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15 Top Tips for Becoming a Great Graphic Designer

 By Mikel Cajmara Photography

The world of graphic design is rapidly changing. Not only do designers have to contend with new technologies, we also have to compete to keep “en vogue”. The trends in graphic design, for both print and online, change as much as those in mainstream fashion.

And while it’s easy to get caught up in all things technical, we need to remember why we loved graphic design in the first place. Is the whole purpose of the craft not to continually push the boundaries of creativity? To constantly grow, change, and produce winning designs? Time and time again? Whether you’re a design amateur or ace, sometimes a little help goes a long way. Here are 15 top tips to help you grow into a great graphic designer:

1. Scrapbooking

You can – and should – take graphic design inspiration from anything and everything. If you see a logo, magazine layout, business card, or anything else that catches your eye – scrapbook it. Keeping a physical scrapbook is best as you can keep flicking through, adding notes, and referring back.

You can also create online scrap books on websites such as Pinterest. Have specific boards for all aspects of design and keep adding anything that inspires you. The things you scrapbook can be typography and other graphic elements, as well as fashion, celebrities, and so much more.

2. Read Design Blogs (and Write Your Own)

One of the best ways to become a great designer is by reading what authorities have to say on the subject. There are a plethora of great design blogs on the net that you should subscribe to and read regularly. Comment on these blogs to share your thoughts, tips, and opinions.

As well as authority blogs, you should read smaller graphic design blogs. It is also a great idea to write your own. This way you can share your artwork, any insider tips, and even showcase your designs. Write about what you know, and people will find your information valuable. You can always refer back to your own posts when you’re feeling low on inspiration.

3. Don’t Overdo it

The longer you spend designing, the more tempting it can be to showcase all your skills. But a flashy logo that uses all the colours you can think of and just as many fonts, won’t work. Sometimes the most simple designs are the most effective.

Consider the Nike and McDonalds logos. They use a single image and two colours at most. Yet they’re the most recognisable logos in the world, and are considered brilliant graphic design. The key is getting to know your brief, client, and their audience.

4. Embrace White Space

When choosing a simple design, the power of white space shouldn’t be overlooked. This can truly enhance your design work, and often says more than an overcrowded page. For example, the FedEx logo uses white space to create the hidden image of an arrow. Great graphic designers should be able to say exactly what they want to, in the most subtle of ways.

5. Consider Your Colours

Research has shown that different colours evoke different emotions in their target audience. For example, you might think your red logo evokes emotion; when in fact it conveys danger.

You should also think about where your designs will be used. Certain colours mean different things in different cultures and countries. For instance, you may “love” is symbolised by red, yet it is the colour blue that is associated with love in African cultures.

6. Think Outside the Box

If you’ve been a graphic designer for a long time, you can get stuck in a design rut. You know what works well, what doesn’t, and your particular strengths. While this can make your design tasks easier, you begin to lose your creativity.

If you feel like you’re designing the same things over and over, stop. It’s time to think outside the box. Take your designing to another level and design in a way you wouldn’t normally. Refreshing your designs is a great way to refresh your creativity and your skills.

7. Use New Techniques

Part of thinking outside the box, and changing up your designs, is trying out new techniques. There are always new techniques and pieces of software to try out. New techniques will refresh old designs, and will help reignite your creativity.

While you won’t always find a new technique, skill, or method that works for you, mixing up the way you design will help keep you inspired. Part of growing as a designer is learning new things, and these skills will look great in your portfolio if nothing else.

8. Take Lots of Photos

Great graphic designers should take inspiration from their surroundings. Even if you’re not in “work mode”, you should always be taking photographs. And with digital cameras getting smaller, and smart phones acting more like professional cameras; you have no excuse not to.

Include these photos in your scrapbooks, upload them to your blog, and make plenty of collages. You can store images in Dropbox to free up space on your computer, and transfer them safely. So next time you see designs you like, you can take them home with you.

9. Get Social

Great for inspiration and growing your creativity, all designers should be on social networking sites. We’ve briefly touched on Pinterest – a great place to share your designs, your motivations, and witness lots of creativity.

You should also create a Facebook and Twitter page. Again, you can use these social media sites to share work you’re proud of, grab some great ideas, and connect with other designers. The beauty of social media is that you can connect with peers within the industry. They’re the ones who will be able to help you overcome designer’s block, think outside the box, and learn new skills.

10. Take a Break

Just like journalists get “writer”s block’, chances are you have days where you just don’t know what to design. Lacking in creativity is tough for all designers, but sitting and staring at a black screen isn’t going to help.

Take a break, get out and about, and take your mind of things. Take your camera and snap at anything and everything. When you come back to work, you may have found the inspiration you need. You should also read through your favourite blogs and flick through your scrapbook to start afresh.

11. Read Books and Magazines

The internet seems to have taken over our lives, and the humble paperback is seemingly confined to time capsules. However, there are hundreds of brilliant design books and publications you should be reading.

Whether they contain tips and tricks, or simply examples; if you’re not reading these books, you should be. Flag up pages you like with bookmarks and post-its so you can always refer back when you need to.

12. Travel

Designers who travel regularly – whether for work or leisure – are never short on ideas. Travelling enables you to see how your peers overseas do things; keeping you brimming with ideas for your next project. Keep a diary with images and notes of your travels for future inspiration.

Even if you don’t travel regularly you should still look at how design differs from country to country. Make sure the blogs you follow feature content from all over the world, giving you a real idea of overseas design.

13. Rework Some Old Designs

This is for fun, rather than as a project for a client, but reworking your old designs is a great way to see how you’ve grown. Re-read your old client briefs and, when you have some spare time, rework your old designs.

You could also rework some famous designs. Choose a brand you know well, and rework their logos, company branding or anything that takes your fancy. Just make sure that this isn’t eating into time when you should be doing work for clients.

14. Network

Whether you attend seminars, lectures, or just use the internet; you should take time to network with other designers. These should be designers in your niche and beyond. You can share resources, tips and ideas.

You’ll learn loads from new and old designers alike, so it’s certainly worth taking the time to get to know fellow creatives. Speak to writers, developers, marketers and the like, too. Like you, they’ll be on the hunt for new ideas, and you can work together to share information.

15. Have Fun

Perhaps the best tip I can share – and one that is sometimes forgotten – is to always have fun. Never fall out of love with designing, because then you know it’s time to leave. By following the other 14 tips here, you can keep mixing things up. You’ll keep learning new things, and finding out secrets you never knew existed.

Keeping your creativity alive is the key to loving what you do. Some jobs will be hard, and some clients will be picky; but you should always remember why you took the path to graphic design in the first place.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.