6 Overlooked Qualities of a Standout Graphic Designer
Searching for a new career path can feel overwhelming. You’ve had your eye on pursuing a creative career in graphic design, but you can’t stop second-guessing yourself. What makes a good graphic designer? How can you know whether you’ll do well in this field?
Every career has certain skills and qualities that are prized by employers, and graphic design is no exception. Graphic designers work at the intersection of technology and art, so you can be sure some technical skills are necessary to land a position in this industry. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are many other desirable qualities of a graphic designer—you might even have some of these characteristics already!
We rounded up the top graphic designer skills you’ll need if you choose to embark on this career path. Whether you need to brush up on your technical skills in a graphic design program or already have the qualities you need to succeed, this list will help you prepare for a future in design.
Graphic design technical skills needed for the job
Graphic designers create visual images that communicate a message, such as a book cover that tells readers what the story is about, or a brand design that shares a company’s values with potential customers.
Modern graphic designers rely on technology to create their images, so it’s no surprise that they need to be comfortable using specialized tools and software. We reviewed the data from more than 49,000 graphic design job postings to identify some of the essential technical skills employers are seeking:1
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Social media
- Website design
- Project management
- Marketing materials
- Art direction
- Digital design
Don’t worry if you’re missing some of these technical skills! They might sound intimidating, but a high-quality graphic design program will prepare you with the technical skills you need in the workplace.
Graphic designers need more than just technical know-how, though. If you’re on the fence about pursuing a design degree, take a look at the qualities below to see whether you have the natural skills you need to succeed in this creative career.
Graphic design qualities that will help you succeed
Graphic designers are often called upon to use creativity, collaboration and other soft skills in their work. We spoke with real-life graphic designers to find out which overlooked qualities can make you a star player in the graphic design field.
1. Active listening
Graphic designers aren’t solo artists who work in solitude to create whatever they want. They must always be working to bring to life the vision of their employer or client, and that means doing plenty of listening. “As a great creative partner, you must listen—I mean really listen—to what clients are saying,” says Janna Fiester, vice president of UX and brand innovation at Sandstorm.
Active listening goes beyond just staying quiet while your client talks. “You must listen by asking clarifying questions to best address, uncover and define the client’s needs,” Fiester says. “Sometimes the client has a great idea that you can build on to make their idea come to life.”
With design being subjective, there are inevitably times when clients can’t quite express exactly what they want or don’t like about a design. Being a strong listener can help you find clues or topics to explore with further questioning—when done well, this can help save on time and iterations of work.
2. Clear and concise communication
“Design and marketing should never be done in a vacuum. Our business is always collaborative,” says Darren Easton, vice president and creative director at The Cyphers Agency. Graphic designers work together with project managers, copywriters, clients and more to get the job done. Strong verbal and written communication skills are essential to keeping everyone on the same page.
“You must be able to communicate your skills, provide rationale for your designs and recommend suggestions,” Easton says. “If you cannot communicate with the team effectively, the result will fail.”
3. Time management
Graphic designers often need to stick to tight deadlines while also juggling multiple projects for different clients. Needless to say, time-management skills are a necessary quality to make it all happen. This is easier said than done in the graphic design field, where designers may be tempted to tweak their work to perfection.
“Where you feel like you could spend three entire days making something perfect and obsessing over the small details, you can’t,” says Alex Litzow, design lead at Sonder Digital Marketing. “Being able to prioritize, allocate an appropriate amount of time to each task and knowing when to stop changing a design are powerful attributes.”
4. The ability to accept constructive criticism in stride
No one likes to have their work picked apart, but constructive criticism comes with the territory in graphic design. Designers must always be ready to share their work with clients and others on their team and accept feedback graciously so they can improve their work.
“Throughout your entire career, you will always report to the client,” Easton says. That’s why he believes the best graphic designers have developed thick skin. They can take constructive criticism without getting defensive, and they can incorporate the best suggestions into their design to make a better finished product.
While this is a great trait for nearly any profession, it’s clear that graphic designers benefit from a patient disposition. Whether you’re waiting for copywriters, interpreting seemingly conflicting client direction or sorting through frustratingly vague feedback, you’ll need a calm a presence in the face of the sometimes absurd.
“As much as we think there is a science and strategy to what we do, often the client can only approach it subjectively,” Easton says. “So hold on to your hats—and your tongue.”
6. Storytelling ability
Storytelling might seem like a surprising quality to need in a visual industry. However, graphic design is about much more than choosing colors that go together. “A good design or presentation does the most important job of catching and holding the attention of your target audience,” says Sadi Khan, content marketing manager at RunRepeat.
People are drawn to brands that engage them with a compelling story, and graphic designers are a key part of this type of marketing. “Any business would love to hire a graphic designer who has the vision, ideas and skills to help them engage their target audience with powerful stories,” Khan says.
Develop your design skills
If you recognized yourself in this list of graphic designer skills, you’re already in a good position to think about joining their ranks. Even if you don’t have all the technical skills listed above, your natural qualities could give you a head start in the world of graphic design.
You can bring your technical skills up to snuff by earning a degree in graphic design. Find out whether this is the next right step for you with our article “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?”
1SOURCE: Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 49,310 graphic designer job postings, Mar. 01, 2018 - Feb. 28, 2019).