals.  
  • Create and manipulate text by changing their shape, scale, tilt, and so on.
  • Make certain transformations to pixel images, such as clipping them into shapes or adding filters to them.
  • Create color gradients and adding them to drawings.
  • Adding a great deal of filters to drawings, such as textures and other effects.
  • Applying extensions (mini-programs) that let you transform drawings even further.

So here’s a really cool advantage:

You can also perform pixel operations on vector objects, such as add gradients, pixelation, blur, and a wide-ranging list of filters.


You can also perform some editing on pixel images, such as basic cropping, blurring, or masking, and even some retouching.

So, in the end, vector editing software allow you to create and manipulate not only vectors, but also text and even pixel images.

8. Vector Graphics Look Realistic and Precise

Vector graphics can produce drawings that look very realistic and precise.

Realistic car illustration using Inkscape.
You can draw realistic illustrations in Inkscape.

For example, you can produce scientific illustrations, technical drawings, blueprints, maps, charts, and data graphs.

This is possible because vector software allow you to manipulate an object to the last millimeter.

You can move it precisely, through coordinates, along vertical and horizontal axes, and bend it to mathematical precision.

But here’s the catch:

In my experience, you can achieve this realistic look only with inanimate objects (although animals can look pretty realistic too).  

You can definitely draw amazing people with a vector program.  However, they will always look more like a drawing than a photograph.  

Pixel, or raster graphics, are better suited for dealing with actual images of real people and natural things.

9. Vector Graphics Can Be Animated

You can use vector graphics software to make basic, frame-by-frame animations.

This is a cool feature, since you you can create drawings easily with vector software.

You can animate vector objects by moving them, transforming them, changing their color, bending their strokes, and so on.

You can create a frame for each transformation. Then, you can combine the frames into a GIF, for example.

You can find many vector formats that allow animation, such as SVG or Flash, throughout the web.

10. Vector Graphics Can Be Edited With Code

Most vector formats are text-based, readable by both humans and computers.

What does that mean?

It means that a vector drawing can be written (programmed) as a file.

For example, a vector format such as SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), is based on XML, which stands for eXtensible Markup Language.

XML and HTML are very similar in that both are designed to be self-descriptive and human readable.

In this sense, you can easily learn and write in a vector format such as SVG . Not only that, but software such as Inkscape allow you to even edit vector drawings not only on the canvas, but on its source code as well.

11. Vector Graphics Can Be Interactive

Document Object Model (DOM) is a programming API for HTML and XML documents. In a nutshell, this allows you to make SVG objects interactive on the web.

With vector formats such as SVG, you can use this interactivity for responsive web page design or to signal certain events on a web page.

These vector objects may be animated or made responsive to user actions, with objects changing their properties with user interaction.

Example of interactive vector graphics
One cool advantage of vector graphics is that they can be interactive.

This makes posible the creation of complex, yet crisp and fast, interfaces with buttons, links, and drag-and-drop, for example.

Examples of Vector Graphics

Examples of vector graphics or vector art include icons, logos, illustrations, text designs, and vectorization of pixel images. Vector images are characterized by thick outlines and strokes; geometric shapes; symmetric and very precise contours; and solid, vibrant colors. 

The following are great current examples of vector art that show the beauty and versatility of vector graphics: 

Credit: Jade Purple Brown

Credit: @stevenscrosby

Credit: @george_bokhua

Credit: Aaron James Draplin

Credit: Nick Slater

Credit: Sergey Kovalenko

Credit: @catalystvibes

Credit: Wayne Minnis

Credit: Monica Ahanonu

Uses of Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are extremely useful for graphic design. Also, they are extremely common and versatile.

In fact:

The aesthetics of vector graphics have come to dominate the look and feel of everything on the web.

They offer a minimalist, clean look with expressive, colorful illustrations and clean, geometric icons.

Vector design examples
Vector graphics strongly influence current design trends

These are some of the things you can do with vector graphics:

  • Digital illustrations, from simple to very complex and realistic
  • Icons for apps or web applications
  • Mockups for apps or websites
  • Logo and logotype making
  • Printables, such as flyers or posters
  • 3D-looking objects or renderings
  • Video-game characters, imagery, and assets
  • Images that look modern, clean, and minimalist
  • You can upload pixel images to vector software to add text, filters, and drawings
  • Website assets, such as buttons, banners, flags, and calls to action
  • Text
  • Grid-based technical drawings
  • Descriptive statistics (data graphs)

And so much more.

Vector graphics’ versatility make vector graphics an excellent option for design and a superb starting point for learning graphic design on your own.

When To Use Raster (Pixel) Graphics?

Vector graphics, of course, are not the only way for creating computer graphics, and that’s because their uses and applications have limitations.  

In general, you can’t use vector graphics to transform pixel images (such as pictures you take with a digital camera or smartphone) in fundamental ways.

If you want to edit a red eye, hair color, or change the background of a pixel image, you need a raster program such as Gimp (which is free and open source) or something like Adobe Photoshop.  

difference between vector and raster
Vector and pixel (raster) graphics use different approaches to rendering objects

The bottom line:  

If your projects primarily deal with images of natural things, then you will not get great results from vector graphics.  

