How to self-study visual design?


There are so many things I’d like to get better at, and at the top of the list these days is visual design. There are plenty of online resources for learning how to code, but I’m having a hard time finding stuff for learning visual design.

Of course, an essential part of it is doing practice projects. Anyone have tips on what type of practice projects I should do? Or where to study/learn visual design online (or in books)? A graduated learning process would be fantastic.



Hey Doug,
I have an industrial design background and my visual design skills were developed through learning how to draw, paint and sculpt using a wide variety of hands on tools and methods- fine arts type stuff not design.

When I was at university we started with basic perspective drawing with ball point pens and basic form studies with paper and then we progessed to rendering by hand and making models out of blue styrofoam, wood, plastic etc.

Do I do this kind of thing in my day to day role as a UXer? No - but having those skills has changed the way the I see everything around me which allows me to communicate better visually. Does this make sense?

It’s not about learning how to do visual design itself, it’s about learning the skills that support the thinking required to do it well.

Practice projects? I would:

  1. Get yourself a colouring book. I do it every single day and it’s not only soothing but it also keeps my understanding of how things fit together nice and sharp- 15 to 30 minutes a day is all I do and usually in front of the TV
  2. Pick a random website and redesign it! And then pick another one
  3. If you see something that you find inspiring, save it somewhere and build up an inspiration library

There’s a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain- that we used at university during first year which was really good!

Hope this makes sense!



Good suggestions Ash!

My two cents is, that you don’t necessarily have to have brilliant design skills as a UXer, but it is important to be able to tell what works well together, and what doesn’t, the hard part is figuring out why!

As part of Ash’s #2, I would also maybe see if you can explain why the design of a website doesn’t look right or work well. For instance, is there no visual hierarchy? is tones of information crammed in with little to no white space? Looking at the gestault principles can also give you a starting point for why things may not feel right.


Agreed - it isn’t everything :slight_smile:

I’m also a huge advocate for picking something you enjoy doing and running with it! If this looks like fun to you, I say go for it but don’t stress if it turns out you don’t like it, there’s plenty of other cool things to try :slight_smile:


Thanks for the interesting take on learning about visual design principles. And I like your ideas for practicing, though I don’t see myself using coloring books!

Good tips on analyzing what seems like good design and why. Thanks!

All the job ads seem to want semi-unicorns and I’m a noob at all of this. And I’m looking to do some freelance work to beef up my portfolio and get some experience. So, I’d like to get better at the part everyone can see: the visual design.

I think I’ll do those practice ideas while doing some studying up on fonts and colors, etc.


Don’t knock it until you try it! :wink:
It’s nowhere near as childish as it sounds - there are some incredibly complicated and high quality colouring books out there designed for adults.


I think another thing that is really important about visual design for the web is knowing an understanding all the different types of interactions, the HTML CSS3 and Javascript can do. A flat image can no longer represent the ‘feel’ of a site. Its not really about coding just knowing what things are out there and how they work on different devices.

I also reckon that what Ash said is spot on…and to add, it also may sound weird, but I really like Origami, it has a structure and makes you think steps ahead, all a good part of the design process.


Origami is the best! It also builds spatial reasoning skills which are incredibly useful :slight_smile:


All good suggestions! I can also strongly recommend the book “The Non-designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams. It’s very approachable, unlike some of the high-falutin’ academic design texts, and it has activities throughout. Elements of that book were used as inspiration for the graphic design course that I studied 10 years ago. :slight_smile:


Matt–I think I read that book years ago, but you’ve inspired me to look at it again. Thanks!


Hi guys,

Some great suggestions, I would also advise collecting examples of the best graphic design. (Scrapbook, Screen shots).
But more than simply collecting them try and analyze them to figure out why they work, what is it about the layout, fonts, colour, images that make them stand out.

If you flicking through a magazine look for ads make you stop for a split second longer than others and try and work out why.

I use my phone and take photographs of books, billboards, posters etc anything that I find striking.

Have a look at these ads both from the 1960s VW changed the game with their ads. They began using clever messages, huge empty space, less text, simple layout and images, clean modern fonts.
If you glanced at these ads one will stick in your mind and one will not. For me the key to good visual design.

I’d also have a look at Ted Talks on visual design, there are some great one’s up there.




Those ads are amazing! This one is my favourite:


Paddy–Great ideas for collecting…and analyzing designs. And those VW ads are wonderful! Thanks.


Hi Doug,

I’ve also been trying to work on my visual design skills, as I know this is a real weakness for me… Of the various things I’ve tried, by far the best has been the FREE 40 day doodle course run by Adam Sicinski from iQ Doodle ( Each day there is a short lesson and then an exercise to do - it starts off by teaching you a very basic “visual vocabulary” and how to draw objects using this vocabulary, and gets progressively more difficult - by the end you are doing visual notetaking. My visual communication skills have improved quite a lot by spending 10 minutes a day doing these exercises, and I’m way more confident when wielding a pen!



Wow, that looks great! I’m signing up.

Also, I’m doing some phone app layouts for someone, and it’s helping me work on the digital/polished side of visual design.

#16 have a great resources for visual design, graphic design basics etc…


How is your learning going @dougc ?


vusualbug—Thanks for the suggestion of
Hawk—I’ve been out of town. I’ll have to get back into studying!


Heh, sorry for the nagging. You can just consider me your conscience. :smiley:


I’m taking an online course at designlab called Design 101. Pretty basic, but just what I needed to get me to focus and practice visual design. Also, over the six weeks you get four Skype calls with a mentor, and seeing other students’ work and commenting on it, reading others’ comments, etc make it a richer learning experience.

You can check them out at: They have other courses too.