Graphic Design Fundamentals

In partnership with
Instructor Timothy Samara,
School of Art+Design at State University of New York at Purchase
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2.7 out of 5
13 Reviews
30% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 9022
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn the four elements of graphic design.
  • Examine the power of color in messaging.
  • Discover the ways in which static forms can imply movement.
  • Uncover the crucial role of the iterative process in design.

Course Overview

Each of us is presented with visual messages about 10,000 times every day. The toothpaste tube you pick up before you’re even fully awake, the menu at the coffee shop, your banking website, street signs, the ads on social media, and the handwritten “garage sale” sign posted in your neighbor’s yard, just to name a few. While you might not think the concept of “design” applies to most of these items, that’s exactly what they’re about. Each one was created with one specific purpose in mind: to influence your feelings and behaviors. And whether the designer had access to a single black marker or the latest computer software and a six-figure budget, each visual message was created using the same four elements—form and image, color, type, and layout. In Graphic Design Fundamentals, you’ll learn how to use these four basic design elements to achieve specific visual goals and to analyze the visual messages all around you.

The Great Courses has partnered with CreativeLive to present 36 exciting video lessons divided into five modules that bring these design fundamentals to life. Your instructor, nationally recognized designer, educator, and author Timothy Samara, explains and beautifully illustrates the design process from beginning to end in a style that is both engaging and accessible. And because the course was filmed with a live class, you’ll have the benefit of hearing student questions and Mr. Samara’s answers. Don’t worry if you’ve never held a paintbrush or learned to distinguish one type style from another—and no special design software is needed. Just open your eyes and enjoy the thrill of the creative process!

The Four Elements of Design

Can every piece of created visual material—whether the world’s most famous logo or the ad on a restaurant placemat—really be developed using only four or fewer elements? Absolutely. But because the options for each element are essentially infinite, as are the elements’ relationships to each other, design choices are limitless. In fact, the real challenge is to pare down your options to make your project work.

In this course, you’ll learn how to choose and use each of these elements to meet your goals:

Form and Image: The use of signs to represent complex ideas is the basis of visual communication. Understanding the functions of the basic forms—dot, line, and plane—and the relationships between them will help you choose the appropriate forms and images to meet your goal, no matter what medium you’re working in.

Color: Color carries meaning influenced by its proximity to images or words, cultural associations, and personal memories. You’ll be able to harness the power of color as you learn the significance of hue, saturation, value, and temperature.

Type: With more than 150,000 fonts in use today, how does a designer choose? The key is to understand the letterforms themselves and the historical information they convey. Learn how the type’s shape, spacing, and leading impacts the viewer’s ability to read and understand the verbal narrative.

Layout: Ultimately, a designer must decide exactly how to bring everything together in one place—this is the layout. Even if you’ve chosen the best possible forms or images, colors, and types to accomplish your goal, combining them is key. Learn how the placement of design elements impacts the viewer’s visual experience and ability to understand your message.

The Design Process in Action

In Graphic Design Fundamentals, you’ll not only learn about design, but you’ll also see the creative process in action as Mr. Samara takes you through five projects step by step. You’ll learn to work to understand the needs of each unique client, how to proceed with historical and visual research, and why you should use thumbnail sketches to begin your design. You’ll see the iterative process at work, with many options being abandoned along the way as he brings the final piece together. The graphic design process comes alive as you watch Mr. Samara develop:

Ads: The purpose of the featured ad is to promote a bike expo and to pique the viewer’s interest about bike riding in general. You’ll learn how Mr. Samara considers the many visual options to communicate motion—from stagnation to chaos. He also shares his thought process about color, and why he decides to completely remove color from a significant portion of the ad.

Posters: Learn through the process of creating a poster used to promote a new play set in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, around the time of the Persian new year. You’ll learn how Mr. Samara researches the Islamic Revolution and the new year holiday, along with their associated symbolism. You’ll learn why he discards his early visual ideas and also see many iterations of imagery, typography, and color as the project evolves. In the final poster, you’ll recognize visual references to all the major themes Mr. Samara set out to develop, and you’ll see how they create a vibrant whole that can be “read” from far away or close up.

Websites: The website you will see built is to serve as “brochureware” for a three-generation family-owned construction company. You’ll hear about the client’s specific goals for the website, and the ways in which Mr. Samara develops every design and functional element to address that goal. You’ll learn why he researches Italian design, and why he decides to draw a set of common construction tools in a variety of styles—even before he has any idea how, or if, he’ll use them in the finished product.

Books: See Mr. Samara put together a monograph and retrospective of the works of a modern sculptor. You’ll watch him work to develop a single linking element to govern the visual presentation. You’ll see the various design options Mr. Samara presents to the client—and learn why the client doesn’t like any of them. You’ll even see what it is like to go “back to the drawing board” to create an interior layout and book cover that better meet the client’s visual goals.

Branding: Branding involves giving a unique and memorable visual identity to a particular entity—in this case, a certified macrobiotic chef. You’ll hear about Mr. Samara’s detailed research and why he presents those results to the client in the form of a competitive audit. You’ll see him use a great variety of sources to find symbolic ideas related to cooking, plants, food, elements of his client’s personality, and spiritual philosophies. Mr. Samara discusses why he wants to use typeface designs that are no longer in circulation, and how he narrows his color scheme down to one palette from the dozen he originally considers. This segment is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a designer developing a complete visual language for his client’s ads, logo, blog, business cards, invoices, letterhead, presentations, and website.

