Learn Design

A Comprehensive Guide to Start Learning Design

Design refers to the large category of skills and tools utilized in mass visual communication. This includes photo manipulation, logo design, page layout design, user interface design, and digital animation. Given visual communication's importance in advertising, branding, and persuasive rhetoric, design skills are versatile and highly in demand.

Explore the various facets of design, from logos to complex animated assets, and the tools designers use for different projects, such as Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, through this comprehensive guide. Discover the multitude of career paths in design, such as Graphic Designers, Web Designers, and Motion Graphics Designers, and how to get started in your journey of learning design.

Key Insights

  • Design is a broad field that uses computers to assist in visual communication, ranging from simple graphic design work to complex 3D animation projects.
  • Tools used by Designers are varied and project-specific. For instance, photographers will use photo manipulation tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, while Layout Designers will use tools like InDesign and Figma.
  • Career paths in design are diverse and include roles such as Graphic Designers, Web Designers, and Motion Graphics Designers, who use various design tools to create visual designs for different media projects.
  • Learning design skills allows creatives to expand their work scope and reach, with digital design spaces allowing designers to create complex work and reach audiences they would otherwise not be able to reach.
  • Several different kinds of classes are available to teach design skills, including live instruction, both in-person and online, and on-demand design classes.
  • Salaries for design roles vary depending on the role and industry, however, according to PayScale, the average salary for Graphic Designers in the US is around $46,000, while Web Designers earn roughly $60,000, and Motion Graphic Designers can expect to make an average of $61,000 per year.

Design is a creative field that encompasses virtually every aspect of creating memorable visual imagery associated with a brand, company, or institution. This ranges from small details such as logos and product packaging to complex, multi-faceted 3D animated assets for online content, film, and television. If you've always wanted to learn design but can’t figure out how to get started, this guide is for you. Here, you’ll learn more about the various ways to learn design, free resources to take advantage of, and the types of careers that commonly use design.

What is Design?

Design is an incredibly broad category of skills that refers to utilizing computers to assist in visual communication. This can range from simple graphic design work such as photo manipulation or print layout design to complex 3D animation projects or interactive digital interface design work. Visual and graphic design is vital to any product release, information campaign, rhetorically-effective communication strategy, or web design project. No matter what kind of work is being done, if it intends to communicate with a mass audience, specialized design skills will be needed to make that communication possible.

The tools utilized by Designers are varied, and each tends to have its own niche functionality that differs from project to project. For example, photographers will use photo manipulation tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, Layout Designers will use tools like InDesign and Figma, and Motion Graphic Designers will use After-Effects, Cinema 4D, and Premiere Pro. Rather than learning and mastering every design tool available, Designers will specialize in specific elements of the design process and learn those tools. This makes design a highly varied field to enter, and it offers students a great opportunity to both experiment with different programs and turns their passions into a creative career.

Read more about what design is and why you should learn it.

What Can You Do with Design?

As a creative form of visual expression, the things you can do with design are largely limited only by your imagination and the number of programs you are willing to learn. Users can design vibrant and evocative visual compositions ranging from simple logos, photo manipulations, and posters to complex 3D animations and digital web assets. Almost every professional field employs designers to ensure that their output looks the way they intend it to look and communicates the ideas they want. This is true of both the private and public sectors, given that design tools are just as important in persuasive and advocacy contexts as in commercial and advertising contexts.

Learning design skills is also a great way to build your profile and brand online. Online content creators need to set themselves apart from the crowd, and learning to make vibrant visual designs is a perfect way to do so. Whether this is about producing a logo for your website, designing recognizable branding for the products on your Etsy store, or editing and manipulating video content, learning design skills can improve your creative output. Design skills are also at the center of several different emerging online art and activism movements. Learning design skills can give creatives many mediums to produce rhetorical compelling advocacy content like infographics, digital documentaries, and docu-games.

