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I'm a programmer, and I'm pretty good at programming. I can easily pick up most technical topics such as Linux, Systems Administration, Databases and of course, new programming languages. I even dabbled with 3d modelling and wasn't horrible at it.

However, I am awful at Graphic Design. I have no skill there whatsoever, and even after quite a few Photoshop tutorials I can't design a website (or anything else really). I'm wondering if I pour a whole bunch of time into it, if I can become a good graphic designer.

So what I'm looking for is anyone else who has done this, or advice, thoughts, etc.

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That aspect requires creativity and alot of understanding of human psychology –  ianace May 6 '11 at 3:30
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Only you can determine that. How could anyone on this site know what it's possible for you to do? –  Joel Etherton May 6 '11 at 10:19
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6 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Being a good artist is just as much a talent as being a good engineer. Some have it, some don't. Some can do both (fairly hard to come by).

Having said that, there are logical elements of design that you can learn to help you become fairly proficient at it. I mean, chances are that you won't find yourself getting a webby award for your designs, but you can get good enough by simply following standard design rules.

One of the first books that I read on design was User Interface Design for Programmers. It's old(ish) and a short read, but it still sticks out in my head as one of those things that I read that really helped me to start understanding UI design.

Learn color theory. Simply a must have if you're doing any design work at all.

Most importantly, rip off other designs.. I mean, find sources of inspiration ;) Check out some design-related sites and check out real artists designs. More times than not, when "borrowing" a design, I've gotten inspiration of my own and the output looks nothing like the original, but it's still something that I'm happy with.

Oh yeah, and grab a book or run through some tutorials on Photoshop, Gimp or Inkscape (whichever one you're doing). Generally speaking, I won't go into tutorials blindly - if I'm working on a "borrowed design", I'll look them up as needed: "Hey, I'm supposed to have a wood texture here - how do I do that?" kinda thing.

Good luck - it's a tough road, but doable :)

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Well it depends. I agree with what's been said before me: There are two sides to becoming a successful and good designer.

First of all: There has to be a certain amount of talent. You either have a feeling for what looks "good" and what looks "lousy" or you don't. It's not that different from programming skills. You either immediately get a sense of what algorithm to use or what design pattern to employ or you don't. Some people are better at this than others.

Secondly: There has to be theory as well. Even if you don't have that gutsy feeling about what looks good and what people wanna see, there is theoretical stuff you can learn. There is color theory, there is theory about what proportions people tend to find nice, and so on. Once again: The same as in programming. There are millions of books about good software design and about how to use feature X.

The more you can take from both sides, the better. If you're a natural talent then the theoretical side doesn't become that important. If you already know what looks good, and happen to hit the "common opinion", than you don't need to learn about the theory at all - it just works. However if what's looking really nice to you is perceived by others as bad taste, then you need to put a lot more effort into learning the theoretical background and follow that theoretical background.

So, the question for you should be: Do you have that talent of a designer? If you don't (and that's what I assume from reading your question, forgive me if I'm wrong): Are you willing (and able) to work through a lot of literature to get what it takes and continue? If you do then I don't think you can't be as successful as any other grpahic designer out there. It might take you a little more work than person X but that's no issue if you love what you're doing!

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Firstly like with engineers there is a spectrum of "professional graphic designers" out there from the bad where the most they can do is merge various images in photoshop to the amazing who produce award winning add campaigns. However as I said to a friend once, everyone can draw, to be able to draw well enough to get compliments is a skill and to do it well enough to get paid to do it is a talent.

Also similar to engineering the basis of the craft is a combination of understanding of a toolset and a knowledge of accepted theory. So as a graphic designer this would be a working knowledge of the tools of your chosen media, in your case digital imagery using photoshop, gimp etc. The theory would be proportions, perspective, colour theory, typography etc. This can all be learnt, though it may take some time. Mastery of these will leave you as a competent graphic designer.

However good graphic design can be said to follow the Pareto Principle 80% is theory and tools the remaining 20% is artistic vision, and its the artistic vision where the money is. "The vision thing" isn't as mysterious as it sounds. Partly this is just experience with the designer producuing a synthesis from their experience of other work and partly it's an application of human psychology; and off course there is that special X factor that makes the truly great truly great.

