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Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Lesson 1 of 18

Introduction to Graphic Design


Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Lesson 1 of 18

Introduction to Graphic Design


Lesson Info

Introduction to Graphic Design

Hi everybody, I'm Tim and today we're gonna be looking at the fundamentals of graphic design. So our first sort of task today is to really sort of dig in and try to understand what design is really about. What does it mean to communicate visually? Why do designers do what they do? And where exactly do they do it? There are a lot of different areas of practice that we'll be looking at. From advertising to packaging to branding and book design. So you can get a kind of a sense of how wide and varied the field is. We're gonna take a little trip down memory lane to see how the profession evolved over time. Trying to cover about 30 thousand years of history in 10 to 15 minutes or so. We might skip over a couple of things along the way. And then after that we'll be able to see kind of really what the tools are that designers use when they're trying to communicate. Those tools are form and image, color, typography and layout. Bringing all of the visual elements together into a format or a spa...

ce. Right after that I'm gonna walk you through the typical stages that designers and studios usually go through. From ideation or concept development through execution. The kind of phase structure that most designers employ when they're attacking a project from beginning to end. And last you'll have a chance to see that process in action as I take you through a number of projects that I've done. And you'll be able to see all the steps along the way. From rough sketches all the way through the finished item. So I've been working as a graphic designer professionally for about 25 years. I've worked independently as a freelance consultant working with my own clients. And I've also been a member of a large team directing junior and senior designers in a kind of a salaried or corporate situation. About 15 years ago I began teaching more or less full-time. And I've been teaching since then at a number of institutions among them Purchase College in Upstate New York, The Parson School of Design in Manhattan, The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and also until recently The School of Visual Arts which is also in New York. So when it comes to fundamentals I'm kinda your guy. In addition to that teaching experience I've also written as Vanessa mentioned eight books all on design topics to date. And they span a range of subject areas from the very basics. The kind of fundamental information that we're gonna be talking about today. All the way through much more in-depth and comprehensive studies of typography, of drawing, of symbol development, layout and publication design. So with that I hope you feel you're in good hands and we'll kick off. The question that we sort of first have to ask is what is it that graphic designers do? Cause some people have a kind of an idea they see things around. They see logos, they see websites, they see magazines or they get kind of a card in the mail for something and it looks nice and somebody has to put that together. And they may have a sense of making some things for a place where they work like a newsletter or sometimes an invitation that they're doing for a family member. And so a lot of people kind of have sort of a basic idea possibly. But what really is it to communicate visually? So the first thing we're going to talk about is really what is that graphic designers do? And kind of in a nutshell they visual. Graphic designers take abstract written concepts things that are verbal, things that are intangible messages and they transfer them into a visual form by using symbols, pictures, colors, shapes, textures, typography which can also be a kind of an image. And they arrange that material within a space the format. Which changes depending on the kind of project it is. A print format like a magazine layout or a poster or an onscreen format like a browser window or a smartphone app. And they organize that material in a way that is understandable and that communicates not only sort of literal information that users need to know. But also more kind of high level conceptual ideas moods, feelings, contexts and relationships to kind of the world at large that we live in kind of the culture in general. The second thing that designers do which is sort of a natural part of the process of visualizing something is to clarify information. What does that mean, to clarify? Well very often when a project begins a designer gets a whole bunch of information. Some texts some images with some idea about how those things should be ordered what they're really talking about. But generally that information at that stage is something that's very kind of loose and not particularly pinned down. And one of the designer's jobs is to take that information and by ordering it by selecting and editing elements by giving focus to some and down playing others, is to make that information as understandable and easy to use for the audience to meet their needs based on their expectations. What are they trying to get out of this information? What do they really need to know? And so on. Part of that clarification process involves organizing and that organizing happens on a conceptual level in terms of how a designer chooses to sequence material from beginning to end. In what order he or she feels it's best to present that information. What kinds of information are juxtapose or show up next to each other in a particular place. And what's the value of that as oppose to a juxtaposition of two other kinds of information. And then there's also a sort of organization on a visual level that is creating a structure for the information. Kind of a compositional idea or layout that allows a reader to focus on the entry point. To enter into the design object or into that experience, to know how to start, where to start and then to be able to navigate easily from beginning and most important element to secondary supporting element to third more in-depth elements. And to be able to also make sort of intellectual or understandable connections between the different levels of that hierarchy or that informational order. Designers play a critical role in the economy and also among communities by connecting people who have information or who are offering services or who are working on a certain cause or advocating on behalf of a certain group of people. With those audiences graphic design facilitates this kind of transmission of information. And by giving it a form that is bold and compelling and engaging for the audience attempts to sort of connect the audience with the service provider or the business or organization in a way that draws their attention and makes them feel as though they're important. It allows businesses to conduct a business or commerce by providing tools and media. Whether it's print or online application media that businesses can use to transfer information or do whatever it is that they do. And last designers connect communities desperate groups of people who are coming to that kind of informational experience or that visual experience from kind of the stand point of being kind of unified together playing in kind of a public role in that forum. So design is a very very it's very economically based and market driven kind of an endeavor. But it is also essentially a kind of a culture uniter. It ritualizes things that draws communities together and creates a kind of sense of communal meaning communal understanding. Design is often used in service of documenting. Cultural events, historical events, events that are of importance to a particular subgroups or subcultures within a larger society. Basically to kind of give evidence to those things to commemorate those events for posterity. And last, design on a very very kind of high brow and philosophical level it elevates. The goal of design as you're going to see is essentially to make the world a better place. The visual environment has a profound impact on how people feel about the world they live in. As that visual world that we encounter everyday becomes increasingly refined, becomes dynamic, elegant and engaging. It lifts us morally and spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and it gives a kind of a boost to our sense of you know how good life is. How well it is to be living as a human being under these conditions. So where does all this visualizing and elevating and documenting and connecting happen? Well it happens in a communications. And what are those? Well you encounter design communications everyday several hundred or several thousand times a day. There is some statistic that I can only offer anecdotaly because I have no hard evidence I don't really know the source. That we're confronted with something like ten thousand messages individual messages every single day. And through our sort of our day to day comings and goings you know for the most part we're turning off that kind of bombardment because it's a little too much. But we run into design at every step of the way from the instant we wake up in the morning til the moment that we lay our heads down on a pillow to go to sleep. Design is in our face. It's in our minds. Even if we're not really conscience of it.

