8 Graphic Design Business Skills You'll Need to Succeed
By Ashley Brooks on 05/31/2021
You know you have the creative chops and eye for design it takes to work in the graphic design field. That being said, even creative careers come with the need for business skills—and you want to make sure that yours are up to snuff.
Graphic design skills alone aren’t enough to succeed at this career. “All the talent in the world won't help you build your career if you don't have a certain amount of business savvy,” says Roberta Morris, founder of Leave It to ‘Berta.
That’s why we’ve spoken with graphic design pros to learn about the business skills they use on the job. With their “been there, done that” graphic design business advice, you’ll have a better understanding of how to prepare yourself for work in this creative career.
8 Business skills for graphic designers
Why are business skills so important for graphic designers? To put it bluntly, because your design projects are about your clients, not you.
“Graphic design is a service, so it's important to recognize that the design work you do is ‘in service’ to the client,” Morris says. “It's also important that clients see you as a partner and that you work together to create design solutions that you're both happy with.”
If you want to develop a professional relationship with your clients, you need some business acumen to go along with your creative talents. These skills will help you get started.
1. Professional communication
Graphic designers are pros at delivering a message through their work, but they also need to be pros at more traditional communication, like sending emails, making phone calls and delivering presentations. “Always be timely, clear and diplomatic with your communications,” Morris advises. “Communication with clients is fundamental to building trust.”
Every designer needs to be comfortable explaining their ideas to clients and expressing why a particular design will or won’t work for their goals. Designers who work in-house or at an agency will also be regularly communicating with others on their teams or in other departments.
2. Active listening
The other side of the effective communication coin is active listening. This ability to understand what another person is trying to say, even if they’re having trouble communicating their ideas, is invaluable to graphic designers. Clients who aren’t part of the design world may not have the right vocabulary to express what they’re looking for, so it’s your job to practice active listening to get to the bottom of their design goals.
Start improving your active listening skills by asking clarifying questions and watching for nonverbal communication that silently speaks volumes. “By asking open-ended questions, you put yourself in a position to understand the intricacies of the problem,” says Blandine Mathieu, founder of NiceDay. “Active listening gives you the ability to synthesize what the speaker is saying and effectively understand the problem.”
Nothing says “creative” like the disciplined adherence to a budgeting spreadsheet! All snark aside, budgeting ability is a fundamental skill for creatives—particularly those who plan on doing freelance work. All graphic designers should have a baseline idea of how to keep a project on budget so they can respect their clients’ financial limitations. That budgeting ability becomes even more important for designers who work as freelancers.
Even the most successful freelance graphic designers may have ups and downs in their business cash flows. Not only will they need to budget their personal finances to account for these highs and lows, they also need a solid system for setting prices, bidding projects and invoicing clients to help ensure the work they’re doing is actually worth their time.
“From finding your first job to landing your first client, networking puts you in a position to find more success,” Mathieu says. Not only can effective networking help you land a job, it widens your connections to the greater graphic design industry and gives you the opportunity to practice honing your communication skills in a professional setting.
You never know what could be next for your career. Perhaps you’re working at an agency with dreams of striking out on your own as a freelancer, or vice versa. The more industry professionals you can connect with, the greater your chances of encountering the right opportunity at the right time.
5. Project management
Project management is the skill of overseeing a design project from start to finish. It includes understanding a client’s goals and limitations, setting and meeting deadlines, keeping the overall project on budget, and assigning certain tasks to different team members.
Even if you’re not the official project manager at your workplace, Morris advises that you should still be familiar with basic project management strategies and software to help you visualize how the project is going and be transparent with clients about its progress. Freelance designers also rely heavily on this skill since the full weight of every project is on their shoulders. The right project management tools can ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
6. Negotiation skills
Negotiation skills may not strike you as something that’s needed in this creative career field, but if you think of negotiation as another word for “compromise,” it makes a lot more sense. For example, freelance graphic designers will regularly use negotiation skills to ensure they’re earning enough money for the value they deliver to their clients.
Money isn’t the only thing that needs to be negotiated! Graphic designers often find themselves needing to compromise with a client on design elements or the timeline of a project. Having strong negotiation skills at the ready means you’ll be prepared to deliver the best service possible in a way that’s fair to both parties.
7. Time management
It’s easy to get lost in the creative process as a graphic designer. In reality, however, you have to make sure you’re meeting deadlines so that your team and clients aren’t left with a project that’s running behind.
“Learning how to manage your time will allow you to produce better work, improve your performance and reduce your stress,” Mathieu says. Strong time management skills will help you make sure you’re not spending too much time on any single part of a project, forcing you to rush through the rest.
Without clients, graphic designers have no one to create projects for! Marketing is the skill that helps you draw in and win over new clients, whether as a freelancer or as an in-house designer.
Knowing the basics of marketing best practices will also come in handy on your design projects themselves. Many designers are hired to work on marketing-specific projects, such as website landing pages or business cards. Having a baseline of marketing skills under your belt will improve the work you deliver to clients.
Ready to round out your graphic design skills?
You know being an effective design professional requires more than just the ability to craft an eye-catching composition. The best designers have a solid foundation of business and soft skills that help them navigate the job market.
One way to improve both your business and graphic design skills is to complete a Graphic Design degree program. Check out our article “7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen University Graphic Design Programs” to learn more about what makes these programs worth your consideration.