With Graphic Design Fundamentals and CreativeLive, you have an extraordinary opportunity to not only learn about graphic design, but to also see this exhilarating process at work—and to develop a better appreciation of the 10,000 visual messages you encounter every day.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 18 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to Graphic Design
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 1 x
  • 2
    Graphic Design: Areas of Specialization
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 2 x
  • 3
    The History of Graphic Design
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 3 x
  • 4
    The Graphic Designer's Toolkit
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 4 x
  • 5
    The Graphic Designer's Tools: Color
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 5 x
  • 6
    The Graphic Designer's Tools: Typography
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 6 x
  • 7
    The Graphic Designer's Tools: Layout & Space
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 7 x
  • 8
    Typical Work Processes
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 8 x
  • 9
    Designing an Advertisement
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 9 x
  • 10
    Designing a Poster
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 10 x
  • 11
    Designing a Book Layout: Basic Concepts
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 11 x
  • 12
    Designing a Book Layout: The Details
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 12 x
  • 13
    Designing a Website
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 13 x
  • 14
    Designing a Brand Identity: Preparation
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 14 x
  • 15
    Designing a Brand Identity: Showing the Client
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 15 x
  • 16
    Building Brand Language
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 16 x
  • 17
    Designing the Touchpoints
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 17 x
  • 18
    Fundamentals Are Forever
    Module 1: Getting Started - Lesson 18 x
  • 19
    Color Identity
    Module 2: Color - Lesson 1 x
  • 20
    Color Relationships
    Module 2: Color - Lesson 2 x
  • 21
    Palettes & Systems
    Module 2: Color - Lesson 3 x
  • 22
    Color as Meaning
    Module 2: Color - Lesson 4 x
  • 23
    Form & Image Toolbox
    Module 3: Form & Image - Lesson 1 x
  • 24
    Media & Stylization
    Module 3: Form & Image - Lesson 2 x
  • 25
    Representation & Manipulation
    Module 3: Form & Image - Lesson 3 x
  • 26
    Visual Narrative & Metaphor
    Module 3: Form & Image - Lesson 4 x
  • 27
    Typography: The Basics
    Module 4: Type - Lesson 1 x
  • 28
    Style: Choosing & Mixing
    Module 4: Type - Lesson 2 x
  • 29
    Text-Setting Mechanics
    Module 4: Type - Lesson 3 x
  • 30
    Styles: Visual Qualities of Text
    Module 4: Type - Lesson 4 x
  • 31
    Interactions of Forms in Space
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 1 x
  • 32
    Arrangement, Logic & Rhythm
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 2 x
  • 33
    Contrast & Hierarchy
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 3 x
  • 34
    Unifying Type & Imagery
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 4 x
  • 35
    Working with Grids (or Not)
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 5 x
  • 36
    Bringing It All Together
    Module 5: Layout - Lesson 6 x

Lecture Titles

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What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

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Your professor

Timothy Samara

About Your Professor

Timothy Samara
School of Art+Design at State University of New York at Purchase
Timothy Samara is a New York-based graphic designer, educator, and author whose 25-year career has focused on visual identity and branding, communication design, and typography. Mr. Samara currently serves as a part-time assistant professor in the department of graphic design at Parsons/The New School for Design, and as lecturer in the School of Art+Design at State University of New York at Purchase. He formerly lectured at...
Learn More About This Professor


Graphic Design Fundamentals is rated 2.6 out of 5 by 13.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Junk! It was UNDER produced and OVER priced. I feel cheated. I want my money back.
Date published: 2018-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information backed up by scientific data. I am long standing client of great courses. The two last courses that I purchased a month ago are full of great information and practical applications. Just love it!
Date published: 2018-08-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fundamentals missing Using the word Fundamentals in this course title is misleading. I am half way through this course and have encountered very little that could be considered fundamental matieral. Instead, the professor walks the viewer through several examples of his own work and a brief history of graphic design. Interesting but not helpful. There is no real structure to these lectures and I still am not sure what Graphic Design really is. I hope the second half is more informative.
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not at all impressed There is some good content, but this is not up to the Great Courses norm. Flow is choppy and irregular. It was hard to get interested in the presentation. Normally I give courses five stars, but this time I think that a two is generous.
Date published: 2018-08-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Avoid this one. Buy a book instead. This series has the quality of a second-rate YouTube video. The content is broken into 15 minute sessions. Just when you think there will be some real information...bam! Session over! The instructor ums and ahs to the point of distraction. That may be okay if you’re teaching a class of college sophomores, but not for a professional video series. I’ve never returned a course before, but I may return this one.
Date published: 2018-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learn to Think Better About Design I’ll keep this brief: This is a comprehensive suite of courses that I found very valuable, adding many tools to my repertoire as a 20-year-plus professional designer. No, the instructor isn’t always smooth in his delivery, but he’s likeable and the content is great.
Date published: 2018-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very informative I am viewing this before I give it to my artist grandson. I love the magic of type and the idea of imparting ideas with visuals. This is a great set of lessons for how to make your essay more understandable as well as preparing for a job.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting, but less depth than expected While the treatment of graphic design was interesting, it lacked sufficient depth for me to feel like I had any greater understanding of the subject. Some of the segments were less than 5 minutes, leaving me feeling the particular topic was only a review. Fortunately, it was on sale, so I have no gripes about value. However, I'll think twice before purchasing another "experimental format" course.
Date published: 2018-07-24
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