25+ Tips To Improve Your Skills As A Graphic Designer
If it wasn’t for beautiful design, we’d all live in a drab world. Steve Jobs would have been anonymous, and nobody would buy Apple products.
The best designers, people like Rob Janoff, who designed the Apple logo in 2 weeks, dedicate themselves to improving with a lifelong hunger for more. The last great project is never enough.
For them, design is freedom. Freedom to create the dream that is in the mind, freedom to craft what the eye should see, starting with a blank screen and nothing more than an idea.
For all the graphic designers who love the craft, we’ve hunted down the best ways that you can make the breakthrough to truly be a top designer. Whether your focus is web design, logos or print, the quest for the best graphic design can be one of the most fulfilling experiences.
1. Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal
Steve Jobs said, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." He spoke this in relation to his visit to Xerox, where the graphical user interfaces he saw provided the gem of an idea for Apple’s personal computer. Jobs never stopped copying and, in his words, “stealing” design for subsequent Apple products. With that in mind, whenever you see a brilliant piece of design, steal it and use it in your next project. This will improve your design powers exponentially over time.
2. Become A Perfectionist To Get To The Next Level
Being a perfectionist gets a bad rap, but many of the great designers, like Jony Ive, are perfectionists indeed. “Pixel perfect” is a cliche only because it is the minimal standard for outstanding design. What happens after pixel perfection is where it begins to get interesting for the elite designers.
3. Do Lots Of Throw-away Work
Yes, being a perfectionist is good, but, paradoxically, you need to embrace imperfect work as well. Between those perfect masterpieces, practice your graphic design chops on pieces of experimental, throw-away work that improve your abilities.
4. Take On The Audacious Project That Scares You
Taking on projects that genuinely scare you because they are far-reaching in scope and design requirement is the surest way to break through the inevitable plateau of your design skills.
5. Study Under A Great Master
Back in the 1500s, Palma il Giovane, better known as Palma the Young, became Venice’s most dominant artist, painting masterpieces that would become among the most valuable in the world. Not only did Palma the Young have a painter father, but he studied under the illustrious Renaissance painter Tintoretto. Seek out opportunities to study with a master who has scaled the graphic design heights you can only dream about today.
6. Pick A Specialty Early
Whether web design, mobile or logo design, stake your claim. Deciding on a specialty early in your design career helps you spend more time developing relevant technique.
7. Learn To Trust Your Artistic Instincts
Lucretia By Paolo Veronese - , Public Domain
Veronese, one of the first major painters to have his works sought by collectors in his lifetime, was educated in the Mannerism school of painting popular at the time. His instincts led him to shed tradition and pursue the naturalist style for which he became famous.
8. Make It Pop
Great design tends to stand out. Whether it’s simple like this classic Ferrari made in 1951 or complex, there is a remarkable quality about the piece. You take one look and you just know: it pops! That’s what you want. Keep working on your piece until it pops. If it pops, you will know, because people will stare.
9. Set Aside Time To Work On Your Dream Project
Working on a project you love brings out the best in you. This is one of the fastest ways to improve.
10. What Is Your Signature Style?
Develop it. Chances are, you don't have one, yet. Almost all the great artists have their own unique, distinctive style. You can find some of the great design styles like Grunge, Expressionism, Minimalism and Photorealism in art references or design collections.
11. (Re)Study Design Theory
Getting back to fundamentals with a fresh mind takes you beyond what you already thought you knew.
12. Have A Better Designer Pick Apart Your Best Design
Because it’s advanced to you, but beginner material for a more skilled designer.
13. Show Your Designs Proudly To The World
If they shred them, that gives you the opportunity to grow.
14. Learn Your Tools Inside Out
15. Collaborate With A Better Designer
This teaches you better design perspective and opens you up to new techniques of the trade.
16. Enter A Graphic Design Competition
Competitions pit you against other graphics designers who are just as good as you, and force you to seek an edge.
17. Rework An Old Project You Did When You Were Not So Good
You will be impressed how much better you make it the second time around. In the process, you will see so much more clearly what the essence of good design is for you.
18. Attend A Design Bootcamp
Design bootcamps can accelerate your growth as a graphic designer. You learn from industry-leading instructors and get to work on real projects under expert tutelage.
19. Do An Internship For A Top Company
Internships in design at world-class companies like Airbnb and Apple can be an entry into a whole new realm of design values.
20. Work On Making Your Portfolio 10 Times Better
This will impress design teams you want to give you a job, while simultaneously being a great practice of your design skill.
21. Take The Coursera Graphic Design Specialization
Offered by the California Institute of the Arts, this online series of graphics design courses will make you a much better designer.
22. Experiment With Different Kinds Of Grids
Grid design is a staple of graphic design. Working with different kinds of grids helps you develop the range of work you can do.
23. Read Some Good Design Books
Reading “The Design of Everyday Things” is a good place to begin.
24. Learn To Draw Like One Of The Greats
Improving your drawing skills gives you a new liberty to sketch designs and creative projects. Taking a drawing class can help you massively in this regard.
25. Hang Out With Other Designers On DeviantArt
26. Critique Your Last Piece Of Work
Not while you are working on it. That can paralyze your creativity. After it’s finished and done, plan how you can make the next one even better. This is continuous improvement in practice.
27. Attend Design School
Schools like the Royal College of Art in the U.K and the Rhode Island School of Design continue to churn out designers who go on to do award-winning work. If you want to take your skills to a new place, attending even a part-time program can propel you to design stardom.
10,000 Hours Of Graphic Design
Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book “Outliers” says it takes 10,000 hours to become world-class. When you push yourself, there is almost no limit to how much better you can be as a graphic designer. Konsus, the future of work, has created a workplace where the top graphic designers push each other every day to improve.
Whether by revisiting design theory, working on challenging graphic design projects, or collaborating with a more senior designer, you need to learn by doing. The real underlying key, however, is to deploy your own creative instincts and the passion that got you wearing the designer’s cap in the first place. Great graphic design, like all other great work, is a labor of love.