6 Ways to Practice Graphic Design Without a Computer

6 Ways to Practice Graphic Design Without a Computer

Graphic design has been around far before the technological wonders of computers, laptops, and revolutionary software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. While computers are definitely more practical, especially if graphic designing is a source of revenue for you, practicing and learning the basic of graphic design without computers is highly beneficial when you don’t have access/can’t afford one or as a means to enhance your skills when you’re away from your equipment. 

In this article, we’re going to cover six ways anyone can practice graphic design without a computer. These methods require various tools, some of which will teach you everything you need to know about graphic design and others will help you hone your skills until you’re ready and able to transfer them into an impactful design on the computer.  

Read Graphic Design Books

Back when graphic designers stuck to pencils, rulers, and other everyday tools, there was one common form of practice that still applies today.

An excellent way to practice graphic design without a computer is to read graphic design books. Some of the best options include:

The content of these books cover a wide range of essential graphic design elements, from typography to color theory to layout design in addition to more personal aspects of being a successful graphic designer, such as methods for inspiring creativity and how to promote your personal brand.

And don’t judge all of these books by their publish date; many graphic design books predating the 90s (the birth decade of computers), possess insightful and relevant information that can help you learn new skills you can later transfer to your computer-based graphic designs.

Travel With a Writing Utensil and Paper

A skill nearly all graphic designers either possess innately or are forced to learn is how to find inspiration in their daily lives. By this we mean, what popular and effective elements of graphic design do you notice when you walk outside, or even around your house?

Traveling with a writing utensil and paper is a great way to practice graphic design virtually anywhere because it allows you to record notes and points of inspiration you notice around you to use in future designs. These might include unique layouts, fonts that caught your eye, common graphic design elements or themes you see in public media, etc.

If you’re an aspiring graphic designer who is a bit more artistically inclined, having these tools on hand can also come in handy for sketching potential logos, characters, or other branding visuals.

Perform Letter Form and Typography Exercises

There are numerous elements that go into an effective graphic design, and proper utilization of letter forms and typography is one of them.

Getting some hands-on practice with letter form and typography exercises is a great way to:

  • Learn how to distinguish between fonts
  • Achieve the ultimate goal of legibility through skills such as deliberate font choice, kerning, etc.
  • Understand how font choice can help you communicate a particular message or tone in your design

One exercise we highly recommend is to obtain some tracing paper, a writing utensil, and some magazines and/or newspapers. You’ll then trace different letters of varying fonts that catch your eye (you can make this more artistic and fun by creating a composition with the letters).

As you trace, pay attention to the curves, details, and other aspects of the type. This can help you recognize the differences between serif, sans serif, and decorative text as well as expanding your typography horizons and potentially finding some of your favorite fonts that promote a distinct tone you’d like to use in the future.

Some other exercises you can try are to write the alphabet and choose a different type for each letter. You could also write a single word in multiple fonts and then quiz yourself on the font names. While it isn’t exactly required that graphic designers have thousands of font names memorized, it will come in handy when you have a vision in mind and know exactly what font or font type would apply best.

Copy Layouts

Another way you can practice graphic design similar to the exercises mentioned previously with typography and letter form is to perform layout exercises.

The easiest exercise you can do to practice layouts is to simply copy layouts you see in magazines, and newspapers, on posters, book covers, and webpages, or other similar forms of media.

When you do this, make sure you use graphic design blocks that help make the layout clearer (ex. images are X-ed out squares, text is reduced to lines).

The point of this exercise is to get a sense a particular page or layout’s balance and hierarchy. Evenly distributing text, images, and other elements in a layout is crucial to graphic design, and so, one way to see what layouts work best is to copy those already published in successful media.

After you’ve copied and studied the layout, you can take the exercise one step further by trying to rearrange it and see how this affect’s the page’s balance.

Consider Getting Into Photography

Contrary to common belief, graphic designers do not need to be the most artistically gifted people capable of drawing masterpieces. While it is important to be creative, there are other ways to do this and create images for your graphic designs.

Photography is a common art form that graphic designers learn, as it plays on that skill of viewing the world through a different lens, so to speak, and shares many of the same “rules” as graphic design, such as color theory, balance, and more.

Not only is photography a fantastic creative outlet, but it also offers other benefits, mainly the ability to use the photos they take for future projects. This reduces dependency on stock photos, which are often generic with varying quality.    

Use Mobile Apps to Practice and Watch Pros

Not all graphic designing has to be done on a computer, as we’ve already demonstrated, and while Smartphones and tablets aren’t usually capable of handling state-of-the-art graphic design software, such as InDesign, they still have their benefits.

Downloading and utilizing mobile applications on a Smartphone or tablet can be extremely helpful for individuals who want to start practicing their digital graphic design skills but can’t afford a laptop or computer.

There are numerous applications that either focus entirely on page layouts or other elements of graphic design, such as fonts, logo creation, etc. that you can use to create exceptional graphic designs nearly anywhere.

Some of our top recommendations include:

  • Placeit.net (internet based, can be used on any device, template based)
  • Creative Cloud/ Creative Cloud Express
  • Adobe Photoshop Mix
  • Illustrator
  • Find My Font
  • Adobe Spark Post
  • Color Reference
  • Procreate/ Procreate Pocket
  • Canva
  • Desygner
  • Trello
  • Pages

In addition to these apps, which will help you practice creating graphic designs, we recommend using your Smartphone or tablet to watch YouTube videos or even take some online graphic design classes. These are easy and overall accessible ways to watch and learn from professionals or highly practiced graphic designers.