Snapshot : Nobody knows everything about graphic design, everybody needs help sometimes. Online graphic design resources can give you inspiration, lessons on specific techniques or tools, or help you source specific design elements. Read our list list of the most common graphic design resources and how and when to use them.
Variety is the spice of life, and life’s certainly spicy when you work with graphic design. When you have to cover a wide range of visual communication needs, you never know what’s coming your way. You need an open and positive approach, and to be prepared to flex your creative skills.
You never know what’s coming next.
The graphic design project brief might prompt clear and obvious ideas. It might prompt to bang out amazing, creative and impactful work.
But, let’s face it, that happens like 1% of the time.
99% of graphic design is hard work
Often, there’s no brief. Or, there is one, but it’s vague and unhelpful – “I need a new logo”.
Or, it goes the other way. Too much information on a brief that’s not brief. Prescriptive demands with no chance to add your graphic design creative flair. “Change the rectangle to colour reference #6EA4BF and add a 5% drop shadow”.
Maybe the brief just doesn’t inspire you. Or, it sparks a rough creative idea, but it’s one you’ve never done before, and are not quite sure how to do it.
And of course, there’s the ever-present challenge to do it quickly. Or, to do it cheaply. Or, even worse, to do it quickly AND cheaply.
Thankfully. EVERYONE who works with graphic design faces these challenges. That means good news, there’s help out there if you know where to look. The people who’ve been through it before are usually happy to share their solutions.
There’s a lot of good karma at work in graphic design. You should be able to find plenty of graphic design resources to meet these challenges.
The vague brief
Most non graphic designers only really care about what comes out of graphic design. They don’t really care about how it gets done. So, they want logos and advertising designs that make their brand look great.
But, if you’ve got to create the logo or the illustration or whatever, you need more than “just make it look great”. But, that’s a “brief”, we’ve heard many times on graphic design projects.
Briefs need to be more specific. Time spent writing a proper brief drives better results.
A proper brief identifies the target audience and the purpose of the design. But it also gives the designer the opportunity to pull in their wide range of design knowledge to pick the best solutions for the job.
So, for example, designers should know and use the Universal Principles of Design. Taken from the book by Lidwell, Holden and Butler, these 125 principles give validated proven techniques that raise the impact of any design.
From “accessibility” – making object and designs as usable, without modification, to as many people as possible – to the “weakest link” – a deliberate use of a weak element that will fail in order to protect other elements in the design from damage – these principles make every piece of design, and every piece of graphic design more appealing, more impactful and more usable for the target audience.
Specific written briefs reduce ambiguity
Specific written briefs help reduce ambiguity. They help the designer clarify expectations, and give them a goal to work towards. Written briefs save time later down the line. They increase the chances that the work will be what the requestor had in mind.
For example, if you’re asked to “make the T-shirt blue”, that’s not that clear.
What shade of blue do you mean? There’s a big difference between navy blue and sky blue for example. Do you mean the whole T-shirt including the design on the front, or just the base colour that the design sits on?
If the initial response to a graphic design request is a bunch of questions, that’s a clear sign you need a better brief.
Designers often like to use their own brief format.
That’s fine. There’s no definitive best format.
However, we usually like to start with the communications brief format as a default. (particularly for larger jobs)
It specifies key information about the target audience, the brand, and the business objectives.
All information that brings clarity to the brief.
(You can download a version from our resources page, where you’ll also find other graphic design resources.)
We would then normally also add a specification sheet to the brief.
This varies by job.
This would cover design decisions like the overall size of the design, and grid-based guidelines on margins, gutters and spacial zones.
It works as a checklist to reduce technical errors.
The project triangle
The brief also sets expectations on the scope, cost and time requirements for the job.
These three elements make up the classic project triangle, which determines the overall quality of the project outcome.
Where you adjust one of these elements, one or both of the others adjusts to balance out the change.
So, if you want to include more in the design for example, that either takes longer or costs more.