Here’s a list of tasks better done with raster editing software:

  • Editing preexisting pixel files, such as a picture taken by a digital camera
  • Color corrections and retouching
  • Removal of red-eyes
  • Drawings that emulate natural media, such as watercolor or oil-painting
  • Rendering of complex natural textures, such as hair, grass, or fibers
  • “Painting” any portion or selection of a pixel image
  • Changing the illumination or lighting of an image

Retouching the picture of a model or modifying the illumination of a portrait are some of the operations that require a pixel graphics program.

For example, if you’re working with a fashion magazine, a photojournalism blog, or some types of advertising, then you will need to use a great deal of pixel programs.  

Conclusion: Vector Graphics are Excellent for Learning Graphic Design

In this post, I showed you the features, uses, and advantages of vector graphics in design.  

This is the bottom line for vector graphics:

  • They are historically one of the first methods for generating computer graphics.  
  • They have very important features, such as resolution, file-size, and multi-purpose capabilities, that make them ideal for many applications, including some raster operations.
  • They are frequently used today for creating a clean, minimalist feel and have heavily influenced current design trends, especially in all things digital.
  • They allow you to create drawings and illustrations from scratch, with very realistic results.
  • They are an excellent tool for learning graphic design because they allow you to gain confidence and experience with shapes, geometry, color, text, layout , and even raster operations.  

There you have it! start experimenting with vector graphics right now.  

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What is Inkscape? [Complete Guide]

Graphic designers rely on graphics editing software for everything they create. While there are many options out there, not all will adapt to your needs.

So, you rightfully ask:

What is Inkscape?

What is Inkscape?

Inkscape is a free and powerful vector drawing software for Windows and Mac that allows you to create graphics in a way similar to Adobe Illustrator.

In this post, I will give you a thorough explanation about Inkscape.

Let’s get to it.

Is Inkscape Free? Yes!

Inkscape is one of the few free vector graphic software out there, and one of the oldest and more robust.  

How can such a powerful program be free?

Well, it’s first release was 15 years ago and it’s still being developed and updated to this day by thousands of committed users around the world.  

It is efficient and powerful, allowing its users to create professional-grade graphic design indistinguishable from expensive vector graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator.  

You can just download the software and start creating right now.  

You can download the latest version of Inkscape for free at the official website: inskcape.org.

Because of this, it is the ideal graphics program for beginning and aspiring designers.

Not only that:

Professional designers around the world use Inkscape to keep costs low and produce high-quality, professional designs.  

Inkscape is the graphic design software I recommend for self-taught designers because it allows them to learn the basics of vector graphics and design right now.

What is Inkscape Used for?

With Inkscape, you can do anything that a graphic designer usually does.  

It allows you to create logos, fliers, business cards, websites, badges, letterhead, and so on.

You can even create ultra-realistic drawings like this one:

Realistic car illustration using Inkscape.
You can draw realistic illustrations in Inkscape.

Even more:

You can also use Inkscape for certain jobs that you would normally do with pixel software (such as Photoshop), like cropping images, applying basic filters, scaling down large images, or applying text to photos, to name a few.

I have personally used Inkscape for many years and I’ve done quite a few different projects in it.  

For example, I have created business cards, websites, software interfaces, logos, posters, and flyers.  

I even use Inkscape in my college-level graphic design courses because my students have access to it on the very first day of class and can start playing with it right away.

This actually allows them to learn graphic design faster.  

Why? Because they:

  • Can download the program right away on their laptops and they can start creating and learning from the get-go.  
  • Don’t have to rely on campus computers or expensive licenses
  • Can continue practicing and, as they progress, the software will not become obsolete because it gets better and more powerful every year.  

Inkscape is so powerful and complex that there’s always something new to learn, no matter how advanced you are.  

How to Use Inkscape for Beginners?

Inkscape is great for both beginners and advanced designers.  

It is particularly a great tool for beginners because it teaches you the principles of vector graphics software.

It has many tools you can use to create drawings (such as the transform tool, ellipses tool, pencil tool) that let you manipulate vector objects in complex ways into whatever you need.  

With Inkscape, people can create magnificent illustrations that are very realistic and professional.

Inkscape Basics

Inkscape allows you to learn the basics of vector graphics software.  

First, you need to learn the basics of the program in order get a feel for it and how vector graphics behave.  

Download the software and play around with it.

Then, start experimenting with all of the tools that are available on the left-hand panel.

For example, you can start using the square tool to make quadrangular shapes or you can use the circle tool to create circular and elliptical shapes.

After creating some shapes, use the transform tool to manipulate these objects and get a feel for the power of vector graphics.   

Start by writing your name and using some effects, like changing its color or transforming its size, maybe even skewing the text from left to right.

You can use the transform tool in Inkscape to change how text looks.
You can use the transform tool in Inkscape to change how text looks.

Get Started With Some Projects

As you continue learning, you will need to center around different projects that will become the engine for your experience and growth in graphic design.

In fact, projects are the key to learning graphic design.  

You may later want to create a logo for your website or a friend’s YouTube channel.

