Building a Strong Understanding of Graphic Design through Urban Arts

November 6, 2018 | by Horacio Acevedo

As an aspiring graphic designer, I began my education with what I thought would be a great disadvantage. I did not have my first computer until my junior year of college and I had no experience in programs such as Abode Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign. I felt I was behind in a classroom full of students who had taken graphic design courses at their high schools. Overall, I had a minimal idea of what I would be getting myself into when I decided I wanted to give the graphic design field a chance.

What I soon learned is that I not only was able to keep up with my peers, but I was able to excel by putting into practice my past experience with urban art. My first years learning Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, I won a national student design contest in packaging design and continued winning various other contests throughout the years. With a strong portfolio and minimal experience with this essential software, I was able to land a job while I was in school. During this time, I came to realize that Photoshop, Illustrator or any other software or electronics that designers use are just tools that would still require creativity and a strong foundational understanding of graphic design.

Urban arts is definitely what drove me to ask questions and seek answers to help strengthen my craft, yet little did I know, my studies of the craft would lead me to develop a strong understanding of good graphic design standards. In retrospect, these are some of the key lessons I took from urban arts.




When I first became interested in urban arts, I found myself studying letters in depth. Letters became shapes and symbols that I was able to experiment with. I would pay close attention to the details found in letters and would observe the relationship of space, the flow the individual letters would create next to each other, and soon I was seeing words and letters as images, or as I like to say, “word pictures”. Putting this into practice in graphic design allowed me to comfortably combine contrasting fonts and create visual headlines with the use of minimal treatments to communicate a message to viewers.




When looking at urban art, it is difficult to miss the strong and bold use of colors. Learning the effect of placing colors next to each other or the emotions they invoke is something that I would find myself thinking of constantly as I worked on my graffiti pieces. A book that greatly impacted me is the Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. It introduced me to the idea of optical illusions, which could be created with mastery of color combinations and also inspired a deeper understanding of how we view color. Through this book, I also learned about the Bezold Effect, which explains how colors may appear different when adjacent to other colors and the illusion it creates to the human eye. Even now, I continue to experiment with colors on each new project I work on.



Learning the Rules, then Breaking Them

As graphic designers, we are constantly looking at new design trends, deciphering why they work and seeing how we can evolve things further. When we work on branding a new company, we study competitors, analyze the trends and then work on breaking out of those imaginary boundaries to create a unique persona. As urban artists, we are constantly looking into how we can create new and unique styles which will allow our artwork to stand out from the rest. This has pushed us to experiment with different patterns, mediums, colors and even looking into the past to see how we can merge old trends with new styles.

While urban arts is not something I continue to practice, I still constantly work on projects  while looking back at what I had learned in the past to help me navigate forward in my field. Our past experiences make us who we are now, and I’m glad that my previous hobby has allowed me to further my career now. Has a hobby from your past helped you in your design career? Let us know in the comments below!

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