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Want to Learn Graphic Design? 8 Tips & Tricks for Beginners

Published by in category Daily, Design, DIY, Graphic Design | Comments are closed


For many of us, the thought of high school conjures memories of ample notebook doodles. Hand-drawn bubble letters, pictograms, and stick-figures would decorate homework, tests, and papers — and teachers, of course, were constantly asking us to knock it off.

And so, most of us did, perhaps because we figured out that we just weren’t that good at drawing on paper. But when some of us were in high school, we didn’t yet have the numerous digital options for “drawing” our ideas. But now, machines can help us bring them to life — and it’s become a career path for many people.

Graphic design is something that marketers can always benefit from learning, even without a formal education. In those cases, we enter a world of do-it-yourself education, with repeated recommendations like, “learn Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign,” or, “read a book about basic design principles.” And as much as those help, learning fundamentals, navigating new tools, and developing a personal style make for a tricky balancing act. New Call-to-action

That’s why we put together this list of tips that we wish we had received at the onset of our respective DIY graphic design journeys, along with some tools that can help you with them.

8 Tips for Learning Graphic Design

1) Always keep an ear to the ground.

As marketers, we already know how much there is to learn from influencers. After all, 49% of folks trust the people they know above anyone else for product or service recommendations, and in the digital age, that includes influencers.

Influencers — who according to NeoReach are “individual[s] with an online presence who … influence the opinions and behaviors of your target audience” — are often willing to share the secrets to their success in their content. If you make a point to listen to and engage with them, you’ll become more familiar with the online design world, which can help you discover more tips from other industry experts, become comfortable with relevant terminology, and stay on top of trends.

Wondering how to engage? Turn to Twitter or Instagram as a place to start conversations with these influencers. You never know who might respond to your questions — and any positive connection you make can only help you learn more. Following along and joining the exchange can naturally lead you to become a part of a design community that will support you throughout your journey.

What to Do Right Now

Create a targeted list of influential designers on Twitter, so you can follow their daily insights without having to pick out their tweets from a sea of friends, coworkers, and news sources. You can use the Social Monitoring tool in your HubSpot software to do this by following the people on this list, specifically as they discuss topics that matter to you.

Add a variety of influencers to this list — a mix of those who are well-known among most designers, those that personally inspire you, and those whose work you do not enjoy. That last point may seem counterintuitive, but consistently observing the work of that group can help you understand why you don’t like it, which is a key part of understanding design.

If you’re not sure how to discover designers to follow, try 365 Awesome Designers, which features the work of one designer each day.

2) Collect inspirational work.

Once you decide to learn design, start building a catalog of work you think is successful. That can be as simple as bookmarking images in your web browser, making a Pinterest board, or saving items to a folder on your computer. Like a list of influencers, a catalog of inspiring work will help you to identify trends — both past and present — in design as you begin to recognize patterns in the work of others. You’ll also start to understand your own personal style preferences and interests. If you find yourself continually saving infographics, for example, you might start looking into specific resources to learn how to create them.

Your catalog will also serve to inspire designs you create in the future, which is underscored by the idea that “all creative work builds on what came before” — a line from Austin Kleon’s TEDx talk. If you can reference items in your catalog quickly, you’ll be better equipped to begin your own projects.

What to Do Right Now

Get acquainted with leading designer portfolio sites like Dribbble and Behance. These platforms showcase an abundance of high-quality work from leading designers across the spectrum — everyone from web and UX designers, to graphic designers and typographers. The designers on these sites often provide insight into their design processes, which will be key as you start your own creations.

Setting aside time in your day to review these sites might be hard on top of your workload. One way to naturally work it into your day is to use the app Panda, which replaces your “New Tab” in Chrome with an aggregated stream of content from various sources, including Dribbble. Each time you open a new tab, you can discover and save something that catches your eye. Fair warning, though: An application like this might be distracting to some.

3) Dissect the process.

One of the most pivotal moments in my design journey was when I recognized that every single illustration, infographic, and icon I had ever ogled over was the product of someone mastering how to combine shapes and lines. That’s not to say that other factors don’t play a role — just wait until you try and learn meshes in Illustrator — but fundamentally, these designs were built up from simple shapes.