These are great opportunities for you to learn both graphics software and design. This, in turn, will build your knowledge, skills, and confidence.  

This is the important part:

As you move forward with your projects,  you will have questions that will naturally arise from the process.  

Search for those questions in Google and you will find answers and tutorials that will contribute to your learning and skills.  The more problems you’re able to solve, the more you will learn.

Inkscape and Vector Graphics

Vector graphics software such as Inkscape and Illustrator allow you to create digital drawings that can go from very simple to complex and that can look very realistic.

You create vector graphics by using lines (strokes), shapes (circles, rectangles, spirals, polygons), text, and color.

More importantly:

Vector graphics allow you to transform and manipulate those elements.  

In principle, almost anything you could draw by hand you could also draw with vector graphics software.  

At the heart of vector graphics is SVG, which stands for Scalable Vector Graphics.  

According to Wikipedia:

SVG images […] can be searched, indexed, scripted, and compressed. SVG images can be created and edited with any text editor, as well as with drawing software. All major modern web browsers—including Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, and Microsoft Edge—have SVG rendering support.

What does this mean?

It means that Inkscape files are standard and can be read with most web browsers and edited with most vector software, including Adobe Illustrator.

Advantages of Using Inkscape

Well, one obvious reason for using Inkscape is that it is free.  However, this is not the only reason.

Inkscape is an extensive and mature vector graphics program that allows to create professional-grade designs.  It has many versions under its belt and has been around for more than 15 years.

Also, it is extremely powerful and allows you to do as many things as you actually would in commercial software.

Here’s another great reason to use Inkscape:  

Inkscape has a dedicated and passionate user community around the world. This community produces tons of high-quality resources and tutorials that you can freely use to learn vector graphic design.  

In addition, there are countless online resources available to you at no cost –guides, tutorials, and free courses– that teach you how to use Inkscape, from beginner to advanced.  

Finally, there are several excellent advanced books you can buy and use as reference, if needed.

Inkscape for Professional Use

You can definitely use Inkscape for professional design.

In fact, many professional designers prefer Inkscape because it helps them keep production costs low while getting a world-class vector editing program.

All vector graphics software function in similar ways because they come from a common philosophy.  This is why learning Illustrator after having used Inkscape is not that difficult.

In other words:

Inkscape and Illustrator function in the very same way because they are both vector software that have the same foundation.

While Illustrator has become the standard in commercial graphic design agencies and studios, Inkscape actually allows you to make creations that are as good as those that are created with commercial software.


As you get more advanced, If you want to move on to commercial vector software such as Illustrator, the learning curve becomes so much easier.  

If you were to move from Inkscape to Illustrator, you would have very little or even no problems at all going forward.  

You can see an example of the use Inkscape for commercial use by Linuxparadesigner:

An example of commercial design using Inkscape
This is an example of professional commercial design using Inkscape and Gimp, another free graphics software.

Another excellent example of Inkscape used commercially is Nick Saporito, a Philadelphia graphic designer.

Nick creates amazing logos tutorials in his YouTube channel, Logos By Nick.

He is one the best professional advocates of Inkscape out there:

Nick Saporito is a professional graphic designer using Inkscape commercially
Nick Saporito is a professional graphic designer using Inkscape commercially.

Conclusion: Download Inkscape and Start Creating Now

As you can see, Inkscape is a powerful vector editing program that beginner and advanced users can use.


Inkscape is an excellent choice for both personal and professional use.

One of its most important advantages is that it is free and open software that you can download on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

However, despite being free software, it competes formidably with commercial software such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.

So, what are you waiting for? Give Inkscape a try and see for yourself the power it has to offer.

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Gestalt Logo Examples in Graphic Design

Gestalt is one of the most important concepts for understanding logo theory.

In this post, I will show you tons of gestalt logo examples that will illustrate the following main concepts of logo design theory:

  1. Closure
  2. Figure / Ground
  3. Continuation
  4. Unity
  5. Balance

I will cover in detail:

  • The role of gestalt in logo design
  • 5 fundamental concepts of logo design theory with useful images
  • Tons of Gestalt logo examples from real life

Let’s dive right in.

Gestalt Principles in Logo Design

In psychology, the term gestalt (which in German means something like “unified whole”) describes humans’ capacity for “cumulative perception”. 

Basically, it refers to our tendency to “fill in the gaps” in everything we see.  

You see:

As humans, we are unable to analyze every single piece of information that is presented to us. 

Instead, we tend to process our surroundings by using preconceptions, biases, and stereotypes that allow us to make decisions quickly. 

In other words:

This ability allows us to see “wholeness” in the things we perceive. 

In the 1920’s, the Bauhaus art school introduced the concept to graphic design to explain visual perception. According to this school, “a design’s unity is more than the simple addition of its parts.”

When we perceive a logo, we “fill in the gaps” not only in terms of what we literally see but also in terms of what those elements represent.  

By understanding the role of gestalt in perception, with are able to create logos that interact with people’s expectations, knowledge, and attitudes.

Let’s now look at the 5 main concepts behind gestalt theory.

