What makes a great designer? Is there some secret formula? Where is that sweet 5-step process to becoming a killer designer? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is no such formula. However, when I study and watch successful designers, I see common qualities. Working at a creative agency has proven to me that there are eight qualities of a great graphic designer.
A great designer is…
1. Always Learning
Who likes to be told how to do something better than or different from the way we were taught? Usually, we start to short-circuit and lose our cool. But what if they’re right? What if that Photoshop trick saves you three hours of production time?
Many great designers started out very humble. They became sponges and took it all in. They took notes and tried new things. They were receptive and grew because they listened to the people around them. There wasn’t an attitude of pride or arrogance, but a conscious decision to be humble, to be teachable.
2. Able to Take Criticism
When I was in college, like many art students, I had to sit through critiques. My professor would group us all together around our lovely design work and just go to town on what was right and wrong about every single design. Then, she would open up the floor for all of us to chime in on each other’s work. You know what happened? (insert cricket noise here) Silence. I mean it…dead silence. No one wanted to give any kind of criticism! I was just as petrified to speak up as the next guy. It was bad enough taking in all the criticism; why in the world would I want to dish it out?
Criticism is a tricky thing. As a designer, we must learn that when our work is under criticism there’s no need to take it personally. There’s no reason to get defensive and make up lame excuses. Be receptive and open-minded.
3. Constantly Looking for Inspiration
How do you start your day? We all have our rituals. One of the things I do as soon as I get to work is visit three to five websites full of design inspiration. Rarely have I met a talented designer that does not practice the same habit. You must be exposed to what’s going on in the design world. I’m constantly looking at what is getting noticed and talked about in the design world so that I can apply the same professionalism to my work. I can also keep an eye on what the current design trends are and where they are going. Keeping a pool of design inspiration has also proven helpful. When I start a project, I can go back to it and find inspiring design work that I’ve saved to help kick start my creative process.
4. Out of the Comfort Zone
Ask any successful designer and they’ll tell you they were willing to learn and explore new design tricks. It’s hard! I get that. However, how will a designer ever grow or learn if they’re never pushed beyond their limits? Almost every day, I am confronted with a design problem and I think to myself, “OK, they never taught me this in school, what in the world am I supposed to do?”
FEAR CAN GET THE BEST OF US. IT CAN CRIPPLE US. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE, LEARN AND THEN JUST TRY.
In this day and age, it’s so easy to learn new tips and tricks. Take advantage of the vast knowledge that is out there. Listen to your colleagues around you and don’t let fear stop you from creating amazing things.
5. A Chameleon
My art director told me that being a chameleon is one of the most important characteristics of a good designer. He’s right. Don’t get me wrong, having your own personal style and flair is important and your style is probably what’s helping you succeed today. However, as a designer we have to think about what will be appropriate for the client we are designing for. We need to rein in our design habits and tendencies to be in the client’s best visual interest. What will visually carry their message the best? Are they sporty? Maybe they lean toward being very homegrown and historic. Maybe they’re sleek, high fashion and modern. The point is to not get stuck in one overall style. Be flexible and expand your design aesthetics.
6. A Professional Collaborator
It’s important to get along with others. I know, this may sound like preschool all over again, but it’s true. Collaboration is an important quality I’ve seen in many successful designers. It’s important to be a team player within your agency as well as with clients. The times I’ve had to work in and with a group of people, everything goes much smoother if I’m flexible and collaborative with the other professionals around me.
7. An Ethical Designer
A lot of designers out there steal other people’s work for the sake of convenience. Not only is this lazy but its morally wrong…bottom line. There is no excuse to steal another designer’s hard work and claim it as your own.
EVERY SUCCESSFUL DESIGNER HAS EARNED THEIR NOTORIETY WITH HONEST AND LEGITIMATE WORK.
I spend a lot of time on designs, and I would hate to see my work stolen and repurposed for something else. A good designer thinks about what they have time for and decides what to create from there.
8. Designing On The Side
If you ask any creative individual, they’ll tell you that the creativity never stops. Most great designers I’ve met have told me they are always working on the side. This habit creates a great outlet for designers to have complete freedom of restrictions, a way for each of us to create something truly original and something self-fulfilling. Having something on the side is important for a designer to let loose, experiment, and create something that he can truly call his own. This also allows us to experience trial and error, making the work we do for clients that much better.
I believe that great designers share these eight common qualities. I’m sure there’re quite a few more qualities that can be added to this list. What are some that you would add? I’d love to hear about them.
Coutesy of Vtldesign.