Designapalooza – Part Four

Released December 3, 2007

This is the fourth part in an ongoing series of articles that depicts my process to becoming a graphic designer. I will reiterate that this is not a sure-fire guide on how to become one, but merely my process which I am sharing to the general public.

Mess around.

In this section I’m going to be fairly resource-heavy, and hope that it helps some people out. When I say ‘Mess around’ what I mean is literally get your hands on some of the tools you know you’ll be using, and go to town. If you don’t know what tools you are going to be using, do some research. Check out those schools I talked about previously, and find out what software they’re going to be using. Dig around a little to see what others in the field tend to use. Since I’m trying to get into graphic design, I know that my primary tools will most likely consist of the Adobe family, though I will also give an honourable mention to 3Ds Max, Maya, and ArtRage 2 (if you want to have some really impressive paint effects).

Table of contents:

  1. Get Your Swag On
  2. Man the Helm
  3. Learn How Not to Suck

Get Your Swag On

First thing’s first, get your twitchy little fingers on your tools of choice. Where to start? Good question. Since I know I’m going to be using a lot of the Adobe family, I’ll be working with them as my example. Don’t be shocked if the program you want has a fully functional free trial available. All of Adobe has this, and I’m sure they’re not alone.

Here is a list of products that Adobe offers that you can get free trails of:

  • Fireworks CS3
    This is my program of choice at the moment. It works much more with vectors (though in no way is it limited from bitmap) and is what I am using for my website design pieces. My reasons for this are two-fold. First, it is the program my workplace uses for all of our designing, and therefor is worth learning if only for practicality reasons. Second, It’s gradient/vector happy, and though I feel that 2.0 is a style that is being beaten to death far too fast some of it’s aspects are solid.
  • Flash CS3 Professional
    It’s flash. I don’t think I need to get to much into this. If you do web development, this is at least worth a cursory glance. There will probably come a time when your customer will want flash in their solution, and you’ll have to do it whether you want to or not. It’s come a long way since I’ve used it (last time Macromedia had just come out with Flash MX)
  • Illustrator CS3
    Vector drawing to the max. This program is pure vector imaging and works great with type. This is a great tool to have if you are doing print or web, as it allows you to create vector-based graphics which allow for way more flexibility in your reuse library. I have not used it much, and so I cannot give it the credit it is probably due.
  • Photoshop CS3
    Who can forget the classics? Photoshop has been around for as long as I have been on the Internet. Countless jokes exist of people “Photoshopping” images and thousands of Internet Memes exist as a result of its existence. Getting past that, Photoshop is a fantastic tool which offers so much in functionality that most people don’t even know it exists. The only limitation with this program is that it is a bitmap-based program. I am sure there is the ability to work with vectors, but I have yet to really play with or even find that. Like I said previously, I use Fireworks for my vector work. I don’t need to sing the praises of this program though, since it’s utter integration into Internet society should state that it does it’s job well enough.
  • And a whole list of programs, most/all of which have fully functioning trials.

As for the other listed programs, ArtRage 2 has a free version available, though it is locked down and does not have all the features available. I suggest downloading the free version and trying it out. If you enjoy it, you may as well spend the 25 bucks for the license. (That’s gone up since I last checked. I used to be like, 18 or so. Yay capitalism.) If you really like it, you can get the 40 dollar version which comes with a manual, tutorials and videos.

3ds Max and Maya both have trial versions available, and so If you are going to be using these (I have seen tutorials that do to get some sexy effects) then you can at least play around with them here. I’ve never used them myself, so I don’t know the learning curve but I can imagine them starting off easy and getting progressively more complex as you get into them.

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Man the Helm

Now that you’ve got your weapons of choice selected, it’s time to use them. My personal experience has taught me to open the program without looking at the manual, and just screw around. Learn the controls and see what you can create. It’ll probably look like hell, and that’s okay. Screw around and see what you come up with on your own. The point here is to wet your feet a little, and get a feel for the program. I’m still getting used to Fireworks, and I’ve been using it for at least a month now.

The reason I suggest this is just from my personal experience. I tend to learn better by figuring out the controls myself. Sure I need guidance with the obtuse controls, but I commit things to memory far better when I do it myself. Some people learn better from instruction or reading, and that’s cool too. I am merely pointing out the method of learning which works best for my brain.

Try not to get upset when the programs or the results created therein. Remember that you’ve only just started working with the tool, and no one expects you to be a savant. If you don’t like what you see, ask yourself why and then try and create it again so that you know how to avoid it in the future. Screwing up is only screwing up if you don’t learn from it.

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Learn How Not to Suck

Now that you’ve created some horrible works of art it’s time to learn from your peers, who are in this case most likely your betters in the field. for this, I’ve compiled a small (and in no way complete) list of sites you can go to for a little knowhow.

  • PSDTuts.com – This is probably the must user friendly site for Photoshop tutorials I’ve ever found. Throw in the fact that the site is actually pretty stunning to look at, and that certainly adds to the trust level. I subscribed to their feed a while back, and I have yet to even think about regretting it.
  • Firetuts.com – This is a brand new tutorial site that works specifically with Fireworks. Since it’s new it lacks in content at the moment, but If they keep it up for a year, they’ll be a reservoir of information for Fireworks users. I don’t see why they need to say that they’re trying to prove it can do much of what Photoshop can do, since the two products are really supposed to be used for two different task-sets… but regardless, they’re off to a strong start and worth paying attention to.
  • Fireworkszone.com – Another site the specialized in Fireworks. They cover a couple techniques that are more advanced, and so I have yet to touch them. They seem fairly hardcore though.
  • Flash Kit.com – It blows my mind to think that this website has been around for so long. It was old when I was new to all of this. If you have any questions about Flash, this is where to start. Seriously, start here and I doubt you will need to go anywhere else.
  • N.Design Studio – Not only is it a stunning-looking website, but it also features many tutorials for Illustrator, Icon packs, and even WordPress Themes. It

And just because I can, I’m going to link GridMaker. It’s not perfect, and doesn’t work across many versions of Photoshop and Fireworks, but any tool you can use to speed up your own production is a good one. I’ve used this myself and it works like a dream. Now I’m using it on Fireworks 8, so I don’t know what happens in the other versions. There is also a Photoshop version, though the functionality has changed from its original.

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This is the fourth part in an ongoing series of articles that depicts my process to becoming a graphic designer. Coming up next: How to realize you know nothing, and not blowing your brains out as a result

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