Gestalt Logo Examples (Closure, Figure/Ground, Continuation, Unity, and Balance)

1. Closure 

The Closure principle is closely related to gestalt psychology in design

The concept of closure in logo design theory is closely related to gestalt.  

A logo is not an illustration or a painting. It’s a visual summary of a brand’s identity or essence.  

This means that logos have to communicate iconically.

In other words:

A logo has to be able to communicate with minimal elements.

Therefore, a logo has to accomplish a lot with very few resources. 

Through closure, a logo is able to communicate by suggesting ideas or concepts with only a few elements (such as an icon, color, shapes, or typography). 

Through the Gestalt principle of closure we are able to "fill in the blanks" of missing information in order to create wholeness.
Through the Gestalt principle of closure we are able to “fill in the blanks” of missing information in order to create wholeness.

In sum: 

Closure allows the viewer to complete unfinished forms or ideas.

As Alex White states in his excellent book, closure “encourages active participation in the creation of the message.” 

2. Figure/Ground 

The figure-ground principle allows us to perceive the relationship between positive and negative space.

Another way in which a viewer applies wholeness or totality relates to the concept of figure / ground.  

Figure/Ground describes our capacity to perceive the relationship between form (shape) and its surrounding space.  

In other words:

Our sense of wholeness or unity depends on how we perceive the relationship between an object and the space in which it is contained. 

By strategically playing with this relationship, a designer can create interest, memorability, or meaning in a logo.  

What creates the letter “e”, is it the white space or is it its positive enclosure (black space)? Figure/Ground relates to our capacity to switch from background to foreground to create wholeness.

3. Continuation

In our desire for wholeness, we’re also able to follow the logical direction of visual forms, even if they’re not on a page or design.

This is called continuation

Through continuation, we are able to follow the logical direction of visual forms
Through continuation, we are able to follow the logical direction of visual forms

Let’s look at some more examples:

The Subway logo is an example of the Gestalt principle of continuation. Notice how we tend to follow the direction of the end arrows outside of the composition.

Subway's logo is an example of the Gestalt principle of continuation
Subway’s logo is an example of the Gestalt principle of continuation.

Another example:

If you encounter a sign that says “Exit” with an arrow pointing to the right, Where do you look?

Your perception logically makes you “follow” whatever goes beyond that arrow.  

The "Exit"sign exemplifies the principle of continuation in logo design.
The “Exit”sign exemplifies the principle of continuation in logo design.

That is: 

Through continuation, we are able to view the “wholeness” of a design even if not all of its elements are depicted right there on the page.  

In this example, the “direction” of the lines in the pencil and its tip allow us to keep looking in that direction, even beyond the boundaries of the design. This is called continuation.

4. Unity

Exmaples of the unity principle in logo psychology theory

We also search for wholeness by applying the principle of unity.  

In graphic design, unity refers to our capacity to group different things or find kinship between them, even if they are not the same size, color, or shape.

Unity manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Proximity:
    • We perceive objects or elements that are close to one another as more unified than those that are farther apart.
  • Repetition:
    • Objects that are repeated in a composition are perceived as more unified.
  • Similarity:
    • Objects or elements that are similar in color, shape, texture or form appear to be more unified than those that are not.
Through unity, we are able to group and organize visual elements, even if they are not the same.

5. Balance

Balance in logo theory can be symmetrical or assymetrical

Balance refers to the total symmetry of a composition.

That is:

When we look at a design, we evaluate its total appearance in terms of the harmony of all of its elements.

The question is:

How are the elements of the composition weighted in relation to one another?

Balance manifests itself in at least two ways:

  • Symmetrical Balance
    • All the elements of the composition are distributed equally.
    • Elements of the same category or form having the same rank or importance.
    • The focus of the composition is in its center.
  • Asymmetrical Balance
    • The elements of the composition are not necessarily distributed equally, but their placement on the page results in harmony (they make visual sense).
    • The focus of the composition is not necessarily its center.
Balance in logo design can be symmetrical or asymmetrical

Apply Logo Theory to Your Designs Right Now

15 Real Life Gestalt Logo Examples
15 Real Life Gestalt Logo Examples

Logo theory and principles are the foundation of a solid logo creation process. 

With a general understanding of how a logo works, you will be able to achieve effective results that are repeatable and consistent.  

Even more:

Understanding the main principles behind the logo process will guide you in creating logos that are distinctive, memorable, and timeless. 

Study these principles and see how they apply to the logos that we see everyday. 

Inkscape Vector Logo Tutorial

Powell Peralta Logo Vector Tutorial

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Which Graphic Design Software to Learn? [Why It Really Doesn’t Matter]

If you’re asking which graphic design software you should learn, chances are you’re just starting your journey in graphic design.

Here’s the big idea:

Start learning vector and pixel software with programs that make sense to you in terms of access, price, equipment availability, and quality. In the beginning you shouldn’t concern yourself too much on whether your start out with Illustrator, Inkscape, Photoshop or Gimp but on learning how to use vector and pixel graphics in general.  

Ten years ago, I was right there in that very same position. Knowing this from the start can save you time, money, and frustration.

When you’re starting out learning graphic design, which specific programs you start to learn are not as crucial as learning the principles behind the type of software used to solve graphic design problems.

