In this article we are going to discuss Things Graphic Designers Should Know. There is no set path or a traditional route in a person’s graphic design career and every graphic designer has their own story of how they got into graphic design and the path they chose and the direction they are heading.
Just because another designer does something a particular way, does not mean you need to do it that exact same way. This article about Things Graphic Designers Should Know is not one of those articles that tells you how you should be designing or what process you should be following as the great thing about graphic designers is we are all unique in the sense that we have all had our own past experiences, adopted our own unique styles and break the rules in our own way that we have become accustomed to.
This article highlights areas of graphic design that designers should be aware of and applying into their work. So what are the key terms and tools graphic designers need to produce quality work that is now a staple of what customers have come to expect?
Table of Contents
Understanding The Purpose Of Design
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
— Steve Jobs
When a designer practices design it does not mean they need to understand the purpose of design. Designers may find themselves creating a website landing page or a double-sided flyer design with only basic knowledge of design.
This is perfectly fine as there is no correct way to proceed in design. Having a formal education in the design industry does not mean this is the only path you should take to practice design but it does require you to understand the purpose of design.
Communicating a goal, action, response or an experience is the simple purpose of design. The method of communication by which you apply always varies, by using the tools and certain applications effectively to solve the communication goal that we are tasked with.
When it comes to tools they are never more important than the end goal, To achieve the end goal communication must be clear and for communication to be clear an understanding of who you are communicating with is vital.
You need to remember that design is not about you, your preferences or particular taste. It’s about the consumer, the target audience that will come into contact with the design, the ones it is communicating to, and before designing anything you need to understand them.
The term “Know your target audience” can seem like a daunting task but it’s not as complicated as you may think. By narrowing down the particular funnel between the very broad spectrum of the worlds population by pinpointing certain details about the individuals in the target market such as age range, gender, career, hobbies etc. for instance if your selling insurance your not going to be targeting children under the age of 18 for example and the best way to target your audience is to know who they are not and before you know it you will have that clear representation of the target audience and market your aiming to communicate to.
Learning The History of Design
With the vast amount of resources available online in today’s world that can be daunting, where and how do you start? Most designers just starting out will go online and search for “The best graphic designers in the world” or “Famous graphic designers” “well known graphic designers” those sort of searches which is ok and has it’s time and place but if you lack formal education then it’s best to understand your craft.
Don’t be too tempted to do hours and hours of research into others with the aim of gaining inspiration this can be satisfying but it doesn’t mean its good for you, so moderate time spent doing this is healthy for you as a designer and your career.
I hear you asking this question Why would looking at others design work to get inspired not be good for me?
By observing the work of others it becomes internalized, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. and those internalized observations start to settle with your brain and slowly settle as your own thoughts, and before you know it, those design solutions are the work of another designer.
I’m not saying your copying but from that observation, you have forgotten about them and then they come back to you and you thought it was your own idea without knowing you observed it at an earlier stage only for that idea to resurface when your thinking of a solution. It’s ok to build upon others work but not borrow as a nice way of saying don’t steal!
There has been plenty of time when I have been sketching that I may do a similar concept sketch and that’s completely fine, as once the research stage is complete I will be fully aware that the idea has been used previously. That’s what research is for to validate your ideas into a final concept, so don’t be scared to get it out of your head on onto paper.
Even more importantly try not to rely on building upon the work of others as you’re skipping a very important stage in the design process and that is the effort of putting in the research, insights, compromises, revisions and you’re limiting yourself to understand and learn what was required to achieve that end result.
So with that said, the most effective way to use inspiration to build your own original solution is to understand history, as great work that is apart of today’s world was built upon by the work of those that came before and paved the way.
What To Read
Below are some books that are essential reading to have the understanding of the craft and practice of design.
- Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvis
- Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Jill Butler, Kristina Holden
- How to be a Graphic Design Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
- The Elements Of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
- Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Logo Creative – Designer Interview
Don’t forget to check out our Designer Interviews with some of the world’s most talented designers, agencies, and living legends. They give insights into their career and how they got started, what inspires them and their favorite style of design plus advice they would give new designers in the field. This is a project that i am very passionate about so there will be plenty more designer interviews to come.
What To Listen To And Watch
If you’re not a big reader like myself and you prefer to listen or watch something, then I have included a list of recommendations that include tips and tricks, insights on design thinking and practice.
- Abstract: The Art Of Design (Netflix documentary series)
- Debbie Millman’s Design Matters (podcast)
- Design Observer’s Jessica Helfand & Pentagram’s Michael Bierut host The Design of Business | The business of Design (podcast)
- The Deeply Graphic Design Cast (podcast)
- The Futur by Chris Do
Observe The Practice Of Design
“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.”
— Paul Rand
The best way to become a better graphic designer is by observing other designs. I know I just wrote above about why you should avoid looking at designers for inspiration or websites sites for guidance or insight into what you should be designing, I’m not contradicting myself here. When I say “observe” I mean it by the definition “to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant”.
As you’re out and about going about daily life make sure to pay attention to all those moments when you interact with design, and it will be a lot, trust me! design is everywhere you turn when you’re walking through the shopping complex, browsing the internet, driving around in the car, on every aisle of the supermarket shelves, it’s like Paul Rand quoted “design is everything. But rather than merely seeing design, you should begin to purposefully notice and perceive.”
The next time you come across and observe a piece of design, try to identify whether what it is you are seeing succeeds or fails to deliver and communicate it’s message by asking the below questions
- Who is the design speaking to? – Who do you think the audience is!
- What is is trying to say? – Not just what is written, but through visuals the message and tone!
- How does it solve the problem?
- Are the words and graphics working together?
- Is it effective in achieving its goal?
