Let me start off by saying this: a graphic designer is as essential (or even more) to a company as the product or service itself.
That statement might sound unreasonable at first. After all, what can pretty visuals accomplish when the product itself is of poor quality?
Well, it has much to do with human nature. Around 65% of people are visual learners. People in this group process information based on what they see and they formulate their opinions largely based on visuals. Without a strong visual identity, having an amazing product or a service means next to nothing to these types of people.
This is precisely why graphic designers will always be in high demand, especially in the digital age we live in. The top 20% of graphic designers already earn an average salary of $65,670 per year, and graphic design is considered the second most in-demand design skill by Dribbble.
The life of a graphic designer is certainly not a boring one. Besides excellent job prospects and respectable salaries, the role of a graphic designer offers plenty of other advantages:
- Possibility of working remote;
- Various specializations to dive deep into;
- Daily design thinking to help everyday problem-solving.
Graphic design is one of the defining skills of the digital era. That is why learning graphic design with online courses is a fantastic opportunity for anyone design-minded. There are superb online graphic design classes out there for all experience and budget levels, and in this article we’ll show you the best of them.
These are the best online graphic design courses:
- Best Overall: Graphic Design Specialization (Coursera)
- Best for Animation: Animation for Graphic Designers: How To Animate a Logo (Skillshare)
- Best Advanced Class: Online Graphic Design Course (Shaw Academy)
- Best Free Course: Graphic Design Basics: Core Principles for Visual Design (Skillshare)
- Graphic Design Masterclass – Learn GREAT Design (Udemy)
- Create a Knockout Graphic Design Portfolio (Creativelive)
- Graphic Design Elements for Non-Designers Specialization (Coursera)
Best Overall: Graphic Design Specialization (Coursera)
A game-changing masterclass for people wishing to start a career in graphic design. Offered by the California Institute of the Arts.
Let’s start the list with our pick for the best overall graphic design course. This class is delivered on Coursera, in collaboration with the legendary California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
CalArts is a world-renowned art university with an impressive list of alumni. Dustin Hoffman, Tim Burton, and Alison Brie just to name a few. And, if that wasn’t enough, David Hasselhoff himself graduated from CalArts. Yes, this is the university where “The Hoff” got his degree.
This course is comparable to a full-sized degree and takes approximately 6 months to complete. It is a comprehensive, yet immaculately constructed class for learners of all levels. The students start by learning the very fundamentals and end the course with their first professional portfolio project.
If I was to summarize the syllabus, I would use the word “practical”. In all the five courses, the theory is complemented by well-crafted assignments and practical exercises. But, despite the length and the amount of practical work, the class is still very engaging and easy-to-follow. The instructors know that to get the best out of their students, the presentation needs to be on point. And in this course, it is.
By now, it should be clear as to why I would rank this class as the top online graphic design course. It simply has everything. You get academically-ranked teachers, an engaging syllabus, and a certificate of completion. As a cherry on top, you will also complete your first professional project.
So, for students looking to both understand and practice the medium of graphic design, this course is a game-changer.
Best for Animation: Animation for Graphic Designers: How To Animate a Logo (Skillshare)
A freely accessible step-by-step tutorial to small-scale animation. For motion-based graphic design, it's our top choice.
This course by Skillshare is intended for designers wishing to cut their teeth in motion graphics. Getting a good grip on animation is essential to the skill set of a modern graphic designer. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens without movement.”
For example, in the business world, opting for an animated logo is clearly on the rise. To some people, animated logos sound cheesy. However, a well-designed moving logo could do wonders for a brand. For an example of an animation done right, look at the animated logo of Lux Investments. Simple, yet elegant. And, without a hint of cheesiness. So, learning to animate symbols could well be the eureka-moment in your career as a graphic designer.
The class itself is a step-by-step overview of the animation process. You will start by clearly formulating what you wish to accomplish with your logo. Then, you will learn to break down the layers of the logo at Adobe Illustrator. And, the class concludes at After Effects, where your “masterpiece-in-motion” will come alive. Sounds simple, does it? Well, it actually is surprisingly simple.
The instructor, William Kesling has done a great job in creating a course that is simultaneously accessible and detailed. The pace of the course is also worth highlighting. Kesling breaks everything down in great detail, yet never dwells on a specific part for too long. This makes for an engaging and inspiring learning experience.
All in all, for people with a career in graphic design, the course is invaluable. In a mere two hours, you can add a useful, possibly career-changing skill to your arsenal. But, the course does not cover all the fundamentals of design, and is laser-focused on motion design.
Best Advanced Class: Online Graphic Design Course (Shaw Academy)
A supremely detailed four-month course for advanced graphic designers.
With a Shaw Academy rating of 4.9 out of 5, this online graphic design course is worthy of a ranking in our list. The course has 4 modules, which take approximately 16 weeks to complete. However, do not let the extensiveness of the course intimidate you. It is a fully customizable course that allows you to set your own pace of learning. Plus, the course fully supports contact with the instructors. This customization aspect ensures that despite the comprehensiveness of the material, the classes won’t be overwhelming to the attendees.
Intermediate/advanced/proficient/diploma in graphic design. These are the four modules that one will be enrolling in this course. Unfortunately, the course does not contain a module for beginners. However, for more advanced learners, the materials are great. The focus of the tutorials is on the holy trinity (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Illustrator) of graphic design.
Feel as if you are already well-versed in using the “holy three”? Well, this course will be an eye-opener. An eye-opener to just how powerful commonly used visual design software can be in the right hands.