In other words:

Start learning a program that makes sense to you as long as it is a vector or pixel program that is professional grade.  

That said, I truly believe that Inkscape and Gimp (for vector and pixel graphics, respectively) are among the best choices for beginners to learn graphic design, and I’ll explain why in this post.  

Let me show you what I mean in more detail.  It’s simpler than you think.

Different Types of Graphic Design Software

There are many types of graphic design software and many brands.  For example, you have

  • Vector and pixel graphics software
  • 3D animation software
  • CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software
  • Publication and layout software
  • Font creation software

And there are many brands as well: Adobe produces well-known programs such as Illustrator (vector), Photoshop (pixel), and InDesign (publications and layout). And there’s also Corel Draw (vector) and Canva (mostly pixel).

In sum, there is a long list of both vector and pixel programs.

How many you ask?

Check out these lists comparing the vector and pixel software available:

Comparison of vector graphics editors

Comparison of raster graphics editors

As you can see, there’s a lot of programs!

But here’s the deal:

In graphic design, basically all software are based on either vector or pixel graphics, or a combination of both.  

What does this mean for you?

That all vector and pixel programs behave in the same way.  

The reason is that they are built on the same basic principles, functions, and operations.  This applies to both vector and pixel programs.

These programs, no matter the brand, behave pretty much in the same way, have the same basic tools, and can accomplish the very same things.  

This means that you can learn your vector skills with one program, say Illustrator, but feel perfectly comfortable using other vector programs such as Corel Draw or Inkscape should you need to change software. The learning curve for getting accustomed to these other programs would be an easy one.  

Here’s an analogy:

Commercial pilots are sometimes qualified to fly different aircraft, Boeing 737s or Boeing 757s or even jets from different manufacturers, such as a Boeing 737 and an Airbus 320.  They are able to do this with ease because they already have the fundamental knowledge and skills to fly commercial jets.

Which graphic design software to use?
Once you know how to use vector software, the interfaces of Illustrator and Inkscape look very familiar

What does this analogy mean for you?

If you concern yourself with learning the fundamental principles and skills of vector and pixel graphics, you’ll be able to apply these skills to different vector and pixel programs, no matter which they are.

Focusing on the skills of the type of software instead of the specific software you’ll be using is a much sensible approach because it gives you the piece of mind and confidence that there’s no right or wrong answer and open up the possibility of using different graphic design software depending on your needs and objectives.  

It’s All About the Macro-Skills

As you’re thinking which graphic design program to start learning, also learn about vector and pixel graphics in general.  Learning about these types of software in general will teach you what I call “macro-skills” in graphic design, which will allow you to handle different brands of software.

With vector graphics, you use lines and shapes to create drawings, such as digital illustrations, icons, and logos.  You can create from simple drawings, such as minimalist icons, to very impressive, realistic illustrations.

These are some of the macro-skills you learn with vector graphics:

  • Shape creation and manipulation
  • Vectorization of pixel images
  • Use of typography
  • Uses of nodes and their manipulation for drawing
  • Geometric balance
  • Grid-based shape construction

Vector graphics are commonly used to create logos, icons, all sorts of illustrations, and even some graphics for print, such business cards or posters.  

Want to know more about vector graphics? I wrote an extensive explanation that’s really useful: What Are Vector Graphics Used For? (Features and Examples)

Pixel graphics are different. Instead of relying on lines on a screen, they rely on “dots” on a screen. Basically, a pixel canvas has many tiny “squares” that get filled-up with color in order to produce a specific drawing.  These little squares are called pixels.

The photos you take with your phone, for example, are made up of pixels.  

Pixel graphics are most useful for manipulating “real-life” images, such as pictures for a magazine.  

These are some of the macro-skills you learn with pixel graphics:

  • Image clean-up, such as red eyes, skin blemishes, contrast, and brightness
  • Image manipulation, such as changing hair color
  • Image liberation, or “cutting” the shape of an image (say, a person) and placing it in a completely different background
  • Working with layers
  • Understanding color nuances
  • Image resolution  

Which Software to Use at the Beginning

It is true that the graphic design industry relies heavily on commercial graphic design software, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  

However, it is also true that many boutique studios and small design firms more and more are using free professional-grade software such as Inkscape and Gimp.

The reason is that they can accomplish virtually the same results as with commercial software but don’t have to pay the heavy licensing premiums that go along with these programs.  

For example, Adobe charges a licensing fee for using its graphics software. As of 2019, if you want to use Illustrator for a whole year, it costs you 239 US dollars, prepaid.  This can be a stiff cost if you’re just learning graphic design or have a small design studio.

As a beginner (and possibly self-made graphic designer in the making), I recommend that you start with Inkscape for vector graphics and Gimp for pixel graphics.  Don’t be fooled: these programs allow to accomplish amazing graphics with professional results indistinguishable from commercial software.

The main reason is simple:

These programs are professional-grade graphics software that you can download for free.  

This means that:

  • You don’t have to pay expensive licences to start learning to design
  • You don’t have to illegally download pirate copies of commercial software or outdated versions of the programs
  • You can start learning right away, from your own laptop or computer knowing that you’re running a robust, latest version of software

Some will say that Illustrator or Photoshop have many ways of making your life easier.  That may be true in some cases.  

