Fundamentals of Graphic Design

4,278 ratings
1,104 reviews

Course 1 of 5 in the Graphic Design Specialization

Graphic Design is all around us! Words and pictures—the building blocks of graphic design—are the elements that carry the majority of the content in both the digital world and the printed world. As graphic design becomes more visible and prevalent in our lives, graphic design as a practice becomes more important in our culture. Through visual examples, this course will teach you the fundamental principles of graphic design: imagemaking, typography, composition, working with color and shape... foundational skills that are common in all areas of graphic design practice. I don't just want you to watch a video of someone talking about design, I want you to MAKE design! If you want to be a designer you have to be a maker and a communicator, so this course will offer you lots of opportunities to get your hands dirty with exercises and with more practical projects. At the end of this course you will have learned how to explore and investigate visual representation through a range of image-making techniques; understand basic principles of working with shape, color and pattern; been exposed to the language and skills of typography; and understand and have applied the principles of composition and visual contrast. If you complete the course, along with its optional (but highly recommended) briefs, you will have a core set of graphic design skills that you can apply to your own projects, or to more deeply investigate a specialized area of graphic design. To succeed in this course you will need access to a computer. You can complete this course without one but it will be tougher. Access to, and a beginner's level knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite programs, such as Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign will help you, especially if you want to complete the optional briefs.

100% 在线课程

Beginner Level



完成时间大约为13 小时

建议:4 weeks of study, 5-8 hours/week
Comment Dots




  • Check
    Implement the fundamentals of color: visual, rhythm, and pattern in design
  • Check
    Learn the techniques of image making and create your own series of images
  • Check
    Typeset text and experiment with letter forms
  • Check
    Use scale, weight, direction, texture, and space in a composition


Color TheoryCreativityAdobe PhotoshopAdobe Illustrator

100% 在线课程

Beginner Level



完成时间大约为13 小时

建议:4 weeks of study, 5-8 hours/week
Comment Dots



Syllabus - What you will learn from this course


6 hours to complete

Week 1: Fundamentals of Imagemaking

This week we are going to look at how images function in terms of conveying denotative and connotative messages, I'll show you a range of analog and digital imagemaking techniques and discuss how they work. In the first peer review assignment you'll create your own series of images, experimenting with formal techniques. Later, you'll have the opportunity to rework those images to enhance their ability to communicate an idea through connotation in an optional assignment: give it a try, it'll help you develop your communication skills as well as your formal skills!...
13 videos (Total 57 min), 4 readings, 2 quizzes
Video13 videos
Introduction to Imagemaking2m
Denotative Imagemaking 14m
Denotative Imagemaking 22m
Techniques of Imagemaking 12m
Techniques of Imagemaking 22m
Techniques of Imagemaking 34m
Process, Generation, Iteration4m
Imagemaking Demo 1: Printing with an Object8m
Imagemaking Demo 2: Duct Tape Prints5m
Imagemaking Demo 3: Improvised "Light Table"4m
Connotative Imagemaking 15m
Connotative Imagemaking 24m
Reading4 readings
Why study graphic design?6m
About this course10m
About the assignments10m
Course Tools10m


5 hours to complete

Week 2: Fundamentals of Typography

This week we are going to look at typographic terminology and the basic rules for creating typography. I'll show you a range of tips and techniques for working with type, in both a functional and expressive manner, and you'll find out about the process involved in making and controlling typography. This week you'll complete a quiz to make sure you understand the language of typography–this is required. I also highly recommend you complete the two optional peer review assignments. In the first assignment you'll create your own typographic monogram, and you'll use that as a central element in designing a typographic business card in the second assignment. Give them a try, they are the place where you can demonstrate and apply your formal skills, and the place where you get to play with type!...
12 videos (Total 53 min), 3 quizzes
Video12 videos
The Anatomy of Letters2m
Words and Spacing2m
Type Size: The Point System3m
Typesetting Text4m
Typefaces, Fonts and Type Families4m
Typeface Categories4m
Denotation in Type6m
Connotation in Type9m
Looking at Letterforms4m
Experimenting with Letterforms5m
Typographic Composition4m
Quiz1 practice exercises


5 hours to complete

Week 3: Fundamentals of Shape and Color

This week we are going to look at how designers work with shape and color as their fundamental building blocks. You'll learn about visual contrast, color, rhythm and pattern in design. I'll be showing you the process involved in making an abstract design from shapes, and how to use that element to create a repeating pattern design. You'll be completing a quiz (required!) to make sure you understand how visual contrast and color work, and I also highly recommend you complete the two optional peer review assignments. In the first assignment you'll create your own simple and complex design motifs, and you'll use them as the central elements in designing a repeating pattern in the second assignment. The assignments are optional, but they are the place where you get to demonstrate and apply your formal skills, so well worth taking the extra time to complete!...
10 videos (Total 52 min), 3 quizzes
Video10 videos
Graphic Shapes2m
Visual Contrast5m
Marks, Icons, and Symbols3m
Negative/Positive, Figure/Ground8m
Working with Color5m
The Color Wheel4m
Mixing Color: Paint, Print and Screen6m
Rhythm and Pattern 14m
Rhythm and Pattern 28m
Quiz1 practice exercises
Shape and Color20m


8 hours to complete

Week 4: Fundamentals of Composition

This week we are going to look at how designers work with visual contrasts, cropping, hierarchy and direction in single images and complex compositions. You'll find out how to control and use scale, weight, direction, texture, and space in a composition, and how to compose work that ranges from the complex to the minimal. In the first peer review assignment you'll create your own abstract compositions that demonstrate your knowledge and control of visual contrast. In the final optional assignment, you can use all your skills from the entire course to create experimental compositions in the form of a poster for a mythical band. This last project is optional, but I strongly suggest you try it out, it'll let you grow and apply your design knowledge and really enjoy and express yourself in your design work! ...
11 videos (Total 70 min), 6 readings, 3 quizzes
Video11 videos
Principles of Composition7m
Visual Contrasts6m
Single Contrasts2m
Multiple Contrasts9m
Type Contrasts4m
Image Contrasts6m
Composition in a Single Image5m
Cropping and Hierarchy9m
Composition in Context14m
Reading6 readings
What's next?5m
About this section3m
Choosing a design program6m
Building your portfolio4m
Design portfolio tips4m
Writing your artist statement3m
Direction Signs


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Top Reviews

By CSMay 10th 2018

An ok course for beginners. A bit too basic for someone who has already had experience in design, but is great anyway cause it breaks things back down to the simplest parts to help you remember roots.

By ARApr 18th 2016

very good introductory course. i enjoyed the assignments, they are not overwhelming, easy to start, and the optional ones offer great opportunity to dig little deeper into graphic design fundamentals.



Michael Worthington

Faculty, Program in Graphic Design

About California Institute of the Arts

CalArts has earned an international reputation as the leading college of the visual and performing arts in the United States. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. ...

Frequently Asked Questions

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