Online Graphic Design Courses Find the best open online classes for design skills and trends

expert contributor

Graphic design has become an integral part of modern communication, commerce and art, affecting the way many people receive and interpret information. Advances in technology can help aspiring graphic designers in two main ways: computer-assisted design tools that allow people of varying skill levels to make images and layouts digitally, and the increasing availability of online graphic design courses that allow users to learn skills without moving to a large city and investing in a formal degree program. Graphic design hobbyists, students, professionals and those in between can use this guide to learn more about online graphic design classes and where to find them along with tools and resources to help along the way.

Online Graphic Design Courses Search Tool

The vast number of online graphic design courses available is both exciting and intimidating. On the one hand, it’s likely that budding designers will find the right class to suit their interests; on the other, more options means more work sorting through them. The search tool below can help individuals looking for online graphic design classes find just the right ones by filtering for price, course length, institution and start date.

State
Degree Level
School Type
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Side-by-Side: Types of Online Graphic Design Classes

Online graphic design courses come in different forms to suit different types of learners. Someone who is less interested in graphic design as a whole but wants to learn a few specific skills to enhance their small business might be better suited to a short informational course than someone who wants an overview of the graphic design field to prepare for a degree or an established designer who wants to add skills to his or her resume. The table below breaks down some of the most common types of online graphic design classes.

Certificate For-credit Informational
What is this type of course?
A certificate of completion validates that a student completed the course with a specific success rate. While they don’t typically translate to college credit or professional certification, certificates of completion can validate a student’s skills in certain areas of graphic design. Some online graphic design classes can earn students college credit. These are typically offered by universities and cost the same as regular college courses. Those who take informational graphic design courses online will gain new skills but won’t have any sort of certificate or credit to show for it. These courses are generally free or very low-cost.
Who takes this type of course?
Established professionals looking to increase their skillset and/or validate their skills. Graphic design students looking to earn a degree and become professionals. Hobbyists, people looking to gain new skills without much obligation and those testing the waters to see if they would like to pursue graphic design in more detail.

Spotlight: Top 10 Online Graphic Design Courses

There are hundreds of online graphic design courses out there, and it can be hard to tell a quality course from one that doesn’t quite cover all of the need-to-knows. The top 10 online graphic design classes listed below cover courses for beginners looking for a quick rundown to professionals wanting to hone specific design skills.

Visual and Graphic Design
  • Offered by: Alison
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 2-3 hours
  • Format: Audio, animations and assessments
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This self-paced course is designed to give graphic design beginners a foundational knowledge of essential design elements and how to use them. Students will learn about lines, shape, form, texture and composition, and those who complete the course with a passing score have the opportunity to purchase their certificate of completion.

How to Design a Logo
  • Offered by: Udemy
  • Price: $20
  • Length: 2.5 hours
  • Format: Video, eBook
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course is ideal for beginning graphic design professionals who want a start-to-finish guide on making logos. Students will learn how to take information from client briefs and turn it into a logo the client wants by utilizing brainstorming tools, creating unique symbols and determining appropriate fonts and text placement. Students will also receive tips to help them succeed as professional designers.

Applying Design Principles
  • Offered by: Alison
  • Price: Free
  • Length: 2-3 hours
  • Format: Audio, animations and assessments
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course builds off of Alison’s “Visual and Graphic Design” course, giving students a more advanced knowledge of design principles and their applications. Use of color, tones, points and text will be addressed, along with various factors to consider when creating and evaluating a design for a client.

Typography
  • Offered by: Design Lab
  • Price: $499
  • Length: Four weeks at 10 hours/week
  • Format: Readings, projects and mentor work
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

Students who complete this course will gain a strong understanding of typography fundamentals, like letterforms, measuring type, combining typefaces and page layout. Students will create products to add to their portfolios and should be well-equipped to continue building their portfolios upon program completion. The course is 40 hours but is designed for busy people.

Graphic Design Specialization
  • Offered by: California Institute of the Arts
  • Price: $395
  • Length: 16 weeks, plus a capstone project
  • Format: Videos, readings, quizzes, peer reviews and capstone project
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This comprehensive online graphic design specialization is comprised of four courses–Fundamentals of Graphic Design, Introduction to Typography, Introduction of Imagemaking and Ideas from the History of Graphic Design–and a capstone project. Students who don’t want to take the entire specialization can opt to take individual courses instead.