But here’s the added bonus of using the free software:

Because they might lack some of cool buttons and shortcuts for some operations that some commercial software have, you’re able to actually learn how to understand and deal with graphic design problems, only sharpening your skills and mastery of graphics.  

Still, you would be surprised how advanced and sophisticated are open source programs such as Inkscape and Gimp.  

For example, Inkscape, allows you to create amazing, realistic artwork.  You can check out some cool examples with images in this other post, What is Inkscape, and find out about some of the best features and uses of this program.  

You can also check out what people in the wild can create with Inkscape. Nick Saporito is an amazing graphic designer who exclusively uses Inkscape in his studio.  Check out his professional logos here:

12 Professional Logos Made with Inkscape in 2018.

Conclusion: Learn Software that Makes Sense to You

To sum up:

In the beginning, it’s better to focus your learning efforts on the type of software you learn, especially vector and pixel programs, instead of the specific brand of software. This will help you gain the necessary skills for mastering the types, instead of the brands, of software.  

And remember:

Learn pixel and vector graphics first, as other types of software (such as publication, layout, and even animation programs) are mostly a combination of these two standards.

Vector graphics will teach you fundamental skills in drawing, layout, and shapes while pixel graphics will teach you about manipulating real-life images, retouching, and lighting (brightness and contrast, for example), among many other fundamental skills.


When you choose a program, choose it if makes sense to you in terms of:

  • Access
  • Price
  • Equipment
  • Availability
  • Professional quality

Specific programs can come and go, but vector and pixel graphics are here to stay!  

Which programs will you choose? Let me know in the comments below and will let you know what I think.

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Advanced Inkscape Logo Tutorial [Step-by-Step + PDF]

In this advanced Inkscape logo tutorial, I show you step-by-step how to create a complex logo using a grid construction process.

Specifically, we will recreate the Woolmark logo, by Italian designer Franco Grignani.

In this tutorial, you will learn about:

  • Logo grid construction process
  • Boolean operations
  • Geometric logo design

BONUS: Download this advanced Inkscape logo tutorial in PDF at the bottom of the page so you can work at your own pace.

Step 1


  • Create layers
  • Set the grid
  • Create an equilateral triangle
  • Align triangle

a. Create the layers

First, create four layers using the Layers dialog (Layer > Layers).    Name the layers, from bottom to top, like so: Triangle, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3.  This will help us organize our work and deal with the complexity of the design as we move forward.

Create layers using Inkscape's layers dialog
Create layers using Inkscape’s layers dialog

b. Set the grid

Create a grid for the document by going to View > Page Grid.  Be sure to set the grid size (spacing) large enough so you can easily work with its scale.

Create a grid for the Inkscape document by going to View > Page Grid
Create a grid for the Inkscape document by going to View > Page Grid

c. Create a triangle

Now, create an equilateral triangle, using the Stars and Polygons tool , by setting its corners to “3. ” Move the triangle to the Triangle layer by selecting Layer > Move Selection to Layer Above or Below, depending the layer on which the triangle was created.

Create an equilateral triangle, using the Stars and Polygons tool in Inkscape
Create an equilateral triangle, using the Stars and Polygons tool in Inkscape

d. Align the triangle

Select the triangle, align its tip to a grid intersection and, pressing the SHIFT and CTRL keys *, enlarge (drag) the triangle so that its height is equal to an even number of squares (mine is 6 “grid squares” high).   You may enable the snapping tool for more accuracy.

*  The SHIFT key makes the object scale from its center of rotation, while the CTRL key makes it scale symmetrically.

Align the triangle tip to a grid intersection in Inkscape
Align the triangle tip to a grid intersection in Inkscape

Step 2


  • Create a perfect circle
  • Duplicate and position circles

a. Create a circle

Locate the center of the triangle in terms of its height: In my case, it’s 6 “grid squares” high, so its center intersection lies on square 3.

Position the cursor slightly upward off center, as shown.  This will make our rendition more accurate in terms of the original logo.

Select the Circles tool.  

While pressing the SHIFT and CTRL keys, enlarge (drag) the circle so that it becomes a perfect circle.  Make sure the edges of the circles touch the edges of the triangle.

Convert the circle to a path by selecting Path > Object to Path.

Use Inkscape's Circles tool to create a perfect circle within your triangle and convert it to a path
Use Inkscape’s Circles tool to create a perfect circle, then convert to path

b. Duplicate and position circles

Duplicate the circle (CTRL + D keys or Edit > Duplicate).  Move the duplicate to the lower left side.  Press the CTRL key to drag the circle to the bottom, then press CTRL to drag to left, until it touches the left and bottom edges of the triangle.

Duplicate the lower left circle and drag to the right, using the CTRL key.

Duplicate your original circle (use CTRL + D) and align within your triangle
Duplicate your original circle (CTRL + D) and align as shown

Now you have three cicles within a triangle.

Step 3


  • Duplicate upper left side circles
  • Interpolate circles
  • Move selection to layer above

a. Duplicate upper left side circles

We will now create the circles that will make up the black crescents of the design.

