What is Graphics Design: Effective Guide for Beginners in 2020

graphics applications & graphics packages

What is graphics design? How do I become a graphics designer? What are graphics design packages? And many more are among the numerous questions often asked by young school leavers who want to pursue a career in graphics design.

Graphics design is more than knowing and mastering graphics packages and graphics applications. Though learning design packages are important to becoming successful in graphics designing, there is more to it.

One major reason for this is that most of them think that graphics design is all about learning CorelDraw. While some believe that it lies in their ability to learn tricks in Photoshop or Illustrator.

I decided to write this article to help those who want to pursue a career in graphics design & other graphics apps. And to provide answers to the numerous questions I am being asked concerning graphics designing and graphics packages. Let us start by answering the question, what is graphics design?

What is Graphics Design?

From my level of exposure in the field and experience, I can define the term graphics design as follow:

Graphics design can be defined as a visual representation of an idea.


It is a means of communicating to the audience the vision, mission, purpose, and values of an individual, group, organization, institution, or business using texts, colors, and images.

Other well-crafted definitions of graphics design include:

Graphics design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography, and illustration.


Graphics design is the craft of creating visual content to communicate messages.


Graphics design is the use of visual compositions to solve problems and communicate ideas through typography, imagery, color, and form.


From the definitions, four things are important and should be noted: communication, typography, color, and image. Hence, graphics designers manipulate the elements of text, color, and image in order to communicate with the audience.

How can I become a Graphics Designer?

To Become successful in graphics designing centers on inspiration. It is not really on your ability to master design packages. A graphics designer is required to create designs and visual images that inspire, inform and transform his/her audience.

Getting this done requires more than the knowledge of design packages and processes. A successful designer is one who has mastered the art of creativity, and the ability to apply them.

graphic designers steps to specialization

Master the art of creativity

Hence, the first thing is to Master the Art of Creativity. This will help you effectively combine the components of design for effective communication.

Master the skill of drawing and painting

Secondly, Master the Skill of Drawing and Painting. Before using graphics apps to produce a design, you should first put your design on paper. This will help you to figure out what you want to achieve in the end.

Drawing and painting are often, natural talents, which are developed if we continue with them over time. If you do not have traces of such talents, you can consider taking fundamental courses in graphics design. A good fundamental course will teach you layouts, typography, and colors.

Master typography, color, and layouts

Thirdly, Master Typography, Colors, and Layouts. It is important to learn and master typefaces and spacing, and where to place them in your design. Also, because colors convey different meanings, a graphics designer must learn how best to use colors to achieve the purpose of his/her design.

Take classes on communication

Fourthly, a good designer who lacks communication skills will never become successful. It is, therefore, necessary to Take Classes on Communication; including writing, presentation, and marketing. This will help you to communicate your design effectively as well as market them.

Connect to a graphics design community

Fifthly, you must know that you need others to succeed. Hence, you should Get Connected to a Graphics Design Community for collaboration purposes. Such a community will bring in exchange of ideas and skills, as well as help you further your career.

Learn graphics apps & packages

Sixthly, Learn And Master Suitable Graphics Design Packages. There are lots of graphics packages or apps out there to learn. You should choose the one that is most appropriate for you depending on your field. Sometimes you are constrained to what is available. For example, our graphics design course centers on Paint, CorelDraw, and Photoshop.

Practice always and show your worth

Finally, Practice Often And Never Lose Focus. Becoming successful in any field is synonymous with practicing. Without adequate practices, you will not master the basics of design. This is why any good course in graphics design is always loaded with lots of assignments. Even when there is no assignment, design something and showcase your designs for others to see. Your designs will pave way for you.

In addition, you need to practice with your chosen graphics applications. Graphics applications /packages such as Paint are a place to start for a beginner. You can begin by learning the basics of Paint here.

The points marshaled out here do not require that you must be a graduate. Though obtaining a degree in graphics design can be an added advantage, it is not often necessary. If you follow the under-listed rigorous process, you will become a professional graphics designer always sort out for.

