Online Learning: Graphic Design on a Budget

Emily McLaughlin
Apr 3, 2017 11:13:00 AM

No matter the industry, graphic design is an irreplaceable puzzle piece in your online learning strategy. How can you integrate visuals with the other senses to communicate complex ideas, all while navigating the murky waters of shortening attention spans and banner blindness? It’s a tall order, and the key is to use powerful graphic design—but this isn’t easy to achieve without a full team at the ready.

For the DIY types and businesses on a budget, here are four tactics for creating effective and professional visual designs without breaking the bank.

Go freelance

In a growing gig economy, there is no shortage of high-quality design professionals available to help you with your project. The challenge is meeting them halfway between cost and quality: the best designers may charge upwards of $100/hr, so opt for freelancers with a lower rate but an attractive portfolio. Try 99Designs and DesignCrowd, where multiple artists can submit their ideas for your consideration, or perform a custom search on global freelance market Upwork to find the right pro in your price range. Fiverr is also a popular hub for clients on a budget to connect with visual artists.

Try free or budget software

If you’re already the artsy type, test out some of the illustration and design programs available online. Canva is a free photo editor with all of the basic tools you need to spruce up your digital image files. Start with a template and customize everything from colors and fonts, to extras like stickers and filters to reflect your message. To make professional flowcharts, try Draw.io, another free tool loaded with drag-and-drop elements. If you want more control over your designs or want to create custom illustrations, Adobe now offers a $49.99 per month subscription (and a discount for teachers and students) for their complete Creative Suite.

Get feedback

One of the most significant challenges of solo graphic design is figuring out if your work “works.” Enlist a friend to look over your creations. Ask them specific questions about functionality, like, “What catches your attention?” or “What does this communicate to you?” Consider crowdsourcing your ideas on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to see which designs have the most impact. Bloggers will often run two versions of the same article paired with a different featured image to see which garners the most likes and shares. You can conduct a similar A/B test on social media with your logos or artwork -- you may even get a more honest response from strangers than people you know. To hone your own eye, read about the principles of good design in popular print and digital publications for designers like How and Layers.

Use photography

Sleek, high-res photography is one of the easiest ways to make your budget designs stand out. Not only can you use stock photography to add color and intrigue to your project, but photos can also serve as blueprints for your own original drawings and designs. For beautiful stock photography at a reasonable price, check out the millions of photos offered by Shutterstock and 123rf. For free, try Pixabay, Pexels, Gratisography and FreeImages. When using others’ photography in your work, read the attribution requirements for each photo. Many require you give credit to the photographer and the site where you found the image.

Graphic design for online learning may be a specialized skill, but if you have the eye (and the time), you can draft your own compositions using any combination of the budget tools above.

This tip about online learning graphic design was contributed by Amanda Layman Low, a freelance writer specializing in B2B and B2C corporate projects, as well as sales, technical materials, blog posts and eLearning content. To learn more about how to create course content on a budget, visit our tips on transcription tools, recording audio and capturing video.

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