Class Description


  • Identify and apply fundamental graphic design elements
  • Add essential design skills to your toolkit
  • Approach and manage the creative process through varied projects


You don’t need to have a background in fine arts or be an Adobe InDesign whiz to create compelling designs. In this class, Timothy Samara takes you back to the fundamentals of graphic design - the same principles he has consistently returned to in his 25-year career.

Through real-world projects, you’ll learn the basics of:

  • Form and image
  • Color theory
  • Typography
  • Layout and composition

Most unique about Timothy’s class is his demonstration of how design theory manifests in actual projects; he cracks open his professional portfolio and takes you into the world of how real designers work. With an extensive career behind him, Timothy’s design services have spanned from web design to print media, to interface design, and to building brand identity. By walking through Timothy’s creative process, you not only see how design elements interact and impact an overall product, but you get a rare view of the problem-solving graphic designers do and the decisions they make. What rules exist and when are they broken? How do you juggle meticulous research vs. spontaneity?

Whether you want to design a poster, flyer, or logo - this class will give you the insights you need to design with confidence. Welcome to the art and science of graphic design.


This class is designed for beginner and intermediate graphic designers as well as more experienced designers looking for a brush-up on design principles, career-changers, marketing team members, and anyone interested in graphic design fundamentals.


Timothy Samara is a New York-based graphic designer and educator whose twenty-five career has so far focused on visual identity and branding, communication design, and typography. Since 2000, he has split his time between professional practice and academia, defining a highly respected reputation as an instructor at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons/The New School for Design, Purchase College SUNY, New York University, The University of the Arts, and Fashion Institute of Technology. Mr. Samara is a frequent university lecturer and contributor to design publications both in the U.S. and abroad. He has written eight books on design to date (all from Rockport Publishers), which have been translated into ten languages and are used by students and practitioners around the world.

Connect with Timothy online: LinkedIn


  1. Introduction to Graphic Design

    What exactly do graphic designers do? What is the overall goal of design? We see many products that designers create - from logos, to t-shirts, to newsletters and invitations - yet what do graphic artists actually do to produce these products? What design skills do they use and what factors influence their decisions? What roles do graphic designers play in business, the economy, and within communities?

  2. Graphic Design: Areas of Specialization

    With the advent of technology, not only have tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator transformed the graphic designer’s process of creation, but the possibilities of design have expanded into far reaching areas. Timothy gives a quick overview of areas of specialization as a graphic designer; from editorial design to wayfinding, and advertising to motion graphics and branding, learn about the possibilities the field offers.

  3. The History of Graphic Design

    History repeats itself. Learn about the evolution of graphic design and the origins of many of today’s design trends. Timothy takes you on a fascinating journey through the 36,000 year old history of graphic design, from cave paintings to the Industrial Revolution in New York, to the arts and crafts movement in England to the birth of Modernism, Bauhaus, and the development of corporate identity. How has visual language evolved from past to present?

