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The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

by Mike Jansen

Recently, a non-creative professional (an accountant) asked me what is visual design ‘isn’t it simply images and icons,’ he said. As a creative professional for more than a decade, I started explaining the depth of design, the conversation was left mid-way due to an urgent meeting, and my colleague genuinely asked ‘so without design, everything will be there but it would be ugly?’

I agree, as members of different departments, we two have different areas of expertise. Nonetheless, after having similar conversations with many of my colleagues and friends, I realized that visual design is perceived only as something that makes things pretty. 

Yes, ‘making pretty’ is a part of it all, but there is a lot more to it than mere aesthetics. 

Before we dive into what you need to become a visual designer, let’s get started with the concept of visual design. 

Introduction to Visual Design: Strategic and Appealing Designs

Besides enhancing the aesthetics, visual design is what makes your website or application usable for your users. In a more precise and deeper sense, it focuses on the visual effects of your website and application, which supports your users in their journeys to engage with your brand

Statistically speaking, the Social Media Examiner Report (2016) found that 74% of digital marketing professionals leverage visual assets in social media marketing. Additionally, 31.7% of marketers consider visual content an integral aspect of their marketing strategies. To top that, 35.5% of professionals predicted to invest more than 1/3rd of their budget on visual content.  

If your user experience is strengthened enough, your customers will choose you over your competitors. To highlight the bigger picture, visual design, when done correctly, leads to an impenetrable increase in brand loyalty and company profits. 

Read more: The Shocking Truth About How Web Graphics Affect Conversions 

Your Day as a Visual Designer

As a visual designer, you bring life to brands by representing the brand’s tone of voice and messaging via visual design elements. Also, it is advisable to explain the concepts and strategies that go into the background of the designing process. As you attach reasoning to why your designs will achieve the goal, you make sure that your clients see the effectiveness of your designs. 

As more and more businesses are planning to strengthen their online presence, a visual designer is much needed to enhance the usability of websites and applications. When you do this, it is very important to know who your clients’ end users are and target your design as per the same. 

While a visual designer is engaged in all the activities that are related to brand representation, most of your work might fall into graphic and UI design departments. 

Your job responsibilities might not necessarily entail working on print design, but it is for the best if you develop skills in that aspect as well. As for other skills required to become a visual designer, let us move to the next section. 

Skill Development: Visual Design Elements You Need to Know

Though, as a visual designer, you will work on brand presence and its design based on specific brand guidelines or style guides – which will differ from brand to brand and client to client, there are a few elements of visual design which remain similar in most cases. 

To increase the chances of your success as a visual designer, you will need a lot of practice and expertise concerning elements of visual design. Let us start with what these elements are: 

Line

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

A connection between two strokes that turns into a line (straight, curved, wavy, or zigzag) is the first on-paper step of creating your designs. As a line is a building block of your entire design, it is important to get it right; getting back to improve your lines might lead to redoing all your work from the beginning. 

Based on your client’s brand and its tone of voice, you decide on aspects of your lines: if they will be dotted, thick, curved, thin, textured, smooth, etc. 

Shape

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

Mostly two-dimensional, shapes are areas in your designs that are self-contained. You might think of shapes as taught to us in schools: circular, rectangular, octangular, and the rest of the basic shapes. Nonetheless, as you further explore the visual design industry, you will see that shapes can come in unimaginable forms. 

In fact, researchers have analyzed shapes and their effects on people and come up with psychology for shapes. 

Space

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

Also known as white space and negative space, it is the area that is around positive (shapes). Though it is called white space, it does not necessarily have to be white in color. It is simply space between shapes and lines. 

Usually, designs need some breathing room so the entire design is not screaming the messaging behind it, but rather being welcoming to users to understand it. This breathing room is embedded in your designs via strategic use of spacing in your visual designs. 

Color

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

Color is one of the most essential elements of visual design. While other elements are not very noticeable to viewers, color is an element that speaks to the user quite directly through your designs. 

To get started, you could begin understanding color theory and color psychology. From there on, you can understand how different color combinations work with each other to create a design that works perfectly. Also, besides your understanding of color and its aspects, you should also consider the color palette of your client’s brand. 

Value

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

This is not one of the most common elements of visual design, but it is not difficult to understand and apply. 

Value is what describes if color is light or dark, As you work your way around value, you reach a stage where you are working in contrast and other skills that a professional visual designer has. Besides being a base for contrast, value can also create a pattern or add depth to your designs. Based on light value and dark value, your design will convey your message either in a subtle or very clear manner. 

Volume

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

Volume is an element that applies only to three-dimensional designs which have length, width, and depth. Though visual design is limited under two-dimensional design form, volume can be applied to visual design as a volumetric illusion. 

Using this element, visual designers can create an illusion of volume through 3D graphics and designs. 

Texture

The Only Practical Guide You Need to Become a Visual Designer

As many of you must know, the texture of an object is how that object feels and looks. We are familiar with textures such as fur and sandpaper, but there is a type of texture called ‘implied texture,’ which means texture that you can only see. 

For instance, the logo of Vista Energy, a Texas-based company, appears glossy and conveys that the brand works in the energy industry. Amongst all the elements, texture is the only element of visual design that gives your design a human touch. 

Related: Analyzing the Elements of Art | Seven Ways to Think About Texture

Final Takeaway

Reading about aspects of becoming a visual designer is one thing, but applying them all to your journey and enriching your career with it is something that requires a lot of practice – and even some failures and rejections. 

If you are a novice or a designer who works on other forms of designs, you need to maintain a balance between implying the knowledge in this blog (and other sources you might come across) and your own creative space. 

It is your creativity and different sets of viewpoints that will help you create unique designs, the knowledge is to support you in making it possible to design.

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