If you want something cheaper, then you either need to reduce the scope, or increase the time available.
And if you want something faster, that means you either pay more, or reduce your expectations of what’s in scope.
This helps overcome the scenario where the requestor expects the graphic designer to “magic” up a great design quickly and cheaply.
It’s usually a request like this.
Oh, I need a (image, graphic, design) for a (website, social media post, poster, brochure). This is what we’ve already got and done before, can you do something like that? I need it by end of tomorrow by the way. Oh, and I don’t really want to pay too much money for it.
Of course, some briefs for graphic design work overcompensate, and go the other way. You might get half the marketing plan as appendices, and lots of information that’s irrelevant for graphic design.
When the graphic designer is doing the work on behalf of a marketing agency, it can be the agency processes and templates that causes the overly-detailed brief.
You need to find the right balance, where the graphic designer has enough information to do a good job, but not so much, they waste a lot of time up-front deciphering what’s needed.
The uninspiring brief
Sometimes briefs can be clear, but uninspiring.
You know what the requestor wants. But, you as the designer look at the words, and no ideas spring to mind.
Don’t worry. It happens more often than you think. Nobody walks around with a brain packed full of creative ideas all ready to go.
The obvious first choice is to jump on Google Images. Look for ideas from what other people have designed. But you’ll soon recognise that there’s a lot of material out there on the web. There’s no real quality filter on Google Images, and you often don’t know where the idea came from.
These are the two big online design hubs with inspiring graphic design resources.
Behance describes itself as a social media platform “to showcase and discover creative work”. It’s owned by Adobe and has over 10 million subscribers. It acts as a showcase for professional and up-and-coming designers across all types of design skills.
The first thing that strikes you is it has a lot of content. It can be overwhelming as you scroll down through pages and pages of inspiring designs from around the world.
From an inspiration point of view, it works much better when you can focus your search in on a specific topic.
Example search on Behance
For example, say we wanted to create a graphic design featuring an umbrella. (pretty topical and relevant in Australia given the recent heavy rains and flooding here at the time of writing).
The search results you see here give you an indication of the wide variety of creative inspiration you’ll find.
So, for example, we got some architectural images from a complex in Norway (which was headlined as umbrella images). We got a Russian site with lots of simple, but on trend illustrations including umbrellas. Then, we got a photography project with extreme light editing, a anime manga style project and a retro illustration project related to the Netflix show, the Umbrella academy.
One search topic, five completely different creative styles.
(We also got some practical links to the Adobe Stock site, where we could search and buy actual umbrella graphics. If that’s what we wanted.)
This is where Behance works best as a source of graphic design resources. It creates inspiration for how you might tackle a graphic design project.
While you obviously never directly copy another design, you can find great ideas on style and broad direction of how other designers tackle specific topics.
You can create an idea mood board to use with the customer or client to move towards a final graphic design. Or you can follow a style, but put your own creative thinking into the final design.
Behance – other functionality
But there’s even more to what you can do on Behance.
You can filter by technology for example. If you only want to focus on Photoshop or Illustrator designs, it’s easy to set those criteria.
You can comment on designs, give constructive feedback, ask questions and praise great work.
And, you can save links to look at them again later via your own profile. You can even contact the designer directly.
For bigger marketing agencies looking for unique styles, it’s often used to hire designers to work on specific briefs. There’s even a jobs section.
The final main function you’ll find on Behance is training. You can access “how to” content to learn how to do all sorts of design work.
Probably the only downside to Behance as a place to look for inspiration, is the search function is mainly driven by tags added by the originator. So, if someone tags projects haphazardly, actually finding something more specific takes longer.
Dribble is similar in concept and content to Behance. The main difference is that it’s independent from Adobe, so you get a less Adobe centric view of the world.
The scope is also a little tighter. There’s a definite focus on illustration and web design. It doesn’t cover in great detail some creative topics like photography, for example.
The quality of the graphic design resources and content is similar to Behance. It’s a great alternative if you can’t find what you need on Behance.
