Learn Design Theory

A Comprehensive Guide to Start Learning Design Theory

Every choice that a designer makes has a specific effect on the audience. Design theory is a system that explains how and why this happens. It gives designers a deeper understanding of how the different design elements can communicate a specific message. Designers who understand design theory can easily create compelling work. In this overview, you’ll learn more about what design theory is, what it can do, who uses it, and how to add knowledge of design theory to your professional toolbox.

Discover the potential of studying design theory to advance or start a career in various industries such as advertising, video editing, and website creation. Learn how mastery in design theory can allow for better creative choices and effective communication of designed messages to audiences.

Key Insights

  • Design theory is a system that explains how and why a design works, enabling designers to understand how their choices can impact an audience. It includes elements such as alignment, repetition, contrast, hierarchy, and balance.
  • An understanding of design theory can enhance careers in diverse fields like advertising, video editing, magazine publishing, and website creation, among others.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be almost 25,000 openings for graphic designers each year over the next decade. Employment in web development and digital design is also expected to increase by 23 percent in the same period.
  • Mastering design theory can take varying amounts of time depending on the student's experience and dedication. Live classes, live online classes, and on-demand design theory classes are some learning options available.
  • Noble Desktop offers free resources for a basic understanding of design theory including seminars on their official YouTube page. They also offer a variety of paid classes that provide more in-depth knowledge, available both full-time and part-time, online or in-person at their New York City campus.
  • A designer's understanding of design theory can dramatically impact their earnings, with certificate programs in design offering comprehensive instruction. Such programs can cost up to $5,000, but many institutions offer payment plans.

Design theory is a system that explains how a design works and why it works that way. It gives designers a deeper understanding of how various design choices can communicate a specific message. If you've always wanted to learn design theory but need help figuring out how to get started, this guide is for you. Here, you'll learn more about the various ways to learn design theory, free resources to take advantage of, and careers that commonly use design theory.

What is Design Theory?

Design theory is a system that explains how a design works and why it works that way. Every choice that a designer makes has a specific effect on the audience. For instance, a design can communicate, direct, invite, entice, or excite the viewer. Design theory is a way to understand how and why this happens. It gives designers a deeper understanding of how various design choices work together to communicate a specific message. 

When studying design theory, users will learn about design's key elements, including alignment, repetition, contrast, hierarchy, and balance. These elements all have a specific effect on an audience and are an important part of communicating a message in any design. For instance, contrast emphasizes particular aspects of a design or evokes certain feelings in the viewer. Balance can create a feeling of tension or stability, both of which affect the viewer in different ways.

Designers who understand design theory can make better creative choices because they know how these choices will affect an audience. They combine a knowledge of design elements with the specific purpose a design intends to achieve. Thanks to understanding how design works, designers can create a finished product that looks the way they want it to and does what they intend.

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What Can You Do with Design Theory?

Design-related careers exist in different industries, and design theory is an essential foundation for many jobs. Designers work in fields like advertising, video editing, magazine publishing, and website creation. They create an array of different products, including advertisements, website graphics, and product packaging. Some designers work on digital designs, such as social media graphics, while others design for non-digital products, like books or business cards.

Almost every industry needs designers, so there will likely be a design job to match every interest. Web design is one popular field that involves creating and maintaining websites. Motion design is another popular design career. In this job, designers apply graphic design principles to filmmaking and video production. Augmented reality design is a newer design field. Designers who work in augmented reality enhance the real-world environment with virtual content, helping to improve the way people interact with the world.

Careers that Use Design Theory

Design is a part of every industry since everything created or produced must first be designed by somebody. Some industries use design to communicate information, while many companies develop websites and social media pages to keep consumers informed about their products. Design also persuades audiences to react a certain way, such as in advertising. Another way design theory functions is by companies that create entertainment content, such as filmmakers or app developers. Overall, designers who understand design theory are vast and found almost everywhere.

Since design is a part of so many professions, tens of thousands of design job openings are in the United States every year. Officials predict this trend to continue. For instance, according to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the next decade, there will be almost 25,000 openings for graphic designers each year. For web development and digital design, the agency also predicts that there will be a significant number of job openings each year, with overall employment expected to increase by 23 percent in the next ten years.

Why Learn Design Theory?

By studying design theory, designers can learn to create better designs. This field of study gives students a deeper understanding of the different elements of an image and how these elements work together to influence the viewer. For instance, colors can be combined or contrasted in various ways to create certain feelings in the audience. With the knowledge of how color and all the other parts of design work, professional designers can make better creative decisions and produce designs that effectively communicate messages.

The principles of design theory can also help designers solve design problems. Every design project includes certain challenges or frustrations. Still, designers who understand why they are using various elements in their design are better equipped to solve any problems they encounter.

Designers who know design theory can talk about their designs confidently and knowledgeably because they understand how and why those designs work. This can be beneficial during a job interview because a designer can confidently explain a portfolio. It can also give designers an advantage when presenting designs to clients or employers. A strong understanding of design theory can also make designers more attractive to employers and clients because it allows them to present their work more effectively.

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How to Learn Design Theory

There are numerous ways to learn design theory. For most students, the most effective type of design theory education comes from a live class, where they can receive real-time instructor feedback and have the opportunity to collaborate and network with other students. Live instruction doesn’t work for everyone, though. Some people aren’t able to commute to a class, while others can’t fit a live course into their schedules. Those who don’t have in-person training options near them can still enjoy the benefits of live instruction by opting for a live online class. This type of instruction still allows live interaction while providing the flexibility to learn from any location.

