Crash Course in Graphic Design

Here’s my situation:

I work at a small mom & pop display company doing design (industrial and graphic) as well as sales and project management. We recently hired a new person to take on project management as well as graphic design. He has some experience with various software packages (illustrator, photoshop, indesign, flash, etc.) but he’s never had any formal training in graphic design theory. We don’t need a rockstar graphic designer, just somebody who can handle the basics of composition, color theory, layout, etc.

Does anybody know of a good resource for some basic training, either in person or online? Are there any books or magazines or anything else that might assist us in getting our guy going on the right track?

I really wish I could help you, but I just don’t think graphic design is a field you can “crash” into. In fact, I’m surprised I’m the first to bring up the fact that this concept is a little offensive.

There are plenty of designers out there, maybe your boss may think about hiring one of them. Software training does NOT create a designer.


Sorry to offend you, please allow me to clarify:

I know there are plenty of “trained and talented” graphic designers out there. However the position this guy is in is only about 30% graphic design and 50% project management. The other 20% is various “whatever needs to be done” type stuff (everybody from the owners on down has that 20% built into their schedules, we aren’t picking on this one person).

We don’t need or expect this person to be designing international ad campaigns for Nike or Apple. The type of stuff we need is simple and basic, which is as far as we need his graphic design skills to go. We don’t need someone with a BFA in Design, we are just looking for some simple options to get his skill level brought up a notch or two.

The company I’m at is very much a family and before we hire ANYBODY, we look primarily at their attitude and personality. If they are motivated, team players, we are willing to work around whatever specific skills they may be lacking. In this person’s case, we want to make an investment in him to bring those skills up a level. Bottom line is that he’s our guy - eager, willing to learn, and a great addition to the family.

What can we do to help him develop as a graphic designer?

Try this, buy him a book about Typography and a membership to AIGA. The AIGA thing will probably help more, send him to a few events so he can make some “rockstar designer” friends. Basically have the guy look at a lot of graphic design work, browse the portfolios here on Coroflot and at AIGA. A great way to learn quickly is to see lots of good work. Encourage the gentleman to think with a pen and paper, sketching doesn’t need to be a work of art, just a working sketch. The point is not to design in illustrator, but to have the idea before you begin with the computer and simply use it as a tool.

The typography book will help him to understand ways to communicate ideas without spelling them out.

Does that help you?

That absolutely helps, those are great suggestions!

Thank you!

Skyarrow -

sounds like you and i work in similar circumstances. our graphic designers typically work on receiving files from clients - getting them ready for production, then sending them to the appropriate printer in the correct format with crops\bleeds etc… this is mostly production work and therefore requires the person to know how filetypes\printing processes work - able to work on templates etc.

However many of our clients are startups - exhibiting for the first time - don’t have a strong idnentity or graphic standard - in which case the designer does need to actually create the artwork to be used. I think in this case the understanding of heirarchy of type is extremely important, also scale, appropriateness of context are things that need to be considered.

these things can be taught by explaining but like carrton said it would be best to SHOW examples, get him into looking for good design. Also maybe in contrast, find some examples of what NOT to do (ie use papyrus font)…
At the same time, it’s a chance to boost your own knowledge about graphics while he is learning, learn with him, train your eye, start dialogues about incoming art…


read this.

the thinking you describe about graphic design (paraphrasing- “i dont need a good designer, just someone to make stuff”), is a huge problem in the industry, and its unfortunate to hear you falling into the common trap of looking at graphics as something anyone can do with the right programs…

get someone on board who knows what they are doing and is skilled and compentent, or outsource the design work. the excuse the graphics is only 20% of the job, so not that important doesnt cut it. you wouldnt get someone who only an “ok” (unqualified, unknowledgeable) accountant to do your books, and also work part time making coffee, just because you dont have that much accounting to do…

just because a job is simple and basic doesnt mean it cant be good or challenging. if anything, those “simple” jobs are often the most difficult.



Nowhere did I ever even hint that because this guy has some software knowledge, he is somehow a qualified graphic designer. It’s because he isn’t trained or qualified for that particular aspect of the position that I started this thread in the first place.

To be frank, we interviewed a number of candidates for this position, most of them had been formally trained in design and did indeed posess the necessary talent to fulfill what graphic design needs we would have. However, they were all woefully lacking in any drive or interest in anything beyond design. That simply won’t cut it here.

Again, let me emphasize that this particular company is small and as such, we all rely on each other’s ability to function as part of a team. Therefore, when we look to bring someone else on board, the most important things we look for are personality and willingness to wear a lot of hats. Even if those hats are completely new. Openness to learning is all we ask.

