Welcome to class!

It’s a new era of graphic design. In a discipline that has always grown with, and been defined by technology, the computer is now one of the sole forces moving the medium. We are now able to teach ourselves and work for ourselves, from wherever our computers may be. Oh, and it’s free. Thanks internet!

Here we have compiled a design course just for you, featuring all the steps we believe will make you an even more killer designer than you already are.

We will:

  1. Start with principles of design
  2. Build skills with hands-on tutorials
  3. Get into your client’s head
  4. Grow your freelance business

Although most of these online educational options will not grant you a degree, some of them have the option of acquiring a certificate of completion. Plus… you have more freedom to accomplish the readings, tutorials or lecture viewings at your own pace and within your own busy schedule.

Alright class, lets begin!

1. Start with principles of design

Duke Graphic Design Principles Index


Let’s get started with your basic design principles. Here’s a great source from Duke University, an Ivy League school in North Carolina. In this index, there are chapters which function as mini-lecture slides.

You can go all the way through, or jump ahead to an area you are particularly interested in, like Use Color to Create Memorable Moods.

About Design Principles


While less official, About.com has released a great series on the principles of design (along with a whole bunch of other graphic design basics).

some great articles on the basics of graphic design. You can click through for more posts featuring graphic design principles and examples.

AIGA: Graphic Design Theory


AIGA provides yet another great article, this time on the theory of design, a great way to back up your practical knowledge. Read about how our current society has changed the way we communicate with one another.



If you’re interesting in learning about the background of your profession, knowing design history can inspire you – as well as give you ideas as to where graphic design is going in the future. That’s where Graphic Design History can help.

2. Build skills with hands-on tutorials

Compiled here are tutorials on how to learn Adobe Suite, logo design in general, and even some intro lessons in website coding.

The first tutorial, and first step, any graphic designer should take, should be drawing and sketching. These basic courses on introduction to the arts are incredibly helpful in getting your ideas out of your head, onto paper and into your computer.



This is a Coursera course on introduction to art, complete with a certificate of achievement at the end. It’s 7 weeks long, 5-7 hours a week, and starts on May 27th, 2013. However, there are constantly new courses being made available on the site. Just give it a good click around.

Academic Earth


As a graphic designer you can’t overlook the power of the sketch. And as a video-lecture viewer, you can’t overlook the enjoyment attained from a great British accent. Academic Earth’s video lessons are short and to-the-point, so you have plenty of time to practice on your own.

Veerle’s Blog


Veerle’s Blog from a Belgian graphic designer whose career has moved around all areas of design — from sketching and illustration all the way to web design.

Getting Started In Illustrator” gives you a great intro to Adobe Illustrator. This will teach you the Pen Tool tutorial, complete with exercises and great visual assistance.

Other categories of tutorials from the same blog include:

… among many others. This is one of those blogs that is definitely worth more than a few click-arounds.



Skillshare is one site we love! It has real people offering classes, from their personal skill sets in an online course forum. Some of the current offerings include:

There are always new classes being posted, so be sure to keep checking back!

Vector Diary: Illustrator Training Course


Vector Diary is just that, a diary. It features 30-days worth of Illustrator tutorials starting with the most basic What is Illustrator, all the way to Day 30 with Final Project — Creating a Logo. There are even weekends off scheduled in so you can literally learn along with the blog.

Layers Magazine


Layers Magazine is an Adobe-sponsored site which gives a blog full of tutorials. There are tutorials for:

…and everything from the Adobe Suite.

The site is easily navigable by those familiar icons at the top of the site. There is even a free tip of the day email you can subscribe to.



Learnable is a great resource for everything from:

If you’re feeling ambitious you can also dive into the world of web coding. While not a must for graphic design (or on 99designs), web design is one of the most lucrative areas in design these days, and one that will earn you a pretty penny.



Codecademy is 1 of the best choices for diving into web coding, as it provides simple activities, starting at the very basic, to get you adjusted to web language in a way that almost makes coding seem like a fun game (something you might not have always thought of as fun!)

25 tutorials to build up your design skills (99designs)


And lets not forget this little gem from 99designs that has 25 tutorials hand-selected from the web to be geared exactly towards you, our 99designers. With your particular skill set and goals in mind, we made this collection for you to get to know and love.

3. Get in your client’s head

It is important, when designing something for a company, to understand what your client is thinking. Getting their logo designed is just a step in the long process of marketing their product or brand.

By understanding the rules and tips the customer is using, you’ll better stand out from the pack and get you the extra push you need to make the perfect design.



Study.com is a website offering classes with video lectures, readings and even an exam at the end of the course that can grant you real college credit, acceptable at almost 3,000 universities! This course will teach you the basics of marketing, production, everything your client is considering.

The New Rules of Branding Your Business Online (Inc.)


This article on the rules of branding for the internet, from Inc.com, is exactly the kind of articles your clients will be reading before working with you. If you already know what they’re looking for (i.e. consistency over edge), you’re 1-step ahead of the game.

4. Grow your freelance business

Finally, you have to think about your freelance business! Graphic design is no longer just knowing good design, but also about branding yourself with your own portfolio and getting good client feedback. These sources will help you take the extra step in getting yourself ready for the competitive world of graphic design.

The first thing you need to do is create a portfolio, whether that be your 99designs designer page, a personal website, or a physical portfolio of your work.

12 Steps to a Super Graphic Design Portfolio (UCreative)


YouTheDesigner walks you through different ways to create a wow-worthy portfolio for your next in-person client interview. From choosing the right portfolio case to the labeling and placement of your work, this article will help you take your digital work offline.

Creating A Successful Online Portfolio (Smashing Magazine)


Smashing Magazine is a site full of wisdom specifically for graphic and web designers. They feature this article on creating a designer portfolio, but also have many useful tutorials.

50 Beautiful and Creative Portfolio Designs (Smashing Magazine)


Another gem from Smashing Magazine, here’s and article with 50 great portfolio examples. If you’re advertising your design skills, its best to show just how well you can design for the #1 client — yourself!

3 Simple Questions to Manage Client Expectations


A simple post from HOW Design on how to deal with your clients.

What Is Branding? Defining Logo, Brand Identity and Branding (Visible Logic)


Get to the bottom of what branding really is – and how your logo design fits into it all – with the help of Visible Logic.


In this new era, there is simply no end to the knowledge that can be attained. Aside from these sites, there are certainly countless others not even touched upon here. We encourage you to pop around the sites we’ve posted here. There’s tons of knowledge to be had. All you have to do is grab it and its yours!

Do you have any self-teaching design sites to share?

Header photo: bjornmeansbear (via flickr)