Careers that Use Design

Given that design skills are at the heart of visual, mass communication, virtually every industry employs design skills in one capacity or another. Whether this is as simple as hiring a firm to design a new logo, using in-house designers to create packaging material for product releases, or hiring teams of designers to run a multi-media advertising or awareness campaign, design skills are utilized in several diverse contexts and industries. A few of the most common design careers include:

Designers: Designers, often called Graphic Designers, are tasked with creating the visual designs and iconography for traditional media projects, product packaging, branded merchandise, and other physical displays. They will use programs like InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator to create vibrant and memorable designs. Most Designers work as freelancers, are self-employed, or work as part of a firm, but a few are hired full-time by companies with large departments and a regular need for new designs. 

Web Designers: Web Designers are responsible for designing the visual elements of a web application. Sometimes, this involves designing a singular element of the application, such as designing a new tool or feature for an existing webpage. Sometimes, it involves designing the entire layout of an upcoming project. Designers will use tools like Photoshop and Illustrator alongside dedicated user interface design programs like Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD. Some Web Designers may specialize as User Interface Designers, responsible for building the layout for a web interface, or as User Experience Designers, responsible for ensuring that the design is responsive to user behaviors and demands.

Motion Graphics Designers: Motion Graphics Designers use tools like Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro to create animated digital assets for various media projects. These include computer-animated films and television series, webpages and digital advertisements, and graphical special effects for media projects. Motion Graphics Designers ensure that animated assets move fluidly, believably, and look life-like should the project call for it. They also tend to work as part of larger firms that move from project to project, making this an ideal career path for creatives who want the opportunity to work on a wide range of different assignments.

Why Learn Design?

Learning design skills will allow students to turn their creative passions into career opportunities in almost any field they choose to enter. Every project, no matter how large or small, will need to employ creatives with design talent if it aims to communicate with a mass audience. Visual communication is essential to modern rhetorical persuasion and commerce, meaning that skilled designers will be involved in everything from logo design and branding to political campaigns and advocacy awareness. Both the private and public sectors employ designers to help them communicate and persuade their audiences, and there is no shortage of career opportunities available for talented creative designers.

Learning design skills is also a wonderful way for creatives to expand their work scope and reach. Digital design spaces represent a new canvas upon which designers can create their own complex work and reach audiences they would otherwise never have been able to reach. Digital art projects are becoming increasingly influential in political and social activism and the general art community. On a smaller scale, aspiring artists can utilize digital design skills to enter the world of digital art commerce and better position themselves to stand apart from their competition in this increasingly competitive marketplace. 

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How to Learn Design

Students interested in learning design skills will find that several different kinds of classes are built to teach them how to use digital design tools. Students will need to gauge their own learning preferences and styles to make an informed decision about what kind of class to enroll in. While every student is different, there are a few general differences between the kinds of design courses.

The most immersive and guided way to learn design is through live instruction, both in-person and online. These courses allow students to work with expert instructors in a private classroom environment with the opportunity to ask questions, get assistance, and receive feedback. This assistance can be vital for new designers hoping to understand the philosophies behind their design work. Even in an online learning environment, having access to a skilled instructor can be all the difference between success and difficulty in design education. 

In-person learning options tend to be more restrictive, given that they are only taught at specific training facilities, meaning that students will be restricted in where they can attend a course, and they will require a commute. However, these courses will give students access to on-site training labs and provide students with the necessary design tools they will need to use to advance their training. Online learning can be done from anywhere, meaning students will have a much larger pool of courses to choose from when they enroll in a design course. Still, students will need to provide their own technology, which can become expensive and cumbersome in more advanced design classes.

Students who cannot attend a regularly scheduled live training session may want to look at their options for on-demand design classes. These classes, which are given to students as collections of video recordings or training modules, allow students to work and learn at their own pace, making them ideal for students with work or family commitments that prevent them from attending a regularly scheduled online course. These courses are also ideally suited for students who want to learn an eclectic or specific mix of design skills since they can choose the courses they enroll in and prioritize the skills they emphasize. The drawback is that without live instructors, students won’t have a way to get feedback on their designs, which is a vital part of learning creative tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, or After Effects.