So now we have the right guy on board. He is energetic, fit’s in with the rest of the team perfectly, and he is itching to get better at design. It’s exactly what we were looking for. Sure we would have preferred he have something more in the way of design training and development, but with everything else this kid brings to the table, I’d take him over most other designers I’ve ever met (including myself to be honest).

There seems to be a perception that we are somehow “too cheap” or perhaps misinformed to have hired a “real” designer. Let me just say that being a designer, with the BFA and the 8+ years professional design experience to back it up. I know plenty about design, and can with tell you that none of the “real” designers we talked to would cut it in this position. Period.

Software doesn’t create design… trust me, I am all too aware of that fact. If I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t be on the Core forums asking for help on how to help develop the guy we have. He knows the basic software, but we all know that isn’t enough. There is more to it and that is what I want help with.

sounds like the type of job that would be good for a recent graphic design graduate… right out of school first design job… eager to get a foor in the competative industry, will do whatever takes, good attitude… i know you’ve already hired the guy you want, I just wanted to point out theres a middle ground between someone with no design experience and someone with too much for the job (overqualified).

Why can we say Designers are Designers first Project Managers second but cannot say Project Managers are Project Managers first and Designers second?

I mean, just because we wear black turtlenecks and accesorize with cool glasses and shoes doesn’t make us important…

huh? sorry, i don’t follow your question. are you saying that designers and project managers are the same thing?


One shouldn’t have priority over the other…the issue isn’t what your role is. But rather whether or not you’re qualified for the role. It isn’t self-importance. I don’t apologize for having a degree and knowing I can design. Someone else can do the job, but the industry is getting diluted by under-qualified people doing design.

In the position discussed, the person in the management role should have a degree in (Graphic) Design but have the title Project Manager…considering they are Managing Design Projects.

Here’s something to “crash” into.






No. but I will use a footwear specific metaphor:

We can have Designers who design and develop footwear; but we cannot have Developers who design and develop footwear.

In the position discussed, the person in the management role should have a degree in (Graphic) Design but have the title Project Manager…considering they are Managing Design Projects.

But are they managing design projects? or just managing product? managing design projects or not their purpose it be able to manage projects rather than design…

If the primary function should theoretically determine the applicant’s and position’s responsibility (project management), why does the secondary function (graphic design) become the superannuating requirement for the position? (hence my snarky comment about us thinking we are really important because we are special in some particular way…)

Sometimes you only require (and can afford) a hammer and not a fancy air powered liquid cooled 50-nails-a-second nail gun to hang that 8’x10’ velvet Elvis in the garage ifyaknowwhatimean…

True. Although, I tend to think the analogy is more along the lines of:

You wouldn’t use a hammer to do the job of a putty knife.


you wouldnt take out someones tonsils just because you happen to have a scapel lying around, and the surgery is not that difficult compared to open brain surgery.


but …you CAN use a putty knife to do the job of a hammer in certain situations.

I’ve broken many a handle on a putty knife banging in errant nails and such whilst mudding. Usually Its not a problem because they are cheap and can be used even when the handle is broken.

and to put back to the thread: in the above case, which is the putty knife? The Graphic Designer or the Project manager?

In that case the Project manager is the putty knife because they are cheap, simple to use, have numerous applications and uses beyond their designed purpose and readily available in sufficient quantities should one fail miserably. Graphic designers on the other hand, tend to be bit more exclusive, a bit more expensive, harder to find and quite useless when you break something on them, or use them beyond their trained purpose…

The best book I’ve seen for a general overview of graphic design techniques is “Notes on Graphic Design and Visual Communication” by Gregg Berryman. It’s very short but visual. Although it’s an old book, the author covers the basics of graphic design like laying out grids, gestalt, flow, identity and type. I think it is all still valid today.

From your description, I don’t think the guy needs to go to AIGA meetings and see the latest trends. He just needs to know how to lay out a page in a professional manner. Am I right?


You are absolutely correct! We don’t need somebody who is going to be an “air-hammer” or whatever analogy one chosses to use. We just want to get our guy to posess at least a modicum of understanding of the basics of graphic design.

Any kind of starting points, references, training tools, etc. are exactly what I have been asking for. We are serious about getting him into a more formal program of design training and development, but to start with, what can we do.

I am a designer, have been almost all my life, but I’ll admit that graphics aren’t my forte. I can survive with doing some basic stuff, but I would never claim to be qualified to be of much use as a “teacher” of graphic design, hence the call for help…

This site indeed offers a ‘crash course’…

But don’t let him go around calling himself a ‘graphic designer’ afterward

There are some nice tips for beginners on there