Students who need a more flexible option can choose an on-demand design theory class. Participants typically need to be more self-motivated in an on-demand course since these classes let them work at their own pace. However, many find this flexible schedule more compatible with a busy schedule.

Noble Desktop offers a number of free resources on the topic for students who want to get a basic understanding of design theory before committing to any class. Its official YouTube page has free design seminars, such as How to Get Started in Graphic Design, and free tutorials on other design-related topics, including its Intro to Type Classifications.

Read the full guide on how to learn design theory.

Free Introductory Design Theory Course Online 

Users serious about learning design theory may want to invest in a professional training class. However, there are many free online options for those who would like a free introduction to the topic before committing to a paid course. Noble Desktop provides free tutorials and seminars on its YouTube channel. These include a seminar on typography and Get Started in Design, a tutorial that gives viewers an overview of the many different types of digital design.

Other websites also offer free design theory classes. For example, Udemy has graphic design classes that cover design theory. Coursera also teaches several different design classes, including user interface design. Some providers offer introductory courses for free but require users to pay for their premium content.

Free design classes are a valuable resource, but students must ensure that any information they access online is reliable and current. Because the internet is so accessible, designers can benefit from a wealth of free information. However, the ease of putting information online also means that not all of it is credible. Before watching a tutorial or reading an article online, students should research the source of that information to make sure that it is trustworthy.

Read about more free design theory videos and online tutorials.

Level of Difficulty, Prerequisites, & Cost 

Some people think that design is just about being creative or artistic, but designers need to learn many different skills and theories to start creating their own designs. Mastering these skills can take varying amounts of time, depending on the experience and persistence of the student. Some students might be able to learn design theory quickly, while for others, the process might take years. For all students, practice is an essential part of mastering design theory. Formal education is also necessary for most people.

Design theory has no formal prerequisites; however, some design classes may require students to have certain skills, such as knowledge of specific design programs or applications. Many design classes focus on a particular type of design, such as web or graphic design, so students will probably need to narrow their design interests to one of these fields to pick a class.

Just as the time required to master design theory varies widely, so does its cost. Many design classes include design theory instruction, so students wanting to pursue this field typically have some options. Certificate programs are one of the more comprehensive types of classes. They usually take longer to complete than other types of programs, but they give students a good understanding of the fundamentals. Certificate programs can cost up to $5,000; however, many schools offer payment plans.

Read about how difficult it is to learn design theory.

How Does Learning Design Theory Compare to Other Subjects?

Design theory is about how and why designs work in certain ways. It is not the study of specific design languages or tools like Python or Photoshop. These languages and tools are essential for designers, and there are many ways to learn them. For instance, Noble Desktop offers different bootcamps and classes where students can learn Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and other popular Adobe design applications

Design theory classes teach students the effects of various design choices and how they can use design elements to communicate a specific message. However, in contrast to design languages and tools, design theory is a more theoretical field of study. Students of design theory learn the theories that explain how the different elements of design work together to communicate a message.

How to Decide the Best Way to Learn Design Theory

Designers who want to learn design theory have some different options. The decision about which learning path to choose will depend on what they plan to do with their design skills. Students also need to consider cost since tuition for design classes varies widely. In addition, course selection will be influenced by how much time students devote to their design education. Design classes range from short sessions that only last a day to courses that require months of full-time study.

Those who are just getting into the design field and aren’t ready to invest a lot of money in classes can find some free courses that will give them a basic education on design theory. For instance, Noble Desktop provides free design seminars that give students a good overview of various design topics. These include Intro to Figma and Get Started in Motion Graphics.

For many people, free design theory classes aren’t enough, and they need to invest in paid courses. Paid design classes give a much more in-depth understanding of the topic and leave students well-prepared to work in their chosen field. With paid classes, students have knowledgeable instructors to answer questions and often receive additional mentoring outside of scheduled class time. Noble has a wide range of design classes, both full-time and part-time, live online or in-person, at its New York City campus.

Design classes vary in complexity. Some are shorter and designed to fill a skill gap or help designers advance within their current roles. For example, workshops like UX Design in a Day or bootcamps like Motion Graphics Portfolio Bootcamp give students a shorter and more intense education in various design fields. For those who want a more in-depth understanding of design theory, there are longer classes, such as Noble Desktop’s certificate programs. These include the Graphic Design Certificate and Web Design Certificate. These comprehensive programs teach fundamentals and help students start building a portfolio.

Learn Design Theory with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

No matter your schedule or learning style, you can find a design theory course at Noble Desktop. The school runs many different in-person classes at its Manhattan campus, as well as a variety of online courses. Whether online or in-person, all class groups are small and feature instructors who are experts in their fields. In addition, Noble offers a free retake option, where students can choose to retake a course once within a year. Students who opt for the free retake can gain additional design skills without paying for another class.

Design classes come in many different forms. Design bootcamps are one popular way to learn design theory and other design skills and can be a good way for students to master new skills quickly. Graphic Design Portfolio Bootcamp is just one of many different design bootcamps offered by Noble Desktop. In this class, students learn graphic design theory and techniques. For students interested in other types of design, Noble provides a long list of different bootcamps, including a Sketch Bootcamp and a UI Design Bootcamp.

A design certificate can be a good option for those who want more in-depth training. These courses generally run longer than bootcamps and provide a deeper level of design education. Digital Design Certificate is one of Noble’s many certificate classes in the design field. This course is intended to create well-rounded Digital Designers and includes vital design concepts and theory. Like many other bootcamps, it also provides job support.

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