Design and Make Infographics
  • Offered by: Michigan State University
  • Price: Free to audit, $40 for Course Certificate
  • Length: 14 hours
  • Format: Videos, quizzes, projects and peer reviews
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This project-centered graphic design course is designed to help students create real-world infographic products by actively applying skills and techniques learned throughout the class. Students will learn how to create infographics using Adobe Illustrator and will explore different modes of data visualization, like maps, charts and drawings.

User Experience (UX) Design: Human Factors and Cultures in Design
  • Offered by: Tsinghua University
  • Price: Free
  • Length: Seven weeks at three hours/week
  • Format: Video, print textbook and quizzes
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

In this advanced course, students will learn about designing with users in mind. Upon completion, students will have developed the ability to critically analyze factors like user demand and cultural influences to help create effective products and designs. This course is research- and theory-focused.

Running a Design Business: Freelancing
  • Offered by: Lynda
  • Price: Free with Lynda subscription
  • Length: 1.5 hours
  • Format: Video
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

Many graphic designers work as freelancers at one point or another, and this course aims to help freelance designers navigate the financial and creative aspects of self-employment, from paying taxes to maintaining good client relationships.

Graphic Design for Business Professionals
  • Offered by: Lynda
  • Price: Free with Lynda subscription
  • Length: Two hours
  • Format: Video
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course is geared toward non-designers who think their businesses could benefit from some graphic design knowledge. The course is broken down into easy-to-follow concepts and skills, and students will finish the course having made a business card, flyer, envelope and presentation.

Intro to the Design of Everyday Things
  • Offered by: Udacity
  • Price: Free
  • Length: Two weeks at six hours/week
  • Format: Videos and projects
  • Eligible for college credit?: No

This course is designed for beginners and is good for both designers and non-designers. Combining theory and practice, students will understand broad roles of design in unnoticed, everyday occurrences and will learn how to identify and apply design principles.

Top 3 Reasons to Take an Online Class in Graphic Design

Graphic design has a large appeal to many different types of people, ranging from design professionals to small business owners to hobbyists and visual artists. The following highlights the main advantages to taking an online course in graphic design:

1 Stay on top of current design trends

The most skilled graphic designers can spot trends and adapt to them to deliver images and layouts that are fresh and current. One of the best ways to find these trends and learn how to create them is through online graphic design courses, where students from around the world share and review each other’s ideas and designs.

2 Build your online design portfolio

Many online graphic design classes are project-focused, so students create products while learning skills. Not only can students use the projects they create in class for their portfolios, they can also take the skills they learn to create more designs and give their portfolios variety and depth. Online portfolio on websites like 99designs, Coroflot and Dribble can help graphic designers take on freelance projects or find steady employment.

3 Navigate new design programs and technologies

Design programs change and update frequently, so it’s important that graphic designers take advantage of and keep up with the latest technologies. Many online graphic design classes focus specifically on teaching graphic designers how to use the latest version of various programs, like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

Apps & Podcasts for Graphic Design Gurus

Apps

Inspiration often strikes at unexpected–and sometimes inconvenient–times, but professional and aspiring graphic designers alike need not put inspiration on hold with the many intuitive apps available for creatives. These apps allow users to design and share ideas from anywhere. An extra perk? Many of the highest rated and most popular apps for graphic design students and professionals are free.

Adobe Illustrator Draw

Free
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Adobe Illustrator Draw

Adobe’s illustration app allows users to create vector images using a selection of brushes, up to 10 layers, graph and perspective grids and other tools. Images can be shared, sent to Illustrator and Photoshop or stored in a cloud library.

Infinite Design

Free
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Infinite Design

Infinite Design is a popular vector design app that allows Android users to create images on their phones and tablets. The app features an infinite canvas, unlimited layers and unlimited undos and allows users to easily import and export images.

