There’s an age-old adage that says “a picture is worth a thousand words.” For graphic designers, this philosophy rings true. It’s certainly one of the first lessons they’re taught when taking graphic design courses.
There is so much more to graphic design than meets the eye. Literally. To excel in the field, a graphic designer must grab the attention of consumers and keep it. Like all other skills, getting to this point of competence is not achieved overnight. It’s learned and cultivated through years of hard work.
Fortunately, there are tons of graphic design courses that can help aspiring graphic designers reach this level. If you want to be a graphic designer, read on to discover how you can advance your career in graphic design.
What Is Graphic Design?
Graphic design is the communication of ideas to a target audience through visual compositions. Great graphic design must exhibit a sophisticated interplay of color, line, and typography. It must also convey a story, promote an idea, or inspire its audience. This is what makes graphic design essential in any business.
For any company to take off, it must be able to communicate what it can offer to its customer base. After all, a business won’t have any customers if no one even knows it exists. But no customer would want to read pages upon pages of reports about what a company can offer.
Enter graphic design. Good graphic design boosts awareness of a company with just a single image. It sets a company apart from its competition. So, how exactly do you create one? As with mastering any skill, learning is key.
Best Online Graphic Design Courses
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) entered the educational sphere in the early 2000s in a bid to bypass the gaps within the traditional education system. Their defining appeal is their accessibility and affordability.
If you type “graphic design courses” on your search tab, you’re likely to find yourself presented with millions of search results. So, we’ve narrowed down your search by listing both paid and free graphic design courses below that have garnered the highest user ratings.
The Free Method
With the proliferation of digital learning, you must reap as many benefits as you can to advance your skills. A good rule of thumb when searching for courses online is this: free content first, paid content second. There are tons of platforms online that provide high-quality graphic design courses for free. Below are our top picks.
Online classroom Udemy offers a wide range of free courses in graphic design. If you’re a beginner, then Art Fundamentals is a great place to start. As the name suggests, this free graphic design course lets you in on the process of creating digital art by teaching you the fundamental software techniques used by designers.
The course entails an hour of on-demand video divided into five sections. Each of these present bite-sized lessons, including the basics of sketching, design principles, and still life value study.
To supplement your learning, you should also check out Udemy’s Photoshop Fundamentals. This course walks you through the core functions and tools of Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop is one of the go-to tools of designers so this will be worth your time. A bonus: it’s only 38 minutes long.
There are countless other free graphic design courses on Udemy. What’s great about Udemy is how it displays user ratings for each course. This gives you an insight into the quality of the courses so you don’t get lost in the search.
OpenCourseWare is perhaps one of the most sophisticated online learning platforms, known for the high-quality content it offers. This is because OpenCourseWare is the digital embodiment of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s course content.
The class lets you learn graphic design in practice by redirecting you to sample websites where you can pick out parts of the web page design that make it stand out. Of course, you also have to pinpoint areas that need improvement.
Canva is a reliable tool that has helped students and teachers create visually pleasing digital content, such as posters, presentation slides, storyboards, and so on. With its Canva Design School, users now have unlimited access to Canva’s free course content, advancing the idea that creativity can be learned.
If you need an introduction to graphic design, Canva’s Graphic Design Basics course is made up of 12 lessons that teach you the basic design know-how. These include videos that show you how to use font styles to match your message, how to pick colors to fit your theme, and how to use visual space to enhance your content.
To understand a field, it isn’t enough to know about current trends and techniques. You must also know the history and culture embedded in it. This course is part of the Graphic Design History and Methods Program and was created by faculty staff from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
As the name suggests, it provides an introduction to graphic design, specifically how it grew and changed over time. From the origins of text and graphic design to the universal forms and expressions of design, this course will give you a deeper understanding of the field of graphic design.
The Paid Method
As with everything in life, nothing good comes free. If you’re serious about cementing your skills in graphic design, you should look into taking paid and specialized graphic design courses. Below are some of our top picks.
Certificate of Completion: Available
This course entails 19.5 hours of on-demand video in addition to downloadable resource materials and a certificate of completion. Its curriculum covers an in-depth discussion on typography, color theory, and ad design principles, among others.
Students are also trained to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, all of which are essential for graphic design. One of its newest features is a section on word mapping and brainstorming techniques to enhance creativity in branding design projects.
The Adobe CC Masterclass is another useful course from Udemy priced at the same value. It offers 13 hours of on-demand video and projects that teach you how to navigate the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud products. These include Adobe Photoshop, XD, Illustrator, and InDesign.
