Glaser, Kidd, Scher, Bass, Bierut...chances are, you've heard of at least one of these graphic design giants. And even if you don't know their names, you'd recognize their legendary work in a heartbeat.
Everyone knows the iconic "I heart NY" sign. Or the universally familiar Jurassic Park t-rex image and logo. Those designs are by globally-renowned graphic designers Milton Glaser and Chip Kidd.
There are so many big names to know in this field—like Paul Rand, known for his corporate logo designs, including IBM, UPS, and ABC.
And Paula Scher, known for her album covers, unique use of typography, and corporate logos (including Microsoft's Windows 8 logo design, and logo/packaging for Tiffany & Co.)
Iconic graphic designs by Milton Glaser (courtesy of Canva.com)
If you're at the very beginning of your graphic design training, you're probably looking at work like this and wondering where did these ideas come from? What makes a truly great graphic designer? How did these legends create such memorable, successful, powerful designs?
And the biggest question of all: What will it take for me to achieve this level of success?
Well...you're in luck! This is exactly the question we're exploring in this week's blog post. Let's take a look at the top traits of the very best graphic designers.
1. Technical mastery of graphic design skills
It all starts with knowing the tools of the trade. You must become familiar with go-to software like Dreamweaver, InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator—and it will be useful to pick up some basic CSS and HTML skills along the way, too.
A solid graphic design program will set you on the right track with intensive software training and many hands-on projects to build your skills in this area.
After that, it's up to you to continue advancing your knowledge and stay on top of new design technology, trends, and techniques. This is definitely a key aspect of becoming an innovator, and a leader, in this field.
2. Storytelling prowess
The #1 goal of graphic design is to communicate a message. Truly great designers can make complex ideas simple, while telling a clear and compelling story.
They use their mastery of technique to deliver a power-packed punch of ideas. Each element on the screen, package, poster, or page works together to form a cohesive whole.
Great designers understand who their audience is, and how to reach them on a deeper level. They use design to stir up emotion and make us think—everything a really good story does.
3. Listening, communication, and negotiation
This is the "big three"—the trifecta of successfully pitching ideas, getting your designs right, and earning the respect of clients.
Listening is key because it's the first stage of any project. You'll need to get a firm grasp on what each client actually wants and needs. From there, you begin building your design solutions.
Communication is essential because you must effectively explain and "pitch" your design ideas to your client. If you can't put your thoughts into words, how will your client buy into your concept and trust your vision?
And then we have negotiation, the "dance" all designers must do with their clients. No matter how great you become, not every client will see things your way, and accept all of your ideas.
You must be flexible and diplomatic, to ensure your concepts stay true to you—while satisfying your clients' needs.
4. Putting client before ego
"Do not seek praise, seek criticism.” —Paul Arden
Iconic graphic designer Paul Arden sums it up perfectly. In order to become a truly great designer, you must be open to criticism—even ask for it!
Beginners will get a lot of opportunity to build this skill during graphic design training, where every single project you make will be critiqued and graded by an expert instructor. If you're too busy getting offended or defensive, you'll never get better.
But it won't stop there. Clients are very vocal critics. And don't forget, your first job will likely be as a junior, where you'll have to answer to a lead designer.
This is where you'll learn to put your own ego on the backburner and always put your client's needs and preferences first. In this industry, a thick skin is a huge asset.
5. Creative problem solving at the highest level
“Effective problem solving in design requires a balance of strategy and spontaneity, intelligence and creativity.” —Maggie Macnab
Strategy, spontaneity, intelligence, creativity—massive goals for any graphic designer. Combining all these elements takes genuine passion and a lot of hard work.
Design is all about solving problems. Whether it's a website, product package, logo, or album cover, you will have to work within certain guidelines. You will need to communicate a certain message in a way the target audience will understand and enjoy.
There are so many angles to consider, so many components to balance. And at the end, if the design doesn't actually work, it will be useless.
Your top mission as a designer? Identify the problem and present the best possible solution.
6. Grasping the "big picture"
“Design is intelligence made visible.” —Alina Wheeler
Great designers are deep thinkers. They grasp the philosophy behind what they do, the bigger picture, the context of the work. They are highly intelligent, sensitive human beings.
Exceptional designers understand the audience they are designing for, the big ideas that shape their vision, and the various art and design movements that influence their style.
They can see all of these things, as well as the tiniest technical details which make or break each design.
7. Learn the rules...and then break them
“It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get bad in order to get good.” —Paula Scher
Great words of wisdom for anyone who wants to become a graphic designer. Making mistakes, and learning from them, will be a key part of your journey.
Those first few years will be full of great highs and lows as you study the craft and find your own personal style. But as your career develops and your skills advance, you'll have opportunities to really push the boundaries. You'll be ready to break some of the design "rules" you learned in school.
Breaking rules is essential for expressing something new—something totally radical, personal, and unique.
This is how design gurus like Paula Scher, Chip Kidd, and David Carson made names for themselves in the highly competitive world of design.
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