What is graphics design terms and terminology?

Graphics design term and terminology is a word used in graphics design that conveys special meaning. When learning design, you will encounter different terms and terminologies that may confuse you. Most times, these terms may not be clearly explained in your design course, but you will encounter them as you work. We will classify some of the terms into the following groups:

  1. Typography: Typography is a term used to refer to type-out texts or written texts. Whether the texts are written by hand or typeset, all visual components that deal with text are referred to as typography. Here we will define serif, san-serif, script, monospace, kerning, ascender, and descender.
  2. Color: This refers to the visual composition of shapes and texts that make them look more attractive to the eye. Colors are an important component of design because they carry meaning that conveys ideas. Here we will define monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triadic, RGB, CMYK, and hue.
  3. Shape and Techniques: Shapes are used to drive home a designer’s idea. They include different kinds of drawn images at varying degrees. Techniques are the different combinations of styling used to layout the shapes and texts in the design. Here, we will define the golden ratio, resolution, knolling, proximity, white space, hierarchy, and scale.
  4. Image type and File format: When images are created in graphics applications, the image could be of a type. And when the image is saved, the package saves the image in a particular file format. We shall define a raster image, vector image, png, jpeg, tiff, gif, and ai.

What is Graphics Design Term?

Some terms are important when learning graphic design. In this section, we will define some important terms you should be familiar with. They include, but not limited to:

  1. serif: Serif is a name given to typefaces that have small decorative strokes at the end of the vertical and horizontal lines of a text. Examples include Times New Roman, Courier, etc. All graphics applications have the serif fonts.
  2. sans-serif: These are typefaces that do not have small decorative strokes at the end of vertical and horizontal lines. Examples include Arial, Helvetica, etc.
  3. script: These are beautiful typefaces that have cursive handwriting in them. Examples include script mt, Alex brush, etc.
  4. monospace: These are typefaces that maintain proportional or fixed-width space. All the characters in a monospace font have the same horizontal space. Examples include Consolas, Courier New, etc.
  5. kerning: This is a design term used to refer to space between two letters of a word. In the process of design, you may decide to increase or reduce the space between two characters in a word. For example, S pace. This process is called kerning.
  6. ascender: Baseline, ascender, and descender go hand in hand in the design. The baseline refers to the lowest point where the uppercase letters and most lower case letters sit in a text. When a lowercase letter extends above the main body of text, it is called ascender.
  7. descender: This is used to refer to the part of a lowercase letter that falls below the baseline.
kerning and ascenders

Other typography terms to look out for include leading, tracking, and x-height.

