What makes a great graphic designer? Is there some magic special formula? Where is that sweet 5-step process to becoming a killer designer?

Well, unfortunately, there is no such formula. However, when I hire and work with successful designers, these are the common qualities I always look for in a great graphic designer.


A great designer is…

1. Willing to Learning New Skills

Almost nobody likes to be told to do things differently from the way they’ve ALWAYS done something right? Usually, people short-circuit and start to lose their cool. But what if they’re right? What if that little Photoshop trick saves you two hours of production time?

All great designers start out humble. They became sponges and took it all in. They took note and were not afraid to try new things. They were receptive and grew because they took the time to listen to the people around them. There shouldn’t be an attitude of pride or arrogance, but a conscious decision to be humble, to be taught and to teach. So when you’re speaking to a designer you’re looking to hire, they shouldn’t be saying no to something they’ve not done before.

2. Able to Take Criticism

When I was in university, like most art students, I had to sit through hours of critiques. Our professor would get us all together to look at each other’s lovely design work and then just go to town on what was wrong with every single design. Then, she would open up the floor for us all to comment on each other’s work. Do you know what happened? (tumbleweed image here) Silence. Dead silence. Not a single person wanted to give any kind of criticism! I was just as petrified to speak up as the next person. It was bad enough taking in all the criticism; why would I want to dish it out?

Criticism is a tricky thing. Any designer must learn that when their work is under fire there’s no need to take it personally. Bad designers get defensive and make up excuses. Great designers are receptive and open-minded.

3. Constantly Looking for New Inspiration

How do you start your business day? We all have our little rituals and routines. One of the things I do as soon as I get to work is open up my web browser and pop five tabs with websites full of awesome design inspiration. Rarely have I met a talented designer that does not do the same. As a designer, you have to get exposed to what’s going on in world design. I’m always looking at what is getting talked about in the design world and seeing if I can apply the same professionalism to my work. I also keep a close eye on what design trends are popular and where they are going. Keeping a resource pool of design inspiration has also proven invaluable. I can go back to it at any time and find an inspiring design that I’ve saved to kick start my creative process. 

4. Willing to Work Outside of their Comfort Zone

Any successful designer will tell you how hard it was to learn and explore new design tricks. It’s not easy! I get that. However, a designer will never grow or learn if they’re not pushed beyond their limits? Every day, I am confronted with a design problem and I think to myself, “They never taught me this in uni, what am I supposed to do?”

In this day and age, it’s so very easy to learn new techniques. Take advantage of the vast knowledge base that is available. Listen to colleagues and don’t let fear stop you from creating wonderful things.

5. A Chameleon

In a previous job, my art director one told me that one of the most important characteristics of a good designer is being able to change your spots. He was right. Having your own personal style and flair is also important and your own style is most likely what has helped you succeed today. However, as a designer, we have to think about what will be the most appropriate for the client we are designing for. We need to rein in our habits and conform to the client’s best interest. What will best visually carry their message? Are they sporty? Maybe they lean toward being very homegrown and historic. Maybe they’re sleek, high fashion and modern. The point is to not get stuck in one overall style. Be flexible and expand your design aesthetics.

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