As far as job titles go, ‘Graphic Designer’ is a pretty good one. Introducing yourself as a graphic designer will suggest to most people that you’re stylish, creative, professional and – let’s be honest – cool. That’s how the job looks from the outside, but the day-to-day reality of being a graphic designer can be a very different matter.
Great swathes of time, care and enthusiasm can be taken up designing something that never makes it past the first stages of client or managerial feedback. The lion’s share of your efforts can go into multiple rounds of amends and frustrating sessions of ‘designing by committee’. And you know there are always a number of other designers out there who would happily take your work from you, because this is a pretty saturated industry.
So if you want to succeed in the graphic design game, what are the secrets? We’ve put together a list of three qualities it’s important to embrace and develop if you want your career as a graphic designer to flourish…
A graphic designer need to be… always learning
Resting on your laurels is not an option for the graphic designer who wants to stay in popular demand. Designers are by definition at the forefront of aesthetic trends. Your best case scenario is that you’ll be leading the charge for ‘the next big thing’ but even if you’re not, falling behind in terms of trends could be disastrous. So how do you stay ahead of the curve and avoid creating work that looks stale before it’s even out the door?
The best designers find inspiration everywhere and never turn off the ‘designer’ part of their brains. Indeed most go in search of inspiration, sifting through design sites and blogs whenever there’s some down-time. Keeping a log of design work that you find inspiring can then be invaluable for jump-starting the creative process at the beginning of a project. This log can even include work that you’ve done yourself in your own time. Having separate non-paid projects going on alongside your professional work will allow you to experiment without restriction, which will help you to learn and grow in confidence.
But besides creative development ‘always learning’ also means keeping abreast of new design technology and tools. A designer’s box of tricks needs to stay fresh and contemporary to produce work that is in turn fresh and forward-thinking.
A graphic designer needs to be… flexible
Flexibility manifests itself in a number of ways in a good graphic designer.
First of all it means that a designer adapts to the work they are doing. They understand their audience for any given project and what that audience will respond to.
It also means understanding their client and brand and what that brand is looking to communicate through design. A designer’s own personal style may be minimalist, sleek and high-fashion but if a client has a more homegrown, vintage feel then the designer will have to tap into their inner chameleon.
Finally they’ll employ flexible people skills, using intuition to work well with their client. It’s always important to gauge how much input a client wants to have, when to push back on an opinion – based on their own expertise – and when to take criticism and alter work accordingly. When your work is being criticised there’s a very fine line between being defensive and being professionally assertive. These flexible people skills will come into play not only in collaboration with a paying client but also with other members of a design team. When working collaboratively – as most designers do – being open to change is of the utmost importance.
A graphic designer needs to be… focused
Having exceptional focus allows a graphic designer to work to tight deadlines. Managing a design project often involves hitting various deadlines, to allow for multiple rounds of feedback. Missing these will usually result in an unhappy client and a stressed, overstretched designer.
The reality of design work is also that multiple projects are often underway at once. Being able to prioritise at different stages of a project is very important, and switching focus easily from one task to another is also incredibly valuable.
Though graphic design is often thought of as a highly creative role, a certain amount of science is involved if a piece of design work is to serve its purpose really effectively. Getting carried away with an impractical but aesthetically delightful idea often leads to bad design. Focusing on strategy before the design work begins is always a good idea. Design that doesn’t fulfill marketing or advertising objectives isn’t going to satisfy a commercially-focussed client, and – at the end of the day – that is the lot of your average graphic designer.