  1. monochromatic: This is a term used to refer to different tones of one color. You can decide to create a shape with different tones of green color. What then is a tone? A tone simply means the addition of gray to the purest form of a color. A tone of color ranges from lightness to darkness of that color.
  2. analogous: In a color wheel, there are colors adjacent to each other. When we combine 3 of these colors to form a color scheme it is known as the analogous color scheme.
  3. complementary: These are color schemes formed by using opposite colors on a color wheel.
  4. triadic: Triadic color scheme is formed when 3 colors evenly spaced in a color wheel are combined. In such a color scheme, one color will dominate while another supports. The third color is used as an inflection color.
  5. RGB: This is used to refer to the digital color displayed on a screen, say computers, television, etc. RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. Variations of RGB are combined to form the color of the object displayed on the screen.
  6. CMYK: As RGB is a color model for display, CMYK is a color model for printing. Printing devices usually use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black color combinations when printing objects.
  7. hue: This refers to the color in its purest form. Hue is the original form of colors in the color wheel, say, red, green, blue, yellow, orange, and violet.
  8. golden ratio: When creating visual designs, it is good to make them look natural and pleasing to the eye. The golden ratio is used to achieve this design pattern. Here, the content of the design is split into square rectangles in the approximate ratio of 1.62.
golden ratio - graphics design
Credits: Rachael Bran
  1. resolution: This defines the quality of an image. An image with high resolution is clearer and better but has a large file size. Resolution is defined by the number of pixels an image has. Other terms that relate to resolution include dpi (dot per inch) and PPI (pixels per inch).
  2. knolling: This is a method used by designers to create a symmetrical-looking design. It entails arranging different design elements at an angle of 90-degrees from each other.
knolling in design graphics
Credits: Eclectic Trends
  1. proximity: When placing design elements on a page, like elements are placed together. The closeness or sparseness of design elements in a page is called proximity. How spacious or close you place elements affects the beauty of your design.
  2. white space: This is used to define blank spaces in a design. A design is not supposed to cover the entire page. White spaces or negative spaces add to the beauty of the design.
  3. rule of thirds: This is a technique used by designers to determine a focal point for graphics on a page. A 3×3 gridline (3 rows and 3 columns) is usually used to determine the focal point. This is gotten by specifying the intersection of the lines.
  4. hierarchyThis is used to specify the importance of visual elements in a design. Different degrees are used to specify the level of importance of an element. For instance, the use of bold typeface, uppercase letters, etc. Also, the placement of visual elements defines a hierarchy in graphics design.
  5. scale: Graphics designers use a scale to create a relationship between two objects in a design. One object may be larger than another in the proportion of 3:1. It can be used to illustrate a pattern of influence.
  6. raster image: These are images that depend on the resolution. They can fade away when stretched. Learn more here.
  7. vector image: These are images that scale without losing their quality. Stretching them does not affect their resolution. Learn more here.
  8. png: Portable Network Graphics is an image format that supports millions of colors. PNG images do not easily lose their quality when they are compressed.
  9. jpeg: Joint Photographics Electronic Group is a popular image format that compresses images better. However, they cannot be used to create an image with a transparent background like a gif.
  10. tiff: Tagged Image File Format is used to produce a high-quality image for printing. It produces a better quality image than PNG.
  11. gif: Graphics Interchange Format is used to create images that have a transparent background. It also supports animations. But it can only support 256 colors.
  12. AI: This is a vector graphics image file format of Adobe Illustrator. Designs created with the Adobe Illustrator graphics design package have a file extension of .ai.

Which area of Design Should I specialize?

There are different types of design in different sectors, ranging from large industrial design to light graphics design. Each of these areas has different graphics applications. You can choose any of the graphics applications popularly used in the industry.

Your area of specialization depends on the passion, skill, and creative ability. Some people would want to design cars and airplanes while others want to design buildings, yet others want to design textile materials and logos.

areas of design - what is graphics design?

There are about seven (7) areas of specialization for designers. A designer may decide to overlap or concentrate in a particular area. They are:

  1. Industrial/ Product Designers: These are people who specialize in designing products for industrial production. Product designers design products ranging from: consumer electronics, household appliances, automobiles, machinery, etc. Think of those who design your mobile phone, tv set, cars, etc. such people are called product designers.
  2. Architectural and Interior Designers: These are people who specialize in designing buildings. They design the layouts and fittings for different sizes of buildings. Some go as far as selecting the furniture, painting, and other building accessories befitting for such buildings.
  3. Animators: People who specialize in this field create animated movies and video games. Think of Shrek and Beauty and the Beast cartoon movies.
  4. Motion Graphics Designers: They specialize in creating designs that add movement to static images, text, etc. Think of the opening sequence of a movie. Such people can create storyboards, promotional videos, product demos, etc.
  5. Instructional Designers: These are people who understand how teaching and learning take place in a classroom. They use such experience to create instructional materials such as training videos, course tutorials, workshops, etc.
  6. Web and Interactive Designers: Those who specialize here are those who understand technology and scripting languages used to create websites and webpages. They specifically specialize in front-end web development and explore areas such as user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
  7. Graphics Designers: This is the most popular area of specialization for a designer and our area of concentration. These are people who create logos, banners, flyers, etc. We will explore the different types of graphics design below.