I would suggest to start with ditch photoshop, gimp etc. and concentrate on the theory and experience parts. You'll gain more sitting with a pencil and a stack of blank paper and sketching than you will learning how to crop and interpolate an image in photoshop. Read up on the theory and try and apply it: -The classic example of perspective is the view down a straight road, read the basics and pop outside and try and sketch one. -Get out those paints and start mixing them and contrasting them to explore colour theory. As in programming the more tools/languages you have the better, so explore other media such as sculpture and collage. As you can see a lot of this is experience and practice; practice with constructive feedback, so if you can find a local evening class or group to provide it externally even better.

While your doing all this you should look at what others have done around you. If you see something interesting on the street take a photograph, if there's an interesting bit in a magazine tear the page out and keep it, visit a design museam, look over the design books, all of these are building your "ideas bank". Later you can use these, partly for inspiration, but you can also try copying and then altering and extending them. The art world has a fine history of this kind of plagarism.

To sum up, to be good you need to master the theory and develope a knowledge of the environment. The tools used to achieve this aren't important and you should use the one you are most happy with, learn other tools later when they become useful to achieve what you want to achieve.

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From what I have read about the human brain and psychology( I am no specialist !)

The brain is divided into two halves each with its own specialization

  • Left side : logical and mechanical tasks
  • Right side: creative and intuvitive tasks

Engineers tent to be more left brain dominated, Artists are more right brain oriented.Of course this is a broad categorization. It does not mean that Engineers dont use the right side of the brain at all, it is just that they use it less while creative people use thir left side less.

Also there are a few people who use both sides equally: Leonardo da Vinci wasnt just a great engineer but also a great artist. Such people are also likely to be ambidextrous: Vinci could write with one hand and paint with the other. Gandhi could write in two different languages simultaneously with two different hands. They tend to be very rare and it is debatable wheter this is a born talent or can be developed.

The point I am trying to make is that Engineers are by nature poor artists. They are naturally more left brain oriented. They naturally use less of their creative right brain.

Personal experience: I consided myself a natural enginneer. I was born to break and fix things. Thats why I came into IT. I am a very logic-oriented person. In school I was a poor painter. I used to mosty score 3 or 4 out of 10 in drawing class and was glad that we didnt have to do it after the 7th year. Probably the same thing is true in your case.

Can you overcome this natural tendency? I dont know. I tried to learn to write with my left hand in order to develop my right brain skill(the logic being that right handedness is controled by the left side of the brain and vice versa) but I failed. Guess I didn't have the greatness of Gandhi in me :-P.

My adivce: Do try graphics if you would like to pursue a new interest or hobby, but dont punish yoursef if your painting does't end up in the Louvre :-)

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This is by all means possible but only if you have a creative gene. You need to find out whether you do.

A way to discover it to reflect on yourself continuously. What I mean is to try to switch on some sort of a debugging mode. Observe your feeling and emotions throughout your everyday experience - concerting things you see at home, on the street, elements of nature, ads you see around, merchandises, anything really even the design of everyday things. And while you're at it see if the style, beauty and harmony around touches you string.

Do you enjoy color compositions of the objects of nature? Do you like certain imagery? Do you perhaps find yourself on the thought that something is badly designed, either in its outlook or its function? Do you recognize good or bad usability? Do improvement ideas immediately pop in your head?

You need to do this for many months then you'll understand whether you have some potential. Things is, you can't be good at web design but generally lack some empathy with the environment around. If you have it, then mastering a specific art of design is merely a training. Watch closely the designs you like, reflect on your feelings, emotions, try to see commonalities which make you like or dislike them. Through this you'll learn how to approach a good design. Observe things, try them on your own, practice. After at least a year or two you may start judging your first results, not before. If it works, polish your workmanship further.

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I'm rather confused by your question. Do you actually want to design websites? It strikes me like you see it just as an additional piece of information on a resumé that should be part of your arsenal of tricks, rather than something you want to do.

Most things can be learned to some extent; there are guidelines and rules for everything, including graphic design. The talent comes in adding that something special which no one else sees.

Out of interest, do you do anything artistic at all, photography, play music? Do you recognise something well designed when you see it; can you see that some things are more clearly and beautifully laid out than others?

There's a wealth of things to look at on the web to give you a look and feel for what's possible. When you get that feeling, then the next question you need to ask yourself is do you want to do something that would apply that knowledge.

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