For students already adept at the basics of visual design software, the value of the course is unquestionable. It contains a tremendous amount of lectures hard-to-find elsewhere. And, as a cherry on top, the course comes with an internationally recognized graphic design certificate. My only issue with this class is that it does not contain a module for beginners. If Shaw Academy would add a novice-module, this class would be in the running for the top spot on our list.
Best Free Course: Graphic Design Basics: Core Principles for Visual Design (Skillshare)
A 36-minute crash course on the core principles of graphic design.
For a theoretical introduction to graphic design, this is one of the best online courses one can take. It is quick, concise, and informative. In 35-minutes, students will learn the core principles of good visual art. And, as dedicated e-learners know, getting a good foundation is key to learning a new skill.
So, what can students expect to learn in this introductory course? Well, it starts by laying out the five basic principles of graphic design. Namely symmetry, scale, framing, hierarchy, and grids. After the short introduction, students will get a more in-depth look into each of the principles.
For students who are interested in getting into visual design, yet feel as if they have no “artistic sense”, this is a mandatory course. In this graphic design course, attendees will learn to view the world through the lens of an artist.
For instance, nearly everyone in the western world takes snaps with their phone. But, have you ever realized that every picture (yes, even the blurred, grotesque selfies from last Saturday) tell a story? This is how the minds of visual designers work, they see the ideas and emotions behind the visuals.
And, this course will show you exactly how to start thinking like this.
To conclude, this course will not teach in-depth technical skills for aspiring graphic designers. Instead, this a very good theoretical course for learning the artistic process behind the work of a graphic designer. All in all, for people planning on learning graphic design in-depth, I would certainly advise in taking this course first.
Graphic Design Masterclass – Learn GREAT Design (Udemy)
An 18-hour, beginner-friendly introduction to graphic design.
For kickstarting a career in graphic design, “Graphic Design Masterclass” is a great choice. It is a highly acclaimed, best-selling course on Udemy. And for good reason. Lindsay Marsh has put together an engaging graphic design course that is heavy on both practical and theoretical material. Don’t let the word “heavy” scare you. In my opinion, the course is certainly a good choice for beginners. Why? For one, Marsh is an excellent tutor. She is very articulate and easy-to-follow, which makes attendance feel like an event you will look forward to. Yes, Marsh is that good of a speaker.
After a theoretical introduction to graphic design, the students will focus on three software. Namely Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. These tools are the key players in the world of graphic design. And, this course will give you invaluable practice in all three. My favorite practical design tutorial? Creating a custom cookbook in InDesign. This is just one of the examples of fun, beginner-friendly projects you will be doing in this Udemy course.
All in all, for people who value an engaging, yet informative online learning experience, this course is certainly worth a shot.
Create a Knockout Graphic Design Portfolio (Creativelive)
A five-hour course for creating the perfect portfolio.
As J. K. Rowling once said, “A good first impression can work wonders.”
In graphic design, the first impression of your work is your portfolio. Yet, that aspect of the craft is still critically underrated. A portfolio is not merely a collection of your previous work. In graphic design, a portfolio is the visiting card of the artist. It showcases his ideas, his work ethic, and even his personality.
Say, you are THE perfect candidate for a specific project. You have the credentials, ideas, and ambition. Yet, somehow, you are overlooked and an inferior candidate gets the project. What happened? Most likely, your portfolio was off and you did not give the correct impression of your work to your potential employer.
Luckily, we have just the right class to help you avoid situations like this in the future. For mastering the art of a good portfolio, this is one of the best online courses out there.
In 15 HD video lessons (total duration of approximately 5 hours), you will get a step-by-step tutorial on the process of creating a knock-out portfolio. You will learn to analyze your employers, target audience, your ideas, and your work. You will learn to think of yourself and your work as a brand. And, once you have figured out your brand, compiling an ideal portfolio of your work comes easy.
To summarize, for people already working in the field of graphic design, this is a supremely useful course. As I already mentioned, compiling a good portfolio is an art form of its own. And, this course teaches you exactly how to create the perfect portfolio to showcase your identity as a designer.
Graphic Design Elements for Non-Designers Specialization (Coursera)
A four-month course on key elements of visual design.
This Coursera class is offered by the University of Colorado Boulder, a university with five Nobel laureates among its alumni. This fact alone makes the class a worthy admission to our list of best graphic design courses. It is a comprehensive, and supremely engaging course.
The syllabus itself takes approximately four months to complete and contains four modules. All the modules are focused on separate elements of design. These are the basic, textual, graphic, and print/digital elements.
During each module, dedicated students will learn to master each of the aforementioned design elements.
To solidify the material, students will also take various quizzes and learn to critique several forms of visual art.
For understanding the creative process behind graphic design, this is among the best courses available. But, make no mistake, it is far from being a theoretical bore-fest.
Students will get their hands dirty as well. For example, you will experience first-hand, how the process of designing a professional business card takes place. Sounds interesting? It is.
So, who would I advise this course for? Both for beginners and for advanced learners. An online degree from a top-ranking university will surely benefit you in your graphic design aspirations. And, of course, being a smart-ass about the design of your friend’s favorite page is a bonus in itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding learning graphic design online:
Most online graphic design courses take less than 24 hours to finish. These are online courses focused on a specific niche of graphic design. However, for beginners, more detailed graphic design courses are a better choice. These types of broader online graphic design classes can take several months to finish.
Enrolling in an online graphic design course can cost anywhere between $0 and $30,000. However, having a large budget is not a necessity and some of the very best graphic design courses on this list are absolutely free to take.
Yes, you can. In this article, we have listed several resources for graphic design students of all levels. So, don’t let the fact that you have never opened Adobe Illustrator intimidate you. All you need to get started in this field is a willingness to learn, some creativity, and a high-quality online graphic design course.