First of all… what IS a graphic designer?
There can be confusion as to what a graphic designer actually does. So to clear things up: graphic designers like me get paid to create amazing visuals for digital or printed media.
We use imagery, typography and/or moving graphics to put together unique visual concepts that not only attract and hold the attention of consumers, but also portray the brand – our client – as competent, relevant, and the kind of company that people will want to buy from.
We manage every single aspect of a brand’s aesthetic identity, from the colours and sizes of the fonts used within their corporate documents all the way through to professionally considered layouts for ads, brochures, packaging and exhibition displays. Many of us – including yours truly – also apply their design skills to websites.
Most graphic designers have a broad understanding of all design disciplines, but many will tend to specialise in a particular field. For example, a broadcast designer will create graphics solely for use in TV productions, while a brand identity designer (me!) focuses on developing strong visual identities for organisations that want to stand out from their competitors.
How the profession has changed over time
The evolution of the design industry throughout the last few decades has massively changed the role of the graphic designer.
Our tools are more advanced than ever before… and cheaper, too!
Having been working in the sector for over 25 years, I’ve seen trends come and go; it’s to be expected in such a creative field. What has really blown me away, however, is the way in which the tools we use on an almost daily basis have become more sophisticated – and yet more affordable – in the process.
For example, gone are the days of having to fork out thousands on a license for a design suite. Having access to cloud-based design software, such as Adobe’s Indesign, means that even designers on a shoestring budget are able to explore their ideas in style. Hardware is more readily available, too; Macs may continue to be the computer of choice for designers, but some of the latest PCs are rivalling the specs of our favourite Apple creations. And products such as the Surface Pro from Microsoft let us flex our creative muscles in any location thanks to their lightness and versatility.
Basically, we’re now able to design anything, anywhere, without breaking the bank. It’s incredible, really!
However, we need to make sure we stay ahead of the curve where technology is concerned.
Any graphic designer worth their salt needs to have sound working knowledge of the latest technologies that are now being adopted by marketers for better reach. Sure, good storytelling will always remain at the heart of the work that we do – but we need to understand, for example, how virtual reality (VR) is changing the way that customers experience a brand, and then adapt our thinking to include this new and exciting space.
We’re much more technically-minded than we were 10 or 15 years ago.
What’s also struck me as particularly interesting is that designers are now expected to have some knowledge of coding if they want to get ahead. We don’t need to be master programmers – we just need to know how to bring our designs to life at a basic level. I suppose it saves us having to lean on the skills of an expensive developer every time we want to test out a concept!
The rise – and influence – of UX design.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly complicated, we as graphic designers are continually expected to take complex concepts and simplify them to meet the needs of the end-user. And one example of this principle is action is UX design.
A big part of our job in 2018 is to not only make sure that our graphics look pretty, but also ensure that the person who eventually experiences the media – regardless of whether they are consuming the information via a brochure, a website or a training video – is able to enjoy what we’ve produced.
Our work needs to be both aesthetically and cognitively appealing; it needs to present the consumer with everything they need to know, packaged neatly into a design that’s a fresh, clean and easy to follow. And if we’re to do this effectively, we need to set aside the time to train ourselves in this unique design discipline.
Don’t forget about print!
Many designers with decades of experience behind them feel as though they are being left behind by modern technologies – but there are plenty of younger, more tech-savvy graphic designers who actually have very limited knowledge of print design.
Print is far from dead, so design professionals of all ages and abilities need to know how the print process works and how it can be applied to create stunning printed materials.
Exploring a graphic designer’s essential skills
Naturally, somebody in this profession needs to have a creative mind and a pretty solid eye for design if they’re going to enjoy a successful career. But there’s much more to being a graphic designer than knowing how to combine fonts and colours.
Being self-driven is key.
Anyone working in the creative industry needs to be able to motivate themselves to be the best they can possibly be. Graphic designers need to be self-starters. Trust me, we’d never get anything done if we were the kind of people who need constant supervision!
Communication is incredibly important.
It’s one thing being able to come up with amazing design ideas, but it’s another being able to communicate them to your client. Respected graphic designers know how to transform an initial brief into something special, then communicate the benefits – and value – of their work to the person they need to ultimately impress.
Collaboration is just as vital.
Graphic designers increasingly find themselves working with not only a wider pool of clients, but also a huge range of other third party professionals. To make sure projects are delivered on time and on budget, we need to liaise with developers, marketers, copywriters and print houses – so from time to time, we need to be able to set our own ideas aside and prioritise the needs of others.
You need great people skills to survive in design.
If you had visions of today’s graphic designers clicking away frantically in a darkened room with very little interaction with the outside world, think again! As I mentioned above, a big part of what we do is based on communication, so it goes without saying that we need to know how to build fantastic relationships with our clients and, ultimately, their audiences.
This is especially important if we’re working for ourselves (which is increasingly likely, seeing as it’s thought that over 20% of graphic designers in the global economy are self-employed). After all, nobody wants to work with someone who’s awkward, stand-offish or just plain rude.
Time management is paramount.
Graphic designers need to deliver high-standard work to strict deadlines – and we struggle to do this without being able to manage our time well.
Designers who find it difficult to balance their workload are increasingly taking advantage of time management apps, which can help even the scattiest of workers keep on track of their daily, weekly and monthly tasks (and avoid distractions!). Toggl is a particularly useful programme for those who have a habit of spending too much time on less profitable jobs. Straightforward workflow management platforms can also come in incredibly handy if several projects are on the go at the same time. The trick is to try out different software to find a system that works.