Graphic design is all about combining your creativity and intelligence in a way that works and attracts customers. Clients come to you with exciting new design challenges every day. Meeting these creative challenges and providing the top-notch work needed to survive in this competitive industry requires a specific skill set that’s broader than you might expect.
This list includes the skills I’ve found essential in my own career. Learning them as soon as possible will help you make a name for yourself as a designer. Never forget, though, that tastes and tools constantly evolve. Mastering these skills and building on them is the work of a lifetime.
Be a Good Communicator
Graphic design often involves working closely with clients to understand their vision for a piece and make that vision a reality. Strong written and verbal communication skills, including the ability to make persuasive presentations, are a must. You also need to learn how to deal with different personality types. Mastering these skills improves your chances of getting and successfully completing commissions.
There are plenty of tools that you can use for this purpose. Maintaining an up-to-date portfolio of your work is a must. If you get a little nervous doing presentations, consider creating a demo video that allows you to show your work and “soft skills” in their best light. In addition to finished projects, considering including communications that show the give-and-take of the design process. Finally, be sure to include positive reviews from past clients.
Nurture Your Creativity
Creativity is the essence of graphic design. The ability to come up with engaging and unique ideas that appeal to a variety of clients determines your earning potential. Take the time to do your homework about a client’s needs and tastes, and then give it your own spin. Always deliver your best work — at a reasonable price tag!
Remember, too, that while repeat business from satisfied clients helps grow your design business, you never want to stop stretching yourself and stepping outside your comfort zone. That’s what fuels your creativity and professional growth.
Master the Tools of the Trade
Speaking of comfort zones, be sure to keep your technical skills current. Yes, this often represents a significant investment of money to purchase design software — not to mention the time spent learning to use it. Still, one of the main reasons that artists find their commissions dwindling over time is that they’re stuck using the same old tired tools and techniques.
Mastering the latest versions of the various major platforms is essential if you want to produce work that attracts new clients and keeps old ones coming back for more.
Polish Your Marketing and Networking Skills
Freelancing and the gig economy has changed how we work! Graphic design ranks among the most desirable skills on many freelancing platforms. So to stand out from the crowd, you need good marketing and networking skills.
As a design professional, you need to know how to promote your work and how to build a network that can steer new clients your way. Social media is one of the most cost-effective ways of doing this. Consider joining multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to get your work in front of potential clients. These tools can lift you to the top — if you know what you’re doing!
Become a Problem-Solver
Many graphic designers stumble in their initial days in their careers because they lack basic problem-solving skills. Especially if you work as a freelancer, you can’t wait for someone to come along and bail you out when things get tough. You need to know how to spot emerging issues before they become full-blown crises.
Don’t settle for a superficial explanation of what went wrong, either. Ask the tough questions of yourself and your collaborators to identify the underlying causes of issues. Then address those causes to solve rather than just manage (or make excuses for) poor outcomes. That way, you keep getting better and better at your chosen craft.
Not What You Were Expecting?
It may surprise you to see how few of these skills fall under the “artistic” banner. Still, putting all of them into practice on a daily basis will pave the way toward ultimate success in your career as a graphic designer. I wish you the very best!
Looking for more information? Check out A Successful Career in Graphic Design: What It Takes, by Freddy Muriuki.