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What makes a good graphic designer?

graphic designer pen

A graphic designer needs a big dollop of natural talent, the ability to see inside, underneath and outside the box plus an insane addiction to typography. Here’s some of my thoughts on the rest of the recipe.

It’s an interesting question and not an easy one to answer. In fact, there are so many subjective parts to this question every designer will tell you something different. You’ll be going around in circles forever!

As a freelance graphic designer with over 32 years of graphic design service when someone that wants to start in our industry asks me ‘what makes a good graphic designer’ I tell them this.

The ever-changing goalposts

The industry is ever evolving and keeping on top of those changes is a job in itself. Designers now need skill sets way beyond the scope of what used to be required. Back in the mists of time when I started, you needed skills in magic markers, Letraset, sharp ruled corners and having a cigarette always lit in the ashtray. You needed to be like a top surgeon with a scalpel blade nevermind having the eyesight of the six million dollar man.

Constantly on the lookout for anything new, I saw the design industry starting to evolve, and I embraced the way it was heading. I took full opportunity of getting myself trained on the mono ‘macs’ and never looked back. Those formative years with a drawing board and Rotring pen, however, gave us graphic designers of a certain age some fantastic visual skills. While most aren’t needed as much now, they do bring something extra to the modern table.

What are the tools I need?

A successful designer still uses a pen and paper… there I’ve said it out loud and proud for all to hear! It may be retro or old school, but nothing beats it.

I honestly think that the ability to ‘scamp’ out quick ideas on paper is a skill that should be in any graphic designers arsenal and encouraged at the most basic of levels. I see far too many designers that try putting an idea straight on the screen after leaving college (and a few that work in the industry as well!).

Explore your possible solutions to design and look beyond what that particular mac setup or software app has to give you. Your mac is just one of your tools. Your mac won’t find a magic solution; your brain will. Use pen and paper it will make you a good graphic designer.

The qualities of a good graphic designer

Ask any successful designer, and they will tell you that inside them graphic design is a calling, a labour of love, and the time they spend getting something ‘just right’ will never change.

Some ideas become solid very quickly, and you can spend an eternity trying to better it only to come full circle. Others need a few beers, several walks around the block and a notebook by the bed.

The long hours, endless edits and budget restraints are all part of the business. Embrace them all and go with the flow. Ignore the clock; it will make you a good graphic designer.

There’s too much white space…

Clients will love your work… but… it’s the ‘but’ that will get you every time. We love it but… It’s perfect but… Great! But can you just?… Thick skin is always needed.

Remember it’s not personal, and you aren’t saving lives. It may seem that way when your passion and drive for being a designer kicks in. It’s your baby and your solution, but criticism will always be there in one form or another.

That criticism will help you grow. Good design is subjective in many ways, and the art of visual communication and verbal communication is paramount for a designer. Be able to explain your work, but if it becomes too complicated to describe it, then it isn’t the right solution. Back to the drawing board for you!

A challenging client will help you grow. From negotiating a fee to pitching your work communication is vital. Wear your virtual designers’ armour with pride; it will make you a good graphic designer.

Question everything you do

The project will never be over. Get used to this one. Self-doubt is every successful graphic designer’s nemesis and a godsend. It allows you to always look at your work with a view to trying to make it better even when the job has gone to print, and the invoice is paid.

Question, revisit and challenge everything you do. It will drive everyone else nuts, but it will make you a good graphic designer.

Who are you gonna call?

Be professional. Your clients are paying for your time, your energy, your ideas, your solutions and your talent. Build up good stable working relationships, and your work will naturally evolve. Work on your communication skills and when the client thinks ‘I need a graphic designer’ be the first person they call. Be a reliable professional that always delivers.

Clients are quite needy and rightly so. If they had your skills, they wouldn’t need you. As you’re their specialist, learn to manage those needs and give 110%. Be trustworthy it will make you a good graphic designer.

And finally a good graphic designer needs to…

Always try new things. Never stop questioning. Share your thoughts and inspirations with other designers. Never undersell yourself or your time and skills. Above all never stop learning it will make you a good graphic designer.

Jason Powell is a freelance graphic designer based in Liverpool, Wirral and Cheshire.