Select the lower left circle and, pressing the SHIFT key, also select the upper circle (the order of selection is important).

Select circle and interpolate them
Interpolate circles

b. Interpolate circles

Go to Extensions > Generate from Path > Interpolate.

Use the Inkscape extension Interpolate to duplicate circles accordingly
Use the Inkscape extension Interpolate to duplicate circles

In the dialog, select “Duplicate endpaths” and be sure to set interpolation steps to 8.  This is so because the extension will “fill” the space between the circles with duplicates of the same circles.  If you look at the Woolmark logo, each side is composed of 10 circles.

c. Move selection to layer above

The interpolated circles will be grouped, with a total of 10 objects.   Select the group, then move the selection to the layer named “Level 1.” Turn off the layer (in the Layers dialog, click on the little eye icon to close it).

Step 4

Step overview:

  • Repeat process on step 3 for right side 

a. Repeat interpolation for each side

Select the upper and lower circles by pressing the SHIFT key.

Repeat the interpolation process.

Move the selection to the layer named “Level 2” and turn off.

Interpolate circles for the right side
Now interpolate circles for the right side

Step 5

Step overview:

  • Repeat process on steps 3 and 4 for bottom side
  • Delete original circles 

a. Repeat interpolation process for bottom side of triangle

Select the lower right and left circles by pressing the SHIFT key.

Repeat the interpolation process.

Move the selection to the layer named “Level 3” and turn off.

Interpolate for the bottom side

b. Delete original (guide) circles

Delete the three original guide circles before continuing with the next step.

Step 6

Step overview:

  • Apply the Boolean operation “Difference”
  • Fill black and remove stroke to create crescents
  • Repeat to create all the crescent shapes

a. Apply the Boolean operation “Difference”

Start with layer “Level 1”.

Turn on the layer and ungroup the interpolated circles by selecting them and pressing the CTRL and U keys.  You now have 10 separate circle objects.

b. Fill and remove stroke to create crescents

Create the crescents from the circular grid.  

Select the outermost circle and the circle that follows.

Apply Path > Difference.  Apply black fill and remove stroke (Object > Fill and Stroke).

You now have your first crescent.

c. Repeat for creating the other crescents

Repeat with all crescents of that side.  You now should have something that looks like this:

d. Repeat crescent creation on remaining sides

Turn off the layer and repeat with the remaining two sides:

Step 7

Step overview:

  • Use the eraser tool to clean paths
    • Turn on all layers
    • Select crescents with protruding tips
    • Erase tips with the Eraser tool
    • Repeat for all sides

a. Turn on all layers

For the final step, turn on all layers.

b. Select crescents with protruding tips

Select the crescents whose tips protrude unto the opposite crescent set.

c. Erase tips with the Eraser tool

Select the Erase tool.  At the top of the page, in Mode, select “Cut out from object.”

Start “erasing” the protruding crescent tips by passing the tool just to the contour of the opposite crescent.  Be sure to remove all parts of the tip while the object is selected.

Use Inkscape's Eraser tool to remove unwanted portions of the path
Use Inkscape’s Eraser tool to remove unwanted portions of the path

e. Repeat

Repeat on all sides, according to the fold of the original Woolmark logo.

Turn off unnecessary layers.


You now have recreated a version of the Woolmark logo and learned about circular grids, Boolean operations, and logo design in the process.

Our final version of the Woolmark logo using Inkscape
Our final vector version of the Woolmark logo using Inkscape!

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Design Principles [Complete Definition with Examples]

Design principles have been around for a very long time and understanding them is crucial to learning graphic design.

So how do we define design principles?

Design principles are a set of time-proven guidelines that humans have put together through trial and error for understanding how to represent the world.  

They serve as a map to arrange visual materials (shapes, colors, lines, etc.) in the best way possible, according to a specific intention, strategy, or objective.

When you look at other design principles definitions on the web, you’ll notice that most only give a you a list of principles, but never go to explain what these principles really are as a whole.  

An understanding of design principles is the most important aspect of learning to apply them later in real design work.

In this post, I explain in detail what design principles are and mean for graphic design and give you specific examples of how these principles are applied in design.

Design Principles Are a Set of Guidelines

You can view the principles of design as a set of guiding rules about what works and does not work in the arrangement of visual raw materials.

When I say “visual raw materials”, I mean the different “parts” that make up all the things that we see.

For instance:

All that we see will be composed of many different elements, such as lines, textures, colors, shapes, and shadows. We call these “raw materials” of visual reality elements of design.

These “rules” we call principles do not necessarily work like laws and don’t have to be taken literally.  In fact, each principle always works in relation to one another.

Our objective as designers is to represent objects, feelings, ideas, or concepts through graphic design.

Once we learn to perceive the different elements of design, we are able to arrange those elements in certain ways to produce effective representations.

In addition, design principles are not just “human-made” constructs, but a set of time-proven truisms (self-evident truths) about how the world arranges itself visually and how we perceive it.  

These principles are the human description (or codification) of how the natural world is presented to us visually.   

They are constant observations about what works visually.