Analyzing the process behind a design will allow you to understand the steps required to produce a piece of work. Depending on your current skill level, you may have a leg up in knowing which tools were used, or which aspect was created first. But don’t let that stop you — examining the construction of a design will let you flex your creative muscle. Educated guesses will do far more to teach you than doing nothing at all. Plus, you’ll likely find that:

  1. You know more than you think you do.
  2. When you identify holes in that knowledge, you’ll know what techniques or concepts you need to explore to narrow the gap.
  3. There’s more than one way to achieve a desired result.

What to Do Right Now

A quick way to expedite the learning curve when dissecting a design is to download a free vector or PSD design resource, and dig through the layers to see how the designer constructed the object — you can find a number of those files here.

Once you pick your file, open it in Photoshop, then open the Layers Panel (which you can learn to use here) and un-collapse some of the folders, so that you can see the layers contained within them.

By simply changing the visibility of the layers, you can begin to see how the designer used each shape to build upon one another. You can also begin to understand how to use Photoshop Effects, like drop shadows and strokes.

4) Get specific with your online search queries.

As you begin creating your own designs, you’ll likely hit an obstacle where you think to yourself, “Hmm. How the heck do I do that?” Chances are, others have wondered the same thing. Like many self-taught disciplines these days, the majority of my own technical design knowledge was gained by watching a YouTube tutorial while I actively followed along.

The key is to be really specific with your searches, so you can find a highly relevant tutorial. Searching for something like “how to create an icon” might deliver really broad search results. Instead, type in exactly what you want to learn, like, “how to create a flat icon with a long shadow.” Boom.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 12.35.14 PM.png

What to Do Right Now

Browse a design terminology glossary to find the specific terms for techniques you’re trying to learn. That can help you find what you’re looking for online much more easily, in addition to helping you familiarize yourself with the language.

5) Reproduce your favorite work.

Let me be clear: Under no circumstances should you infringe on anyone’s copyrighted work. Never reproduce someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own.

That said, re-creating a design you like — without advertising it as your own work — will help you gain a deeper understanding of design technique. As with dissecting a design, it’ll help you learn new technical skills that’ll come in handy when you’re creating your own designs.

You’ll have to get creative with the method you choose to recreate the design, so this exercise will utilize both the left and right sides of your brain. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t duplicate a design exactly — remember, the process is more important than the result.

What to Do Right Now

Find a design piece you think is successful — which should be easy if you’ve created an inspiration catalog — and use your preferred piece of software to recreate it, whether that’s Photoshop, Illustrator, or another software. It’s really up to you to choose how you go about actually creating it. Use specific search queries and tap into your design community relationships as resources.

6) Embrace negative space.

white-space-in-web-design.jpgSource: Apptension

The proper use of negative space is often overlooked by beginner and advanced designers alike. What is negative space (or “white space”)? It’s the space in your design that’s not occupied by any visual or written element. A design piece that doesn’t incorporate enough negative space is like a sentence with no spaces – itisdifficulttocomprehend.

Jan Tischold, one the most influential typographers in history, stresses this importance: “White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.” The effective use of negative space is just as crucial as the design itself. Don’t believe me? It’s scientifically proven that white space improves legibility and comprehension.

What to Do Right Now

Learning to effectively use white space won’t happen overnight. You’ll have to try out different options to find what works for each design. First, I’d recommend reading some of the articles on this list, compiled by David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty. Then, try to put some of these theories into action.

Remember, there’s no hard-and-fast rule to using white space. It takes practice. Eventually, you’ll find that exercises in resizing elements of your composition and changing the layout will lead to a natural understanding of the amount of breathing room required.

7) Don’t be afraid to get feedback.

On some level, everyone is afraid of criticism. We’re afraid our ideas will get shot down and we’ll be sent back to square one. Learning to accept constructive criticism is no easy task, but it’s key to becoming a better designer.

Paul Arden, who was the creative force behind Saatchi & Saatchi at a pinnacle of its success, wrote this in his best-selling book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be:

If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea. And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong. Can you find fault with this?”

The takeaway: Design critics allow us to incorporate others’ viewpoints into our work and improve upon our ideas. You always have the option to reject the feedback — but considering it in the first place is what’s important. Design is subjective in nature, and just because someone else has a different opinion doesn’t mean you’re wrong. In fact, trusting your intuition is equally important. Just make sure you have the means to back up your design decisions.