Finally, students interested in learning design skills but aren’t sure what direction they want their training to take or whether online learning is right for them may want to take advantage of some free training resources to become more confident in their decisions. Noble Desktop provides students with a trove of free resources, articles, and seminars on their Learn Design hub, where users can become familiar with many of the tools and philosophies of design. In addition, Noble offers several free video tutorials on the graphic design playlist on its official YouTube page.

Read the full guide on how to learn design.

Free Introductory Design Course Online 

Students who aren’t ready to enroll in a full-time, professional design course may want to consider taking advantage of some free training options. These courses give students a chance to learn design skills in a low-stakes, low-stress environment, and they give students greater control over the pace and style of their learning. These courses won’t replace professional skills training if you want to make a career out of those skills, but these courses are excellent places to start learning. As a bonus, all of the skills students learn in a free training course will make it easier to transition to a more paid training seminar, as students will already understand the basics of the course.

Noble Desktop provides students with several free training resources in almost every design tool you would want to learn. First, students must find out what type of design training they want to pursue. To help with this, Noble offers a Getting Started in Design seminar in which students can learn the differences between graphic design, visual design, UX/UI, and motion graphics design and learn what kind of tools and applications each subfield utilizes. This will allow students to make more informed decisions about the kinds of training that they want, after which they can visit Noble’s free seminars page to explore the options available for the specific skill set they want to pursue.

Students looking for other free training options may wish to explore those offered by other service providers such as Udemy or Coursera. In addition, most graphic design applications, particularly those that make up the Adobe Creative Cloud, have first-party training resources on the program provider's website.

Read about more free design videos and online tutorials.

Level of Difficulty, Prerequisites, & Cost 

Since design isn’t really a skill as much as it is a field of different skills, it is hard to gauge exactly how difficult it is to learn. Some skills are harder to learn than others, particularly when designers shift from 2D to 3D design, but each skill will be different for each student. Since much of the difficulty in learning a design skill is learning theories of design and iterating on designs and styles, the more design skills you learn, the easier each subsequent skill will be to learn.

The prerequisites for each individual will vary depending on the program. As a general rule, graphic design programs like Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator won’t have a ton of prerequisites. Web design skills, like Figma, will have graphic design skills as prerequisites (or will be taught alongside them), and motion graphics skills will require a significant amount of familiarity with computers and elaborate computer design tools (though likely not any program in particular).

The cost of learning design will vary depending on the kinds of programs that a designer seeks to learn. Students who only want to learn Photoshop will only need to license that program, while students looking to become proficient in all the major graphic design tools will need to license several different programs. As a general rule, most industry-standard graphic design tools are licensed through Adobe Creative Cloud; they will generally require students to pay a monthly subscription fee. While this fee fluctuates, it is generally $20 a month per program or $55 a month for the full suite.

Read about how difficult it is to learn design.

How Does Learning Design Compare to Other Fields?

The field that people most closely associate with design is the plastic arts, such as drawing or painting. While the two fields share a great deal of overlap in terms of philosophical skills, design more heavily emphasizes computer-aided content creation. This means that if you learn design you will spend as much time learning about the tools and functionalities of those tools as you will about the practice of creating visual art. Visual art students may naturally gravitate towards design and find that they have a lot of transferable skills, but the two fields are distinct in the kinds of tools they work with.

Design is also often associated with copywriting and content development. While these two groups of professionals often work very closely together, they are rarely performed by the same person within a firm or a company. Content developers are responsible for creating the outlines and strategies for content creation, while copywriters and designers build different elements within that content strategy.

