10 Timeless Traits of a Successful Graphic Designer

2016 MARKS MY 35TH YEAR AS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER. WOW.

The world of design 35 years ago–my giant drafting board, trusty t-squares and triangles, messy waxer, and persnickety rapidographs–is all gone now. What I have left are keepsakes of a bygone era, replaced with a keyboard, pen tablet, displays and miles of silicon circuitry that leads into clouds.

We have, indeed, come a long way, baby.

Looking ahead I see even more digital design capabilities heading our way at blazing speeds and yet, like the gadgets of days gone by, they are only as good as the person who is using them.

Owning design software doesn't necessarily make someone a good designer any more than owning carpenter's tools makes someone good at building a house. The methods of execution may have changed, but the strategies and communication skills that inspire the best designers have not. 

Over the last 35 years, I've learned what I believe are the 10 Timeless Traits of a Successful Graphic Designer. Whether you're in the market to hire a professional designer or you're contemplating a career as one, consider the following:

 

A SUCCESSFUL GRAPHIC DESIGNER...

 

1. ...HAS SOLID COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Only through clear communication can a designer offer work that shows a deep understanding of their client's needs and goals. Successful designers have the ability to carry on directed and insightful conversations with their clients, listen openly, ask insightful questions, offer thoughtful solutions, and the wisdom to be receptive to their client's perspectives and opinions. 

 

2. ...DELIVERS ON TIME AND WITHIN BUDGET

Consistent reliability is as important as clever creativity.

 

3. ...PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

Whether hired as a contractor or as an employee, a designer with the ability to positively immerse themselves into their client's business' culture will be more tuned in. This is a genuine source for creative inspiration that produces authentic, effective results.

 

4. ...KEEPS AN OPEN MIND

Allowing one's design work to be a process that is open to outside–and others'–ideas is often what separates someone who knows how to design from those who are truly great with their craft. Really good designers know they aren't the only creative person involved. They work synergistically with their clients, considering all ideas and input, then utilizing it, with discerning skill, to achieve the most effective design.

 

5. ...IS TECHNICALLY SAVVY

Back to the hammer analogy. You can have a whole shop full of carpenter’s tools, but it doesn’t mean you can build a house. A designer who is proficient with the software and tools is more time-efficient and produces files (whether online or print) that are user-friendly, trouble-free, and turn out looking they way their client expected them to.

 

6. ...UNDERSTANDS IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU

Yes, a good graphic designer takes great pride in their work, but they measure that pride by how well their designs work for their client.

 

7. ...IS STRATEGICALLY CREATIVE

Ideas for design are infinite! What makes them relevent and effective is when they're guided by a combination of several key factors, including who/what they're representing, who their audience is, what messages they're conveying, how the design(s) will be used and on what mediums, the expected life-span, how much time they have, what resources are available, and the budget they are working within.

 

8. ...MANAGES CRITICISM WELL

Criticism is a necessary and valuable part of the design process. Listening to feedback constructively (bearing #3 and #6 in mind), and knowing how to apply it in the best interest of the project gives the designer the ability to make refinements that improve the final outcome.

 

9. ...KNOWS HOW TO CREATE FUNCTIONAL DESIGNS AND FILES

Knowledge of the myriad ways the design is reproduced plays a vital role in its success. For example, will it print process-color or spot? On Paper? Vinyl? Cloth? Fabric? Glass?Does it have to work in black and white? How small will it need to go? Will it need to be as big as a billboard as well? Will it be faxed? Stamped? Silkscreened? Commercially printed? Photo-copied? 2-D? 3-D?...just to name a few.

 

10. ...IS ENJOYABLE TO WORK WITH

Graphic design is central to the identity of a business or organization. Defining in both an artistic and strategic sense can be a time-consuming process. Whether you're a designer or a client, wouldn't you rather enjoy the process? A good way to measure this is whether or not you look forward to working with them–especially after you've already completed a project.