What to Do Right Now

The best way to get feedback is to have a one-on-one conversation with an experienced designer. If you don’t know anyone in the design world, that can be difficult. Fortunately, the internet is filled with communities of designers eager to give feedback — that’s why we suggested finding influencers and peers to engage with.

If you haven’t had time to become a part of a community, now’s the time to step outside of your comfort zone and take action. offers a great feedback center where viewers can comment directly on your design. Other great forums include The Crit Prit, and Reddit’s Design Critiques.

8) Pick a passion project.

If you only listen to one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one.

We all know how hard it is to work on something you don’t want to. It just plain sucks. Picking a project that you aren’t passionate about will likely lead to frustration, as you’ll likely feel reluctant to devote the time and effort necessary to complete the project. And you would be remiss to ignore the fact that, at some point in your career, you’ll have to design something you may feel less than thrilled about.

But that likely won’t occur until you’ve learned a thing or two and have advanced your design skills. In the beginning, it’s OK to focus on passion projects.

When you’re taking the time to teach yourself graphic design and the consequences — like money lost on a wasted design class — are minimal, passion is a major motivator. When you pick something you care about, you’ll compel yourself to work through the frustration that comes with the sometimes tedious nature of design.

It’ll also provide direction. Time and time again, the hardest part of learning design is not knowing what to design. Be decisive and choose something you can work on for a length of time.

What to Do Right Now

Align your interests or current situation with your projects. If you’re a blogger, try creating the header image for your next post. Voice your willingness to work on an offer with your content team. Looking for a job? Redesign your resume and try to further your personal brand by creating a logo. There’s a number of ways to work design into your day, but it’s up to you to pick something that matters to you — don’t design something simply because you think you should.

And Above All

It’s important just to get started. It’s easy to be intimidated by the sheer amount of learning associated with graphic design, but remind yourself that even the most talented designers were newbies once, too.

What makes the creative field so special is that everyone’s journey is unique — there’s no one way to approach DIY design. You’ll find your own means to discern what you want and need to learn.

Design is an iterative process, so keep reworking your ideas and projects. As you progress, you’ll develop your own workflow and one day that design that took you all day will only take you an hour. Trust me, I’m living proof.

What other tips do you have for self-taught designers? Let us know in the comments.

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How to Create a Cinemagraph in 7 Easy Steps


As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Given that 65% of the population are visual learners, using images as part of your marketing can be the key to ensuring your message gets delivered.

As a marketer, you are probably already aware that images are important. They’re easier to digest than a bunch of words on a page and can help support your other content by telling a story in ways that words cannot. Whether in social media posts or in blog posts, images help your audience to better understand what you are talking about, plain and simple.

Cinemagraphs can take things a step further.

What is a cinemagraph, you ask? The artists over at – where the cinemagraph was essentially born – describe them as “an image that contains within itself a living moment that allows a glimpse of time to be experienced and preserved endlessly.”

In plain English, a cinemagraph is really just a fancy GIF – a file format often used to create short, infinitely-looping animations for the web. Check out the example below.


The finalized cinemagraph

GIFs and cinemagraphs can add to blogs and emails in a way that goes beyond a regular photo. And they really aren’t difficult to make, especially if you are already familiar with programs like Photoshop.

Let’s Get Started

What Tools Do You Need?

First, you are going to need to make sure you have what you need to create the cinemagraph:

  • A way to record video (I used the camera on my iPhone 6)
  • A tripod, or some other way to keep your camera stable and completely still
  • Adobe Photoshop (I am currently using Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 on my iMac)

I am still not aware of any freeware that is good for making GIFs, but there may be some out there. Feel free to comment if you know of any.

Step 1: Plan!

This may seem obvious, but a successful cinemagraph needs to be well thought out. If you want to create a cinemagraph that really captivates and mesmerizes your audience, you need to be sure you have a plan in place before you begin.

Consider your subject. Who or what is it? What action is taking place in the video? Which parts will move, and which will remain still?

Keep movement to a minimum. Cinemagraphs are all about subtlety; they aren’t flashy or too in-your-face.

Step 2: Record

A cinemagraph is like a living photograph. You want it to look professional.

Be sure you have plenty of natural light, or a way to provide ample light while shooting your subject. Shooting outdoors can often be the easiest way to get great lighting.