A less obvious association with design is digital development. For most digital projects, designers work alongside developers to see a project through to completion since visual creativity alone won’t launch a webpage or an online advertising campaign. In most web design projects, designers are responsible for deciding how a project will look, and developers are responsible for building the code that makes that project work. The primary difference between the two is that learning design skills won’t require you to learn how to program, and learning development skills won’t require you to be particularly creative if you don’t want to be.

How to Decide the Best Way to Learn Design

Given that there are so many different kinds of design courses, students may need clarification about what their options are and how they differ. As a general rule, the kind of course you enroll in will depend on how much specific career training you are hoping to receive.

Students who want to make a career out of some element of design training will want to enroll in a career-focused certificate program. These programs teach clusters of skills that complement one another, such as Noble’s Graphic Design Certificate (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign) or their Motion Graphics Certificate (After Effects, Premiere Pro, Cinema 4D). These classes are ideal for students seeking career development training and leave the course ready to pivot to a new profession or professional field.

Students who want to narrow their focus and learn specific skills will want to consider enrolling in a skills training bootcamp. These classes are less career-oriented, so students won’t leave ready to start a new career. Still, they will leave with advanced knowledge of important design programs that they can complement with future design training. These courses tend to isolate specific design tools, like Noble’s Adobe Photoshop Bootcamp or their Adobe Premiere Bootcamp.

Students who aren’t entirely sure that a design course is right for them or want to get a high-level overview of the field before narrowing it down to a specific skill or subfield will want to enroll in a free online course. These courses will provide students with a low-stakes environment to learn the basics of a design tool, giving them a sampling of the kind of lessons they will learn in more professional training seminars. These classes aren’t replacements for immersive training, but they are a great way to acclimate oneself to the programs and fields before enrolling in a bootcamp or certificate program.

Learn Design with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

Students looking to master design skills can find the path to success through the expert instruction offered at Noble Desktop. Noble offers a wide array of design courses, from introductory bootcamps that will teach students the basics of an individual program like Photoshop or After Effects to career-centered design certificate programs that will give students all the tools they need to enter the professional world as designers. Noble’s classes are available in person at their Manhattan campus or through live online instruction. Regardless, all of Noble’s classes are taught by expert instructors who are present to help guide students through the process of learning design skills. Each course ensures small class sizes so students won’t fight for their instructor's attention, and all of Noble's classes come with a free retake option, allowing students to enroll in the course again, for free, within one year. This means that students will have even more time and opportunity to get hands-on experience and instruction in design skills.

Students looking to become Graphic Designers may consider enrolling in Noble’s Graphic Design Certificate program. In this class, students will receive introductory and advanced training in tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. These are the industry-standard tools in almost every field of print and physical design. Students enrolled in this program will receive hands-on experience working on real-world projects, such as designing signage, infographics, product packaging, logos, and branded merchandise. In addition, since this is a career-focused program, students will receive professionalization training, including one-on-one career mentorship and portfolio-building seminars designed to prepare students for entry into the job market.

Students looking to work in a more digital environment may wish to enroll in Noble’s Digital Design Certificate program. This course teaches students how to use programs like Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop and applies those skills to digital spaces, such as webpage layout design or user interface design. Students will learn digital design theories and philosophies and master necessary web design tools like Figma. This course also offers students the opportunity to receive one-on-one career mentorship. Students will build specialized design portfolios to position themselves as career-ready Web Designers and UI Designers. This course has no requirement for coding, meaning students can focus on the visually creative elements of web and digital design.

Noble also offers a wide array of certificate programs and bootcamps across all disciplines of design, including graphic design, web design, UX/UI design, motion graphics design, and video editing. No matter what direction you choose for your design education, Noble Desktop has a course built to suit your needs.

Graphic Design Certificate: Live & Hands-on, In NYC or Online, 0% Financing, 1-on-1 Mentoring, Free Retake, Job Prep. Named a Top Bootcamp by Forbes, Fortune, & Time Out. Noble Desktop. Learn More.

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