Mollie Vandor is the Associate Product Manager at Cooking.com. Prior to that, she helped launch Ranker.com, where she served as the Product Manager, amongst many other roles. You can reach her @mollierosev, on her blog, or on her latest addiction – Words With Friends, where she plays under the username “Mollierosev.”
While summer vacation winds to a close and students prepare to go back to school, the days of brand new backpacks and crisp notebooks are long gone for many adults. Although classrooms, teachers and tuition might be off the table, it doesn’t mean education needs to be.
In fact, the Internet itself provides a wealth of educational opportunities. Furthermore, long summer days and relatively relaxed offices might provide the perfect setting for web education. Just think, while other people are rounding out their summer tans, you could be ringing in autumn with a whole new skill set — in this case, web design expertise. Tans fade. Beefier resumes keep shining.
Here’s a look at some of the best web resources for web design education.
Design 101 is all about the basics: master the lingo, learn the software and familiarize yourself with the driving principles that govern good design. To that end, your first stop should be a survey course of sorts. Try the Psdtuts+ self-study curriculum, where you can soak up the basics of shape, spacing, rhythm, typography, color, texture and more. To reinforce those basic skills, check out the Albany Library Design Tutorial, a sort of interactive “design for dummies.” While the tutorial is a bit old school, technologically speaking, design-wise, it effectively covers the basics.
You may also want to learn a little bit about the grid system while you’re at it. The system is exactly what it sounds like: a grid or set of guides on which the elements of a web page are built. Working with the grid can help in mastering the art of clean, cohesive web design. And speaking of cohesiveness, you may also want to review Web Pages That Suck for examples of how not to utilize your newly minted design skills.
Once you’ve tackled design theory, get practical with Adobe Design Center. It has all the tools you need to turn that theory into design reality. If you’re more of a visual learner, investigate this collection of helpful YouTube Photoshop tutorials.
You’ve mastered the basics, which means you’re ready for some fresh challenges and inspiration. For example, participate in The Daily Design Challenge by pledging to take on one design-related task per day for a full year. Whether you design a new font, doodle a small graphic or create a new logo for a beloved brand, set aside a few minutes every day to keep your skills sharp and your creative juices flowing.
If you’re really looking for a challenge, Layer Tennis is the web’s most creative competition. Sponsored by Adobe Creative Suite, Layer Tennis pits two competitors against each other in a weekly match-up. Every fifteen minutes, participants swap a single design file “back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work.” A writer provides play-by-play commentary while an active community of design aficionados looks on, providing a great forum to witness inspirational creative design in action.
Next, use that creative inspiration to fuel some serious studying. MIT offers free online coursework in comparative media, in which you learn about the design principles of different mediums. Similarly, iTunes offers podcast lectures about aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Vimeo’s Smarthistory videos discuss everything from Representations of David and the Florentine Renaissance to Duchamp and the Ready-Made, because there’s nothing like a little art history to help you create design history of your own.
Once you’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of the basics, a background of art history and a fresh set of advanced skills, ongoing education can provide you with the tools necessary to showcase your talent, not to mention the additional innovation to advance your craft.
According to Smashing Magazine, “The résumé is the first portfolio piece that potential employers see, and if they’re not impressed, chances are they won’t look at the rest of your portfolio.” Smashing offers a great tutorial to ensure that your résumé showcases your design skills. While you’re at it, make sure your portfolio illustrates the best of your aesthetic abilities.
Nothing inspires your future work quite like taking in current innovative design. To that end, check out the creative collection at Designspiration. Tumblr is also a great resource for finding fantastic designers, and Quora’s active community of graphic designers engages in dynamic conversation about the industry. Finally, Twitter has a plethora of design people worth following.
Whether you’re looking to get a grip on design basics, or you want to sharpen your advanced skills, web resources can help you construct the perfect creative (and flexible) curriculum. And with the right smartphone or tablet, you can even study while soaking up the last of the summer sun. Now that’s what we’d call an advanced placement course!
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