It does however, push the benefits of its paid for “Pro” services quite hard. Some of the functionality is limited if you don’t pay. Not enough to make the site unusable, but clearly, it’s much less open than Behance. The focus is on more professional regular contributors compared to the more wide-open nature of Behance.
Example search on Dribbble
So, you can see the Illustration led focus when we try the same “umbrella” search we ran on Behance. Dribble’s top responses are all Illustrations. Though with quite a difference in illustration styles.
You can see quite different illustrative approaches to colour, perspective, tone and use of lines.
If you’d already decided on illustration as your graphic design style, these would give you lots of ideas on how to tackle your brief.
Dribble – other functionality
Similarly to Behance, the main other graphic design resources you’ll find on Dribbble are around jobs and training. You can look for work or try to hire designers. Plus, you can access (paid for) interactive workshops.
Between the two sites, Behance is usually our first point of call. It covers a wider range of topics. And it has more “free stuff” overall. We all like free stuff, don’t we? (This is probably down to Adobe making most of its money elsewhere, as we’ve covered in other articles).
But in terms of access to graphic design resources, both sites work well. Dribbble makes a useful alternative if Behance isn’t doing it for you.
The “I’m not sure how to do that” challenge
Both Behance and Dribble offer access to learning courses and videos about all types of design skills.
In Behance’s case, these are normally live streamed videos where you follow along with a designer as they work through a challenge project. These are usually somewhere between 1 and 3 hours, with a focus on a particular topic such as creating a logo, or creating a specific output like a brochure or flyer.
However, if you want to do more formal training via Adobe, there’s also the Adobe Education Exchange site.
Adobe Education Exchange
This șite is mainly for those who teach graphic design. But even for your own learning as a graphic designer, it’s a useful place to access different graphic design resources that you’ll not find on other sites.
In particular, it has much more downloadable content in the form of learning plans, and checklists, for example.
Most of the “how to” guides you find via Behance or Dribbble are video-led. But, sometimes, you want something written down.
So, for example, as we browsed Adobe Education Exchange while putting this article together, we came across
- A checklist of 50 key questions to reflect on creativity.
- All the resources you need to practice visualising creative ideas via Adobe Illustrator including images, fonts and the .ai file.
- A guide on how to build a design portfolio using Adobe InDesign, including pdfs and a link to online video content.
The graphic design resources on this site are helpful if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud license, and want to test out a platform you’re less familiar with.
Most people know Photoshop and Illustrator for example, and InDesign to a certain extent. But, you can find content on the Adobe Education Exchange which introduces less commonly used platforms like Adobe Spark, Adobe After Effects or Adobe XD.
We need something quick and cheap
Now, let’s move on to the “quick and cheap” graphic design challenge. To tackle that challenge, a useful place to access graphic design resources is through Envato.
Envato offers a combination of services. It’s a design marketplace, where you can directly buy all types of design elements. It also offers training tutorials and courses through its Tutsplus service. And, it offers a great mock-up and interactive design creation service through Place-it.
On the Envato marketplace, you can buy and download all sorts of visual assets.
So, in addition to graphic design resources like fonts, logos and icons, you can also access and download website themes, royalty free photography, video and audio materials and even code, scripts and plug-ins.
These types of graphic design resources mean you don’t have to start everything from scratch.
Marketplace works on a pay as you go basis, though there’s also a subscription version called Envato Elements, which offers unlimited downloads starting at $16.50/month.
If you regularly use a lot of graphic design resources, this can be a reasonable investment to access a wide range of digital assets. In particular, the access to files beyond graphic design, like sound effects and Website plugs makes it even better value.
If you’d like to learn how to create some of those digital assets yourself, the sister site to Envato marketplace called Tutsplus offers a wide range of “how to” videos.
Many are free to access, particularly the ones which cover the basic introduction to a skill.
More advanced courses tend to require sign-up to a monthly subscription fee of $16.50, though it’s a bundled deal with Envato Elements. You get access to both services for the same fee.
