Brittney asks, “I’m a new designer. What skill do you think is the most valuable to focus on? There’s so many programs and stuff for me to learn, and I just don’t know where to start.” 

I remember when I was just starting out, and being overwhelmed with the steep learning curve in front of me. There were lots of new programs to learn, competing theories coming from all directions, and figuring out where to start was rough. But I have good news! No matter where you start, you’ll get there. Depending on your focus, you’ll naturally lean toward a good starting point. So, rather than focus on where to start…just start learning.

I would say, however, there is one thing you need to focus on no matter where you decide to jump in. Type. Above any other skill you can master as a designer (if that’s possible), type will undoubtably make or break you. The ability to control and manipulate type separates lowly designers from great ones. This skill will help you successfully organize large amounts of copy and content, develop appropriate heirarchy for conveying messages, and will undoubtably up your game no matter where you end up.

Somewhat related, study up on grids. For fun, design a front page of a newspaper with some of the common elements: masthead, headlines, teasers, bylines, captions, etc. Set up a nice rigid grid, focusing on the typographic elements on the page. See if you can successfully create a nice hierarchy of information.

Another tip I commonly give people is to NOT use the auto-align features of design programs, like Illustrator. Optically align them, and pay attention to the letterforms of the type above and below to make them appear lined up. For example, if a headline starts with “The,” the next line below will need to be inset a bit to make it appear lined up with the “T.” If you line it up with the arm of the “T,” it’ll look off.

Hope that helps!

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