Learning Resources for Design Beginners
Sarah June Fischer    |    May 10, 2019
In college, my minor was “visual communications,” but it wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to focus on a career solely in design.
It’s been years of constant practice, reading, observing, studying, and striving to get better (and I’m starting to suspect this is the new normal). Now, several years into my career, I wanted to share the resources that actively helped me become a better designer and that I still reference on a regular basis.
Every resource in this list is freely available online (or accessible through the local library, as is the case with a couple of books). I definitely think that, as you dig more into design, you should support fellow designers who are publishing courses, books, and tools to help their peers. However, if you’re just exploring, there are plenty of free resources to get you started. Once you’re in it a little more, it’ll be easier to recognize which resources are worth investing in.*
I’ll add more resources as I go (or perhaps publish resources for intermediate designers as a Part 2), but for now, these are the resources that helped me be more confident and skilled at my craft during my “beginner” years.
Books & Blogs to Read
About Face is the first interaction design book that I read, and it continues to be the one I recommend when people ask what resources they should check out. It’s a fantastic overview to the breadth of interaction design. The 4th edition was published in 2014 so some of the examples may be outdated, but a lot of the information is still relevant, especially for beginners who are just stepping into this world.
This book by Don Norman is on every designer’s must-read list. It opens your eyes to exactly what its title implies: the design of the things we use every day. It made me realize that design isn’t about making something look good—the purpose of design is to make something work well for the people using it.
Get familiar with this list from Dieter Rams. Better yet, print the list out and stick it by your workstation.
Erik Kennedy has a full UI course you can enroll in, but he also gives away a bunch of free content that’s really high quality and easy to follow. Also, sign up for his newsletter, because he packs them full of helpful info.
I think Tobias van Schneider was the first designer I started following. His blog features more advice on the “soft skills” of being a designer, instead of how to use specific tools. He also has a lot of advice around freelancing and demystifies the design hiring process at specific companies.
Videos to Watch
Nothing is more helpful than watching a designer talk through the improvements they are making to a specific UI, and that’s exactly what Steve Schoger delivers in his tutorials. The early ones are really quick (~15 minutes) and he talks you through they why behind his decisions as he improves a specific design. Follow him on Twitter, too, because he also shares UI design tips there.
Platforms to Get Inspired
Dribbble is the first and last place I go when I’m designing something new. I go there first for inspiration and ideas, and I go there last to share whatever it is I’ve just made. It’s a great place to be inspired.
Tutorials to Try
I love how much Illustrator does for me when I’m creating a new illustration, like creating a textured edge with the Roughen effect (I’ve been using this a lot lately). There are so many tools in Photoshop and Illustrator, especially the ones tucked away in the menu. The below tutorials helped me not only discover what’s possible in these tools, but how to make things quicker.
This tutorial (which I followed almost two years ago) introduced me to some really helpful functionality in Photoshop that I’d never used before. After learning how to create a brushed metal effect, I made a replica of the thermostat in my apartment. (Side note: the explanation of Vector Masks in this article is poor. I just used a clipping mask for those portions instead.)
The helpful thing about this tutorial and the one above is that you’re learning how to build something. Instead of “here’s how to do this one thing,” they demonstrate how to get a professional polish to a complete design, whether that be an icon or a complete user interface.
This isn’t a specific tutorial, but I’ve stumbled upon Every Tuesday videos so often in my search for “How to do X in Illustrator” that I just go straight there for Illustrator tutorials now. Teela explains in detail how to achieve specific effects in Illustrator, and it’s great if you know what you what to make but not how to get there.
Again, this isn’t a specific tutorial, but a great channel to follow. Like Teela’s site, Zimri’s videos kept popping up as I’d search for help on some Illustrator task, and he shares a lot of good content on a bunch of topics.
Tests to Take
When you’re ready, test out what you learned! The below visual design tests have explanations in them, so I won’t go into the details here. They’re each a great way to test and train your eye, and fun to come back to, to see how you’ve improved.
I hope this list was helpful! I’d love to know if it was. If you have comments, questions, or (constructive) feedback, ping me on Twitter!