Cost: $29.99/month after a 30-day free trial
Certificate of Completion: Available
LinkedIn Learning Lynda is another avenue to learn graphic design. Completing the course promises a solid foundation in the elements of graphic design. These are color, typography, and layout. It also includes essential training on the use of the latest Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator software.
The course is composed of 11 sessions for a total of 29 hours of coursework. Each session is taught by different instructors. Upon subscription, you’ll gain the option of downloading the videos on your phone. This way, you can learn essential graphic design skills anytime and anywhere.
Cost: $49/month to continue learning after 7-day free trial ends
Certificate of Completion: Available
Free Option: The specialization can be audited for free. When auditing a course, the course materials will be accessible to you. However, you will have no access to graded assignments nor earn a certificate of completion.
This is not a course but a bundle of courses offered by CalArts. To boot, the program has five free courses that expose you to the full breadth of the graphic design field. Courses include the fundamentals of graphic design, introduction to typography, introduction to image-making, ideas from the history of graphic design, and brand new brand.
Students are encouraged to spend three hours per week when going through the courses. This means that you would need approximately six months to complete the program. The specialization includes a hands-on project which you’d have to accomplish to earn a certificate.
Cost: $49 per month to continue learning after the seven-day free trial ends
Certificate of Completion: Available
Free option: The specialization can be audited for free. When auditing a course, the course materials will be accessible to you. However, you will have no access to graded assignments nor earn a certificate of completion.
This course is one of the four courses covered by the University of Colorado’s Effective Communication Specialization. As it’s also accessible through Coursera, students have unlimited access to its lessons and exercises.
The course is designed for beginner-level students and requires approximately 27 hours to complete. Included in the syllabus is a module which tackles the tricks of the trade. That is, teaching you the process of composition and how to prioritize both visual content and the message the design seeks to convey.
Top Online Graphic Design Degree Programs
If you have the opportunity to go the extra mile, looking at online graphic design degrees should be your next step. Most entry-level graphic designer roles will require at least an online degree in graphic design to qualify.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of these online so finding available programs is not a concern. All you have to worry about is deciding which university to attend. Now, several factors underpin this decision. There’s the cost of attendance, time commitment, and accreditation.
The last factor is perhaps the most important consideration. You don’t want to be paying thousands of dollars for something that will eventually prove powerless come job-hunting time. We know taking all these factors into account may be confusing. So, we’ve compiled the best university-offered online graphic design courses to help streamline your search.
Program: Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design and Media Arts
Cost: $320/credit hour
Credit Hours: 120
Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
SNHU’s online graphic design program focuses on the three pillars of the field: art, storytelling, and commerce. Key graphic design skills are honed throughout the program. These are design thinking, digital media, branding identity, and professional practice.
The program also leaps beyond the traditional practices of design by offering two concentrations you can choose from. These are web design, and 3D modeling and animation.
What makes the program stand out is its low barrier to entry and flexible structure. Applicants for the program do not need to pay for the application process nor present SAT or ACT scores. In terms of accessibility, course materials are open for viewing 24/7.
Program: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design
Cost: $782/credit hour
Credit Hours: 180
Accreditation: Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
As a student of this SCAD degree program, you’ll learn the core principles of graphic design, including the fundamental components of design theory and typography. Aside from the creative aspect of graphic design, this program also emphasizes graphic design entrepreneurship.
Students are taught how to maximize their use of communication tools to streamline their business models, from pitching their ideas to marketing and manufacturing. Students also learn the art of branding from industry leaders.
Alums of this online graphic design degree program are currently employed in top companies worldwide. These include Apple, IBM, Ralph Lauren, Amazon, and more.
Program: Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Communication
Cost: $499/credit hour
Credit Hours: 120
Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
This is a portfolio-intensive program which seeks to produce career-ready graduates. The curriculum takes students through the fundamentals of drawing, typography and layout, digital media, and motion graphics. The content is the result of consolidated input from industry experts, employers, and scholars.
Completion of the program sets students up for two career options: graphic design and communication management. Hence the name of the degree.
Conclusion: Are Graphic Design Courses Worth It?
A picture is worth a thousand words. For graphic designers, however, a more fitting adage would be: A picture is worth a thousand bucks. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic designers earn $52,110 per year, on average. Those in advertising, public relations, and related services earn more.
Graphic designers are crucial in any business. To introduce another adage: “First impressions last.” Presenting poorly-created ads or logo designs to your consumers will not make your company stand out. Visually-pleasing designs will.
Remember, appearances are what people notice first. A story that’s told over tens of pages might be better grasped through a single picture. Visual images, then, are the fastest route to the target audience. To this end, graphic designers are indispensable.