Fortunately, it isn't required to go to design school in order to be a graphic designer. A good foundation in graphic design history, theory, and practical application will help you hit the ground running. There are plenty of resources available in which you can learn graphic design on your own. Don't set your expectations to high at first, as it will take enthusiastic study for years to become great. You can do it though!
If you would like to learn graphic design from the ground up, through self directed study, then this article lists some great resources that will get you started with your design education. Also, even if you do go to design school, at least three-fifths of your education will be through self directed study anyway. Let's get to it!
1. Understanding the Principles and Theory of Graphic Design
There are a few graphic design principles that effect every project you'll create. Understanding these principles conceptually and learning to apply them practically will formulate the foundation of your graphic design education. Let's take a look at the basic areas you should study to get a solid footing in graphic design.
Shape, Spacing, and Rhythm
I remember first learning these basic design principles, and they seamed so foreign at first. It took me quite some time to get comfortable with these techniques. In school we did a beginner project that consisted of drawing triangles, just to communicate emotion through placement, shape and spacing alone. Below are some good resources on these principles.
Understanding the basics of color theory is important and getting a feel for how to work with colors. Color can make areas of a design pop off the page or recede into the background. The use of texture can enhance the feel of a design. In print design texture can be the actual feel of paper or other materials. Imagery can also blend in with texture and is loaded with colors. Learning how to balance these is a delicate craft that will take some practice to apply well. Here are some resources on using color, texture, and imagery in graphic design:
Your ability to use type is one of the things that differentiates graphic design from other visual professions. A big part of graphic design is understanding typography, developing your knowledge of typefaces, and how to apply them in your design. This will be a constant study throughout your career. Here are a few great resources on type:
2. Standing Strong with a Historical Graphic Design Grounding
Philip Meggs book (see below), is a must have for every graphic design. You should read it from cover to cover. Also, as you go through spend time researching areas that interest you the most. Pick at least three areas to go into detailed study with and learn as much as you can about them. One area of interest for me is the Bauhaus, which was a graphic design and craft school founded in the early twentieth century. I find the subject captivating, probably because it combines so many of my passions: art, design, history, and education.