I am working in graphic design for almost 10 years and I always feel like I'm missing something when working along side other designers who have studied the subject.

Are there any books, courses or tips that would help me strengthen my basics in design?

What I feel like i'm missing? The hierarchy of design. Grids I have taught myself but micro-typography is definitely missing. Photography and selecting a good picture, where is that line between a good amateur photo and a professional photo. How to choose the right picture. The art of storytelling in a design.

One perfect example is something I learned recently at where I work: I was showing a web mockup of a homepage to our art director and he flat out said(in german) "wenn mann nicht weiss, macht mann ein kreiss" which translated means "if you're inexperienced, you'll add a circle". And I had a relatively large circled element in the middle of my design.

I literally just recieved an email from 99designs saying my account has been put on hold because my designs lack visual hierarchy, typography, composition and color. This is pretty much the feedback I was looking for and will search now for answers to these.

  • It might help if you can describe what you're missing. Maybe also define what you do exactly as the term graphic designer is taken quite loosely these days. :)
    – Summer
    May 14, 2018 at 9:19
  • 1
    omg it was, facepalm......this is exactly why I'm posting this. I think I need to go back to school.
    – Boris G
    May 14, 2018 at 9:47
  • 4
  • 4
    How can you work for 10 years in design and then personally state you are missing critical skills like hierarchy, typography and image selection? Sites like 99designs exist precisely because way too many people are just calling themselves designers and move ideas from tutorials and blogs to clients with no actual reasoning. Just looking at the Behance feed doesn't make you a designer bro :)
    – Lucian
    May 14, 2018 at 11:17
  • 1
    @Lucian I just have. And I always noticed these holes in my theory etc. I have been doing alot of reading up of course that got me this far...but I can feel my base knowledge has those holes. I do feel a bit more qualified then those "graphic designers" who skim through behance though. janedoe I wouldn't worry, danielilio has a point, if it's justified then its acceptable, but it has to be justified. I thought mine was but in the end it wasn't. Some good advice here, and ask an art director for opinion if you are not sure. Would like to thank everyone for their feedback. Eye opener.
    – Boris G
    May 14, 2018 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


There are fundamentals that help one become a better designer: Painting, color and classical composition can help you define hierarchies in ways that make your work cleaner and more persuasive. However, I think the best way to become a better designer is to think like an art director. This is similar to how a good writer edits her own work over and over, and is her own harshest critic. If you are your own harshest critic, no other criticism will surprise you. It helps to work under a very good art director who can guide you, and who has the vision to tell you when to stop or change course.

It's said that children are often great at drawing, if you know when to take the markers away from them. When I evaluate designers as an AD, I see very frequently (and usually in males) the incapacity to pull back, to simplify, to edit oneself, and to stop. Where there should be one good idea, there are instead ten mediocre or bad ideas.

For any particular design job, the first goal is to find your best idea, and zoom in on that. Your idea for a food label should not be a collection of adjectives like "fresh" "modern" and "healthy". It should be a sweeping vision of what the entire brand requires, a visual hierarchy of type and form.

1: EVERY design job requires you to come up with a library of all possible design jobs going forward for that client. Never come up with a solution for just one job. If they have a brand that you must follow, then just copy their brand of course. But if they want something new, start with the hierarchies: Typography and color. Everything else must flow from there.

2: Out of many, find one. Always think your work is too busy, because it is. Take out anything unnecessary. Ask yourself why each element is there. When you have several ideas, choose one and throw the rest away. When you have many elements in a piece, pick the best and make it 4x larger and discard everything else.

Having a good idea and knowing how to separate it from bad ideas is more important than the technical execution of your design. This is what so few designers understand, but every art director knows. Imagine if you tried to tell a boring story using lots of complicated language. People would say, "get to the point". Now imagine you barely speak a language, but you tell a very interesting story using the words you know. People want to hear it, because the content itself is interesting.

When you use cheap visual tricks like circles around your content, you are cheating the viewer. You are saying "this is not interesting, but look here anyway". What you must do is find a way to make the content ACTUALLY INTERESTING. Because if you don't, no one will look anyway. So ask yourself, "what is interesting to me about this, and what image would make me care about it?"

I realize this sounds like vague advice; if I saw your specific project maybe I could be more helpful. But I think it's a fundamental misunderstanding among designers that simply to make something look good, or technically smooth, is to make good design... and that is the opposite of good design. Good design is simply good ideas. If you have no original idea about a project, you cannot make good design. So your hardest job, especially with a boring client, is to find the idea. The rest will follow naturally.


Graphic design has a history and studying it or reading something about it is a very good start. Some very good design works have a relevant historical background in terms of form and concept. My recommendation: History of Graphic Design by Philip Meggs. A very good book to have in your studio.

I'm agree with your art director, the big circle in the middle since Lucky Strike's logo from the beginning of the last century is a very common resource that you can sell to inexperienced or less knowledge public.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.