Use a tripod. You do not want your camera to move at all during this process, or it will ruin the effect of the cinemagraph and make editing more difficult.

When recording, your subject should move as little as possible. Keep in mind what you want the end result to be – what will move and what will not.

Now, how long should you shoot your video? You really just need to be sure you have a few good seconds of video where the subject is relatively still and any movements are steady.

To create the cinemagraph above, I shot two different takes, each about 15 seconds long. I wanted to be sure that I had at least 5 to 10 seconds where the water was flowing steadily enough that I could work with it easily during the editing process.

Step 3: Importing and Clipping

After emailing the video to myself, I imported it into Photoshop by going to File > Import > Video Frames to Layers and selecting the file.


A dialog box will pop up to allow you to clip down the video. I went ahead and cut it down since I only needed the middle of my video. If you don’t clip the video down now, you will do it later, but it helps to narrow down the number of video frames you will be importing if you already have an idea which part of the video you want to use.

I didn’t limit the frame rate at all, since I wanted to have as many frames to work with as I could.


Make sure the Timeline is visible in your window by going to Window > Timeline. You should automatically see the the Frame Timeline, but be aware that Photoshop also has a Video Timeline, and it works the same but looks a little different from what you will see in my screencaps.


Now that your video is imported, you will see all the imported frames in your Timeline (usually found at the bottom of your Photoshop window).

In the Timeline, you can set the speed at which your video will play back. I set mine at .08 seconds, because it seemed to be playing too quickly when I exported the final file. You may want to experiment with this to find the right frame rate for your video.


Set your Timeline to repeat Forever, so that your GIF will loop infinitely.


Now, play back the video in Photoshop and delete any frames you don’t need until you have just the exact clip you want to show.


It helps later in the editing process if you delete the layers that correspond to the frames you’ve deleted, that way they are out of your way.

I only ended up importing about 4 seconds of video, and it amounted to around 90 frames. Once I had deleted all the extra frames I no longer needed, I was down to 10 whole frames, which makes for a very, very short video.


Clipped down (before editing)

Step 4: Creating Your Mask

So now that your video is playing and repeating to your liking (for the most part), you can dive into making it a full-fledged cinemagraph.

To do this you need a layer to cover the layers on each frame and cover up all but the areas you want to see movement.

Select the first frame in your Timeline, and over in your Layers panel duplicate the layer that is visible in that frame. Drag it up above all the other layers, and make sure it’s visible. This will be your layer mask. I renamed my layer “Static Mask”.


Right now, if you play your video, there shouldn’t be any movement at all, because every frame is being covered up by the mask. You’ve essentially frozen your video, and now you need to unfreeze only the area where you want to see movement.

Step 5: Editing Your Mask

In the Layer panel, select the mask layer and click on the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of the panel (it looks like a rectangle with a hole in the middle).

Make sure this new white mask layer is selected, and not the image layer.


With the Brush Tool, you are going to begin painting over the areas you want to see movement. It helps if you are looking at one of the later frames in your video, since you will be able to see the different layer beneath your mask.

You are essentially erasing the areas that you want to see movement in, while keeping everything else static.

Just make sure that you do not use the Eraser tool. An actual mask is not destructive like the Eraser, and if you accidentally mask an area you later realize you want to move, masks are easier to edit.


My “Static Mask” layer, after I unmasked the areas in which I wanted movement to happen.

Step 6: Reverse (or Not)

Once you are happy with your mask, you need to figure out if you want your cinemagraph to reverse. This really depends on your subject and how it looks when reversed.


Cinemagraph When Reversed and Repeating


Cinemagraph When Only Repeating

To do this, you will select all of the frames in your Timeline, duplicated them and then reverse the duplicate frames. Now, your video will flow more seamlessly.


Step 7: Exporting Your Cinemagraph

To export your final cinemagraph, you will go to File > Save for web. The dialog box has many options but you really just need to be sure that you are saving your file as a GIF set to loop forever.

You can even play the GIF in the dialog box, just to get another look at your final product. Click Save when you are happy with the settings.

Congratulations on your new cinemagraph!


Your Turn

Have you played around with cinemagraphs? If so, share your examples by including a link in the comments. I’d love to see what you’ve done!

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