  4. The Designer's Toolkit

    Every designer carries a basic toolkit of the fundamental graphic elements in a design - these are the elements a designer plays with and manipulates to create a final product, be it a web page or a series of comic books. Starting with form and image: how do graphic designers choose the images they use? How do geometric and organic forms influence a design? How do designers use form and image to create a narrative, or meaning?

  5. The Graphic Designer's Tools: Color

    Color is a dynamic tool. What elements of color can be adjusted, and how does this impact overall design and the effect on your audience? What relationships do colors have with each other and how do you choose a palette? What biological changes do our bodies go through when we perceive color - and how do you harness the power of color as a designer?

  6. The Graphic Designers Tools: Typography

    Sometimes overlooked, typography is essential to user experience; the right combination of factors can create a comfortable and engaging experience that piques your audience’s interest. How can you use typography to guide your audience’s attention and best communicate your message?

  7. The Graphic Designer's Tools: Layout & Space

    Graphic design is made up of different, and at times competing elements: typography and imagery. How do you merge these to create harmonious and compelling visual compositions? You will learn how to manipulate space in your design and organize elements to influence how your audience reads your message.

  8. Typical Work Processes

    You have a project - now where do you start? Creative processes differ from person to person, however the typical design process goes through the same stages: research, ideation, refinement, and execution. Timothy describes the factors to consider at each stage.

  9. Designing an Advertisment

    Witness Timothy’s graphic design skills in full force as he takes you through the journey of a project from his own professional portfolio: an advertisement for an expo. Timothy demonstrates the iterative process, from image selection to concept sketches to color manipulation, and his reasoning behind every decision along the way. He calls to attention an important factor in editorial design - on what scale and in what format will this advertisement live, and how does this affect the design?

  10. Designing a Poster

    What unique opportunities does poster design offer? How does the size of media affect a reader’s experience? Timothy walks you through his process of designing a poster for a theatrical performance and the more complex concept and image development this design work requires. We see surprises and new ideas surface through the process of refinement, as well as the value of broad research.

  11. Designing a Book Layout: Basic Concepts

    Timothy designs the layout of a book, a retrospective of an artist’s work. He raises and answers compelling questions throughout the process: How do you work with multiple stakeholders on a single project? How do you turn limitations into positive challenges? How do you problem-solve when a client is not satisfied? How does using a layout grid actually create, rather than hinder flexibility? Timothy shows you how to explore compositional ideas within the format of a book with extensive images and text.

  12. Designing a Book Layout: The Details

    Typeface, alignment, transitions, even the color of the cloth of a hardbound book: these are all factors in cover to cover book design. Timothy demonstrates the process of creating a book cover in line with his client’s artistic vision, finalizing the process, and bringing the project to execution.

  13. Designing a Website

    Web design presents a playground of opportunity: how does interactivity influence design? How do page layout, flow, and navigation affect the user experience? How does hierarchy, or the order in which the audience perceives information, translate into the interactive context? Timothy takes us through a web design project; we see his research process, concept sketching, use of grids, and problem-solving in the context of a web page.

  14. How to Design a Brand Identity: Preperation

    Graphic design at full volume is the creation of brand identity. Timothy models beginning the process of designing a brand identity for a client with the core component: the logo. What are the best research practices for logo design? How do you create a powerful logo? Does it need to communicate a message? How do you problem-solve for its applications in various forms of media?

  15. How to Design Brand Identity: Showing the Client

    Timothy shares his best tips for working with a client in logo design. How many options should you present and in what context? How do you involve your client in the problem-solving and refinement process?

  16. Building Brand Language

    Brand identity may start with a logo, but a logo is just one part of a brand - it needs to exist within a world with context. Timothy models how to flesh out the rest of a brand’s visual language, from website content to color palettes, icons, and taglines.

  17. Designing the Touchpoints

    If you want to take your client’s brand to its audience and not only increase exposure, but build and strengthen the relationship between brand and customer, you need to design brand touchpoints. Packaging, letterheads, and business cards all add to the narrative. How can you develop a simple and effective advertising system?

  18. Fundamentals are Forever

    Timothy closes where he begins - with the fundamentals. What is the mission of the designer? What can you learn from the history of the discipline? How will trusting the process of discovery push your practice to the next level?


a Creativelive Student

Wonderful class! I loved getting the info as to the creative process. Great!

Øyvind Hermans

I love this class, clear and precise information with very interesting examples. I have worked as a graphic designer for 6 years but have no design eduction, so at times I feel like there is these gaps of design-knowlegde in my decisions, this was the perfect filler of these gaps.

sixtina maculan

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this class. It's been a pleasure to listen, learn and understand, as well as a wonderful motivation.