What would you love to design?

From the different areas of specialization explained above, it will take passion, skill, and creativity to specialize in one.

Passion has to do with what you love, not necessarily what brings in greater returns. What would you love to design? What would you love to be associated with? What will give you greater joy, confidence, and prestige? Would you love to design cars and airplanes, buildings, logos, t-shirts, or websites? Focusing on your passion will help you determine your area of specialization. It will also lead you to choose suitable graphics applications for your specialization.

Skill deals with what you know. Most times, skill imposes a constraint on one’s passion. What do I mean? You might have an interest in designing a car or airplane, but do not have access to training. In this case, you are handicapped. Thus, your area of specialization will depend on available skills and training. This is why graphic design is the most popular of all the areas listed above. In order to acquire suitable skills, you need requisite graphics applications to run with.

Finally, it is good to be ambitious and to aim high but you can’t go beyond your capacity. Creative thinking is important in the field of design. It will distinguish you from other designers. Most people copy what others do, but to be original requires creativity. Every designer must build up his/her creative energy in thinking and in practice in order to excel.

What are Examples of Graphics Design?

An example of a graphics design depends on the type of design. There are six (6) major types of visual designs a graphics designer can make. Each of these types of design is illustrated below with an example.

graphics design packages - types

6 main types of graphics design

  1. Corporate design: This type of design is used to create a brand identity for organizations and businesses. Examples of design under corporate identity include logo design, business cards, letter-headed paper, and corporate newsletter. You can use any of the raster or vector graphics applications to achieve this. But vector graphics applications are more suitable.
  2. Publication design: This includes all forms of short and long publications. It uses a printing medium to bring information to the public. This type of design also includes electronic books. Examples of publication graphics design include books, newspapers, magazines, ebooks, annual reports, etc.
  3. Marketing and advertising design: This includes graphics design centered on designing marketing and advertising materials. Design materials include digital and print for online and offline campaigns. It is a very sensitive type of design because its purpose is to win customers to a brand or product. The success of a marketing campaign, to a large extent, depends on the marketing materials. Examples of graphics design in this category are fliers, banners, billboards, brochures, infographics, ads in newspapers and magazines, etc.
  4. Product packaging design: This type of design is used to create product differentiation in marketing. It is also a sensitive type of design, because it should be appealing to customers, and conveys product information. Examples include product labels, cover labels, cans, and bottle design, etc.
  5. Illustration design: This type of design is used to create graphics composition or patterns for communication purposes. This type of graphics can be found in books, buildings, and textiles. Examples include illustration in a book cover, concept art in a building, and design patterns in a t-shirt.
  6. Environmental design: We use this type of graphics design to connect people to different locations. It informs people on how to navigate to locate their destination. Examples include signage, transport navigation, stadium branding, etc.
environmental graphic type

These examples enumerate the types of design a graphics designer will create. As a designer, you can also switch or combine other areas of design. Nothing should limit you.

What are Graphics applications and graphics packages?

Graphics applications or packages are application software used in graphics designing. Graphics designers use these electronic packages to aid them in the process of design. This software has powerful design tools that aid in creating and editing visual designs on a computer. There are numerous graphics packages or graphics applications. A graphics designer can choose the one most appropriate and suitable for him.

Which Graphics applications should I learn?

Aside from learning the concepts of drawing, typography, colors, layouts, and communication, a graphics designer needs to master one or more graphics applications/ graphics packages. This will aid him/her in creating better and accurate designs.

As a prospective graphics designer, you should master at least one of these graphics applications/ packages. In most cases, you can learn more than one. This is the case with most designers I have come in contact with.

graphics design software packages

Some of these graphics applications/ packages are popular within a given locality. Choosing a popular graphics application/ package within your locality will help you in the following ways:

  1. You can easily get the design software package at a cheaper price or even for free.
  2. You will be sure to acquire training on the graphics applications/ packages within your area of jurisdiction.
  3. You will meet people in your community who are already using the same graphic package.