Design Principles Never Work Alone

Design principles can be rearranged or combined. They never work in isolation.

But here’s the thing:

There are different ways of arranging visual content in an effective way.

That’s why they are called are principles and not laws, and we follow them because others before us have mastered and perfected these observations through trial, error, and experimentation.

That is:

Design principles are time-proven guidelines for the best ways and methods for organizing visual elements strategically in order to communicate effectively.

Design principles have been developed over time and that is why they are principles.

Simply put, they are ways of organization.

They organize visual information and provide different alternatives for arranging that information, depending on our communication objectives.

Nature Can Teach You a Lot About Design Principles

We can learn about design principles from nature. We can observe how visual things are arranged in nature and how and why it works.

Take the trunk of a tree. What do we see? It has a special construction, visually speaking.

Trunks have different colors, different shades. They have texture. These are all things that we can appreciate visually.  

Now, how is this texture patterned? How is color used and distributed?

It’s as if nature knows how to arrange all these elements in beautiful ways!

This is exactly the idea behind design principles:

They are the knowledge that guides you in using visual materials and using them to design beautifully and effectively.

Texture will be displayed in a pattern. It will have color, but those colors will have different shades that will communicate different things.

For example:

Does a surface look rough, smooth, glossy?  These are all things we can appreciate visually.

Nature Pattern Design Principle Example
Nature presents patterns and colors in a special arrangement that exemplify design principles.

Design Principles in Everyday Life

We can apply these examples from nature to the images and graphics we see every day.  

A poster in the street will have some information displayed but it will be arranged in a strategic way.  By changing the size of letters, we know that a heading that is bigger and bolder is more important.

Changing the size of font serves to structure information.

We use design principles to arrange letters on a paragraph in such a way that it becomes not only readable but pleasant to read. These are design principles at work.

Here’s an example:

A logo will use shapes and lines and color to represent something about a brand.

We use those shapes and colors and lines in a strategic way in order to communicate specifically what we want to communicate.

These are design principles at work that help you arrange visual elements in a strategic manner.

Examples of Design Principles

Like I said, in this post we will not go into detail about specific design principles, but I want to show you some examples of principles and, specially, how they work.

Take the design principle of hierarchy:

We can use hierarchy to guide our reader to the information we want to highlight and to structure that information.

Headings are great simple example of how we use hierarchy. Imagine we had a book with no headings, no bold letters, no changes in font size.

We wouldn’t really know what to read or how to read it: we would be overwhelmed by all that information.

How readable is the following example:

Lack of hierarchy as design principle renders text unreadable and ineffective.
Lack of hierarchy as design principle renders text unreadable and ineffective.

When we use headings as a form of hierarchy, we are actually structuring information. We are telling the reader what is important what what is less important.

This is a design principle at work.

Another design principle is unity:

Unity as a principle can tell us that elements that are close together have a stronger or closer relationship that elements that are farther apart.

It can be used in different ways:

We can have elements that are positioned tightly together, or very separated through space.  Being close represents kinship or unity.

Or we could have elements that are the same shape, color, or size. This also represents unity.

The closer elements are, in space or appearance, the stronger the bond or stronger relationship they communicate.  

We can see hierarchy and unity working together in real life.

Take a website, for instance. Web designers will use headings of different sizes and colors to structure information and guide your eye in a specific way.

What about a button to a call to action?

It’s usually red, big, and bold. This is hierarchy at work.

So now you see how design principles actually help you organize visual information.

The more you understand design principles, the more you can apply them to anything you design, like logos websites posters business cards.

This is why it’s really important to understand and study design principles, but the most important thing is for you to practice applying these principles.

This is the bottom line:

What differentiates design from something that is not designed are design principles.  

For example:

Often we will go walking down the street and we will see a wall or bulletin board filled with DIY ads searching for a dog or announcing a garage sale.

DIY ads from a public bulletin board exemplify a lack of design principles.
DIY ads from a public bulletin board exemplify a lack of design principles.

Most of those ads will have their information displayed without design principles. Most of them will be ugly and not effective at communicating information.

They will not stand out in a wall filled with the same types of ads. They will look amateurish.

Now, we can take the same ad and the same information and apply some design principles to them.

That’s why graphic designers exist: they know how to make information look awesome and effectively convey a message.

Conclusion: Start Learning Design Principles Right Now

Learning design principles, and applying them, are one the most important steps in learning graphic design.

Furthermore, it is the key to becoming a graphic designer.

The great thing about design principles is that they can be learned and they can be practiced.  

Therefore, the more you study and understand design principles, the more you observe how they are applied in your everyday surroundings, the more you will understand and be able to apply them.  

Without design principles, we will most likely create work that is uninteresting, unappealing and, worse, unable to communicate effectively.  

These are the main points to remember:

  • Designers must learn to “see” the “visual prime material” or perceive the visual features of things for what they are, not for what we “know” about them.
  • The elements of design are the very raw materials of our perception of things.  Visual things are made up of visual elements.
  • Design principles are time-proven observations about how the world is visually arranged all around us.
  • Design principles serve as a blueprint for arranging visual elements in strategic, effective ways.  

Do you already know some design principles? Which do you think are the most important? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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