The quality of these tutorials is generally high. The scope is wide. So, you can learn about topics like design and illustration, code, web design, photo and video, business, music and video, and 3D and motion graphics.
For example, in the design and illustration section you can learn skills like how to create animation in Adobe After Effects, how to do movie poster design in Adobe Photoshop, and the basics of Print Design.
If you run your own e-Commerce store, you may already know Place-it.
Place-it offers templates to mock up all sorts of digital and physical materials, so you can place your own custom designs into them.
We first came across it as a way to create mock-up photos for our T-shirt designs. But, they provide templates for around 50 items, as varied as books, beanies and business cards. This mock up will be much cheaper than doing real photography with a model and photographer.
Like the other Envato services, there’s a monthly subscription fee (of $14.95) for unlimited downloads, with the option to buy items individually. The results do look professional, and are relatively quick to carry out.
Obviously, as you work from templates, you run the risk that your background image mock-up will appear on a different e-Commerce site (albeit with a different design). So, it’s not the best from an originality point of view. But, the chances customers will (a) spot this and (b) choose not to buy if they do, are relatively slim.
So, you can create simple graphic designs for all sorts of digital media and print requirements. You start with their basic template, add your own copy, and adjust key design elements like colour, typography and composition.
It’s easy to use, has a mix of free and paid for content, and is definitely a quick way to create simple graphic design elements. It means you don’t have to learn how to use the likes of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
Professional graphic designers aiming to create original work, may find the options limited on canva. But, those with “light” graphic design needs can quickly and easily create professional looking designs.
These plug and play graphic design resources sites like Envato and Canva make good design more accessible to ordinary users. They save time on basic jobs that don’t have complicated requirements.
However, there are challenges with these sites. Firstly, you have to constantly check on licensing and usage. You need to make sure you can use the digital assets you source for what you need. You can’t, for example, use Canva assets to create T-shirts to sell via print on demand.
And of course, there’s always going to be the lack of originality that goes with buying someone else’s designs. The best way to create your own unique brand identity though graphic design is to create something entirely original, whether you do that yourself, or you hire a professional graphic designer.
Other graphic design resources
On that topic of do it yourself graphic design, the final two sources of graphic design resources we’ll mention are You Tube and Udemy.
As we mentioned in our article on social media, You Tube is full of “how to” videos on all sorts of skills. That definitely includes graphic design.
For example, when designing our first advert for three-brains, we used Adobe Animate to create the video, and found videos like this one, a great way to learn what that particular piece of software can do.
It goes step by step through the basics of the software, so you can learn what it can do, and how you can use it.
This is great if you are new to this tool.
With YouTube, you can then also drill into very specific “how to” lessons.
So, for example, if you want a basic guide on how to animate a stick figure to make it look like it’s moving, something like this video is very helpful.
You get to follow along with the designer, and learn the key steps to produce something similar for your own needs.
Udemy is an online training platform that contains video courses on all sorts of courses on all sorts of topics.
If you want to take a more formal course of learning how to do graphic design or learn particular types of software, we’ve found Lyndsey Marsh to be a great trainer. We completed several of her courses.
We’re not affiliates, by the way. We just found her courses really clear, and learned a lot from them.
She regularly updates the content, so you get good value from the course. We do recommend though you wait until the courses go on sale. The regular prices are super high, but on promotion, the rates get cut by 80 to 90%, which makes the courses much more affordable.
Conclusion – Graphic Design resources
Through this article, we’ve shared the graphic design resources that we access the most often. You usually find your needs fall into one of three areas.
If your need relates more to education or training, then Adobe Education Exchange and Tutsplus are good places to start. Of course, You Tube and Udemy also work as back-ups.
And finally, we’ve all been there when we need something quick and cheap. If you’re prepared to sacrifice originality and read all the licensing and usage requirements, Envato marketplace, Canva and Place-it can often meet your needs.