Graphic Design 101


There is a fine line between good design and great design. There is also a fine line between the design work you choose to complete yourself and the design work you hire a professional to conceptualize and create for you. Below you will find numerous resources to produce a design yourself, as well as the resources available to hire the right designer.

Graphic designers have a challenging role to play in the 21st century (and numerous hats to wear) due to our increasingly technological world. Designers of the past needed only worry about the print options available, whereas designers of the new millennium have to understand various mediums, such as print (magazines, large-format signage, labels and packaging, to name a few), the web (via HTML and Flash, for example), as well as smartphone and tablet technology. New-age design phenomena (like QR codes and augmented reality) blur the lines between the past and the future of design, creating excitement for those who know how to use it to their advantage and fear for those who do not. Maintaining a current skill set and keeping up with new technology is therefore an important tool in a designer’s toolbox. Hiring a professional who has a toolbox full of specialized knowledge may be exactly what is needed to get the job done right (therefore, this may not be the time to compromise and have your neighbour’s second cousin do your website). Striking the balance between professional and affordable is often a difficult task, but it is well worth the time to find the perfect designer to bring your perfect design to life.


Design is critically important to one’s brand, which can be defined as the promise you make to your customers. Unique concepts and establishing a consistent message across various mediums are important attributes of great design. A common misconception, however, is to take a design piece from your largest competitor and create something very similar for your own business. It seemingly works for them, so why shouldn’t it work for your business too? Rhonda Page, design veteran and brand connoisseur, states in her branding workbook (know your difference: be clear. stand out. win more business!), “Copying the competition just creates more noise.”

Page simplifies what it means to have a strong brand by stating that it should accomplish three objectives: communicates a clear message, stands out from the competition and inspires action. Page has worked with such companies as Coca Cola, Kraft and Nestlé and with the help of her workbook is now helping entrepreneurs bring their design and branding desires to reality.

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TOP 10 Design Resources

1. Read a magazine – online and in print, HOW magazine is a fantastic resource for all designers, whether they work for a large creative firm or for themselves. The magazine’s content focuses on the business, technological and creative aspects of successful graphic design. (

2. Follow a blog – fresh and funky, Print magazine’s imprint design blog focuses on a range of topics and is updated several times daily. (

3. Find your perfect design book – The one and only advertising and design bookstore in Canada, Swipe Books on Advertising and Design is located at 401 Richmond Street West in the heart of the Design District in Toronto. Take your time enjoying the tactile experience of browsing through a carefully selected array of beautiful and practical books. (

4. Kick your creativity into high gear – How To Have Kick-Ass Ideas: Get Curious, Get Adventurous, Get Creative by Chris Baréz-Brown will get your innovative wheels spinning. This fun and frivolous gem is part workbook and part go-to guide, so take the time to enjoy every one of its 256 colourful pages!

5. Discover a talented and enthusiastic design student – Sheridan College’s Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design is a highly regarded, industry leading training facility. Contact students and graduates from a number of different specialties (including, but not limited to Bachelor of Applied Arts in Illustration, Corporate Communications, Media Arts and Visual and Creative Arts) to make your next design project a successful one.

6. Find your perfect typeface – As a typography and stock photo haven, Veer’s site houses excellent design resources. Enjoy browsing through thousands of typefaces, images and illustrations, before heading over to the typography merch and ideas pages where the real fun happens! (

7. Hire a qualified professional designer – The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario’s vision is the achievement of a graphic design profession that is broadly valued for its contribution to life, commerce and society. RGD Ontario’s website is an excellent resource for designers as well as those looking to find a qualified designer. Click on the “hire a designer” link on the left hand menu for tips and resources to hire the best designer for your project’s needs. (

8. View an online video tutorial – is an extensive video tutorial resource containing thousands of videos on a range of design topics. Subscribers learn at a pace that works for them, and the library is continually updated as technology changes to keep up with the fast-paced world of design. (

9. Take a course – Continuing education design courses are offered at most universities and colleges across Canada, and are also offered as general interest courses through various school boards (the Toronto District School Board, for example). Invest in updating your skills in a classroom setting, by attending a semester-long course related to a specific program like Adobe Illustrator.

Go to Camp – Adobe Camp, that is! Organized by leaders of the Adobe community, camps are held all over the world and bring exposure to local design and developer talent. They also provide users with Adobe tools through coaching, hands-on-training and demos. They create awareness about local user groups and resources available to members of a particular community. (


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.