SketchBook

Free
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SketchBook

Sketchbook is a comprehensive program for both desktop and mobile devices, which makes jumping between the two an easy process. This drawing tool is favored by many designers and features an array of customizable brushes, color fill options, selection tools, perspective lines and grids.

Adobe Comp CC

Free
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Adobe Comp CC

Adobe’s layout app allows users to create design compositions on the go and easily share and store them so they can be fine-tuned on a desktop. Rough drawings are given smooth, professional edges, placeholder text is created easily and users can share and collaborate with one another.

Paper

Free
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Paper

Paper is an innovative app that combines note-taking, photos and sketches to make sure users get their ideas down quickly and effectively whenever inspiration should strike. With Paper, users can create checklists, draw on photos and create original drawings all in one place.

Podcasts

Budding designers can sometimes find themselves crippled by self-doubt, and even the most skilled graphic designers aren’t without the occasional creative block. Listening to graphic design podcasts is an excellent way to gain inspiration and validation, learn new techniques and engage in productive procrastination. The compelling and informative podcasts below can even be listened to while working on design projects.

Design Matters Debbie Millman Recent Episode to Try: Doug Powell

Design Matters offers an array of conversations between host Debbie Millman and leading graphic designers, artists, educators and authors. The podcast began in 2005 and is one of the most popular design-focused podcasts.

The Graphic Sound Brandon Rike Recent Episode to Try: Andy J. Miller - Creative Pep Talk

Graphic artist Brandon Rike’s show, The Graphic Sound, aims to uncover what drives creative people to do what they do through conversations about graphic design, illustration and other artistic endeavors.

Adventures in Design Mark Brickey Recent Episode to Try: The DKNG Show: Chapter 3

In this high-energy talkshow, host Mark Brickey banters, discusses, jokes and gossips with his friends and other creative professionals about design and other creative careers. “Sometimes educational, sometimes off topic but always entertaining!” it boasts.

The Deeply Graphic DesignCast Wes McDowell, Mikelle Morrison, Nick Longo Recent Episode to Try: The 2016 Logo Trends Report

This podcast covers a different graphic design-related topic in every episode. Each episode also has a portion dedicated to answering listener-submitted questions, so it’s a great podcast to get specific information on the industry.

The Reflex Blue Show Donovan Beery Recent Episode to Try: Terri Trespicio

Hosted by graphic designer Donovan Beery, The Reflex Blue Show covers graphic design, web design, pop culture, working in the industry and where these elements collide. Beery hosts a variety of guests and covers design conferences.

Expert Advice for Taking Online Graphic Design Courses

What role can online classes play in graphic design education?
Bryan Jimenez

I think online courses would be more valuable if they said, “We're just going to teach you the technical skills,” which is great for a hobbyist, but if you want to become a graphic designer professionally, you need to learn many other things, like psychology, anthropology and symbology. You need to not only learn how to use the tools, but also how to make a composition and create for real-world application. Because those topics are hard and expensive, they're often skipped over completely in online programs.

However, for a hobbyist or a designer who is already working for a company or small agency and needs to learn a new skill, like logo-making, taking an online course could be very beneficial. It's important, though, to make sure the course is taught the right way.

What makes a good online graphic design course versus a bad one? What should students look for?
Bryan Jimenez

Because design is not beautification but complex visual language, it involves understanding social dynamics, psychology, anthropology and communication science. You have to understand optics, color theory and mathematics. It's a very multidisciplinary endeavor. A good design course would not only teach the technical skills but would also teach a lot of those art fundamentals and the required academic skills, like psychology and even business strategy.

Do you think that students need to find a lengthy graphic design program that encompasses all of these elements, or can they effectively take classes “a la carte” and build their own curricula?
Bryan Jimenez

To have an effective, all-encompassing curriculum imposed upon somebody would mean knowing the student's end goal and building the curriculum around that. For example, even though both careers fall under graphic design, a course program for someone who wants to be a creative director would look much different from one designed for someone who wants to become a senior graphic designer. Since a creative director works more with senior management and be more involved with strategic decisions, it would be a good idea to take only a few technical design classes, just to get a foundation in them, and then focus more on strategy, communication sciences and those types of classes. Having students pick and choose classes to fit whatever they need at the time is a good solution.