From my experience and interaction with other graphic designers, the following graphics applications/ graphics packages are mostly used.

  1. CorelDraw: A versatile and robust design software package any designer can use is CorelDraw. It enables you to create virtually all types of design as a graphics designer. It creates vector graphics of any kind. It is one of the most popularly used graphics apps in my locality. Though it is very expensive to purchase, it comes as a suite called CorelDraw Graphics Suite. There are different versions, as a beginner, you can start with a lower version. The good thing is that it is easy to learn, however, it does not have a mac version.
  2. Adobe Photoshop: Adobe Photoshop is popular for image editing among photographers. Graphics designers can use it to smoothen, combine, and enhance images. However, it is used to create raster graphics. Photoshop is popularly used by graphics designers and photographers in my locality.
  3. Adobe Illustrator: If you can afford it, AI is a vector graphics solution that is used by professional designers. It has rich features, including design templates that make it easy to create designs in minutes. It is suitable for creating corporate designs and illustrations. As a beginner, this is not a tool for you but is worth considering as you improve.
  4. Inkscape: This graphics design software package can be used in place of Adobe Illustrator. It is rich-featured and easy to use for beginners. The best part is that it is free. If you do not have access to any of the above design software packages, you can simply download Inkscape here. It has windows, Mac, and Linux versions.
  5. Adobe InDesign: This design software package is popularly used in the print industry. It is used to create layouts for digital and print media. You can use InDesign to design posters, magazines, brochures, annual reports, etc.
  6. Gravit Designer: This is a vector graphics design app that has both online and offline platforms. You can use the Gravit Designer to design virtually anything. Though it is free, it has pro features that are not active in the free version. As a beginner, you can choose the free online platform and begin your journey as a graphics designer.
  7. GIMPGIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free open source graphics design that can be used in place of Photoshop. Though not as professional as Photoshop, a beginner can use it to edit images. It has functionalities such as noise reduction, image enhancement tools, cloning, etc.

There are many design software packages out there, but as a beginner, any of the above can get you started. You can start with the free apps.

Graphics apps for different design areas?

What if I Decide to Switch to Other Design Areas, Which Design Software Package Should I Use?

Different design areas utilize different design software to create visual communication with their audience. In this section, I will list out different design software packages you may learn depending on the design area you want to specialize in.

  1. Specialization in the area of Industrial design will require you to learn Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs. Examples include AutoCADSolidWorks, and CATIA. AutoCAD is easier to come by within my locality. In fact, Santuze Engineering coach people in AutoCAD for free.
  2. If you want to specialize in the area of Architectural and interior design, then learn architectural software programs. Examples include AutoCAD, ArchiCADSketchUpSmartDrawEdraw, etc.
  3. Those who wish to specialize in the field of Animation are welcome to learn 2D and 3D animation software packages. Examples include Photoshop, MayaAfter EffectBlenderGoAnimateMotionBuilder, etc.
  4. There is a close relationship between animators and Motion graphics designers. Both can use the same software package. Hence, here you can learn Illustrator, Photoshop, Maya, Cinema 4D, etc.
  5. The field of Instructional design is growing by the day. Many organizations are developing tutorials and product illustration videos. To specialize in the area of design, learn any or more than one of the following software packages. Adobe Captivate, Camtasia, Expression Encoder, Movavi, etc.
  6. The field of web designing is highly tasking. It requires you to learn web technologies and some software packages that will aid your design. As a Web and interactive designer, you should learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.

We have free courses in web designing (HTML and CSS). You can enroll and start your career as a web designer.


Designing covers a broad spectrum of areas that one can explore. Beginners have a great opportunity to pursue a career in design in the following areas: graphics design, industrial/ product design, web/ interactive design, animator, motion image-making, instruction video making, or architectural and interior designing.

If you choose to be a graphics designer, follow the processes explained in this article, you will definitely excel.

As a follow-up to this article, which area of design would you prefer to pursue in your career. Let us know in the comment section below.