- Does it make you want to react to it?
There is a fairly high chance that what you are working on has already been done before, with similar goals and problems and by cultivating your observation skills you simultaneously improve your ability to analyze your very own responses and the reactions to design.
This understanding can inform your design solutions and by knowing what does not work in any given design is key to developing your intuition and design process. Also, make sure you’re aware of good design principles and how to design correctly to the standard below are few to make sure you know.
Raster images are made up of thousands upon thousands of tiny pixels. This offers you great editability, being able to alter the colour, saturation, hue etc. of each pixel. However, because the number of pixels cannot be edited, keeping the quality of the image when resizing is difficult. Images in Photoshop are pixelated.
Rather than tiny pixels forming an image, vector images are made up with a series of lines and dots to form shapes which are then filled with colour. Because of this, vector images do not lose quality when they are resized. Images in Adobe Illustrator are in vector format.
Raster images are good for photos which you do not expect to have to massively resize, vector images are ideal for any graphics that you create or edit. Logos in raster format are a must, along with any other graphics that can then be altered to be placed on a flyer or on a billboard.
CMYK and RGB colour are the two main players in the colour mode world. CMYK colour (cyan, magenta, yellow and key), is a format used for printing pieces. CMYK colour has a much more vibrant colour variety so when a CMYK document is printed it keeps the contrast in colour.
RGB colour, red, green and blue, is used for a document that intends to be presented on a screen. CMYK colour looks dull on a screen, while RGB looks bright and vibrant, however, the opposite is true once they are printed.
DPI and PPI
These are the two main types of resolution, DPI (Dots per inch) or PPI (Pixels per inch). Both apply only to raster type images, or images that contain pixels. Increasing the DPI or PPI will result in a bigger file but a better-quality image. The standard for printed quality images is 300DPI.
Microsoft Paint or Microsoft Office is not for designing logos or any graphical images! and clients reading this, please don’t send a designer poorly designed logo on a Microsoft Word file this does not help with a project what so ever, in fact, it would start to make me personally question and wonder what value that client is bringing me and my business and I don’t mean money wise. Unless it was a situation like the one below.
If you’re a designer using these tools to create logos and graphical imagery, What’s that I hear you say “A “professional” graphic designer using Microsoft Paint and Word?” Yes, trust me they are out there.
I have had previous clients in the past send me these exact files that a previous designer did for them…WHAT!…Yes, that’s right a so-called professional graphic designer using Microsoft paint and word to create logos and graphical imagery, and I can’t believe I have just typed that!
Eventually, you so-called professional graphic designers will need to invest in the tools you need to make your work more smooth. We use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign as our main software tools.
There are other tools such as Coral Draw for those that don’t want to use Adobe products and pay a monthly fee.
The initial/monthly expense is well worth it in the long run as these programmes offer you everything you would need when bringing your ideas to life. A graphics tablet is also a great tool in bringing your sketches into the online world.
Of course, all the tools in the world will only take you so far, a general hard working, professional attitude is the most important thing of all. The eye for detail, open communication with your client, these attributes put you in a strong position regardless of the industry you’re in, put the right tools in the hands of the right people and there’s no telling where you can take your design work.
Develop A Design Process
Before starting any design project, regardless of the size or scope of the project, you need to understand the project objectives, you will notice the same process in observing and understanding design matches the process of executing design.
- Who is the target audience?
- What are you trying to say to the target audience?
- How do you want the target audience to respond?
As you start to collect all the relevant information for the project, get familiar with the materials you have and understand it! What has been done previously? Did it work? and what did not work out so well? They go about determining the goals of the projects. Is it educational, instructional, informational, motivational, aspirational or functional? Depending on the project’s scope it could contain all of these goals, but the information related to each can directly understand and therefore specifically solved.
Separating the project’s goals into manageable sections makes it a lot easier to understand and build an effective and useful solution. For example, if the project is educational, functional or instructional then the most important component of the design is the content so focus must be made on hierarchy, clarity and it’s overall simplicity. Your goal is to guide the audience to an outcome – learning, building or completing. If the project is motivational, aspirational or informational then focus on guiding the audience to a goal and response – attend, perform, endure.
Creating a System of Design
“If you want to communicate something, you’d better make sure that your design piece is well-dressed and that its teeth are fixed. At the same time, I still believe that if it is only stylistically great and it has nothing to say, it still is not going to make a lasting impression on anybody.”
— Stefan Sagmeister
You need to grasp your craft before you can create the art
Keep it simple.
Adding flourishes and complexity is tempting because we believe it hides our weaknesses. But if you understand who your audience is, what you’re communicating to them, and how you want them to respond and react, you’ve done more than half the work of design. The more elements added to a design, the more risk that the message is obscured. The things that have the greatest longevity tend to be the most simple.
Restrict yourself to a single, traditional typeface with many weights (like Helvetica Neue, Futura, Avenir, Garamond, Caslon, Bembo, or Baskerville), so you can start to understand typography. Limit your color options so you start to understand shade and tint and how they alone can be used to communicate hierarchy, to create balance, focus attention, and elicit a response and action (a tool like Paletton is very helpful).
Just because something works for one project doesn’t mean it will work for another. Relying on what’s cool and popular and hot and trendy clouds the purpose of design with subjective preference. Remember when skeuomorphism was the default design interface in 2011?
Focus on results, not tools.
Far too often people focus on the methods by which we solve a problem rather than the validity of solution itself. A plumber might have an awesome, new lightweight and sturdy pair of corrosion-resistant black oxide finish vanadium steel water pump pliers, but if he can’t manage to repair a leaky faucet, those extravagant, advanced, state-of-the-art tools are pointless. The tool you use to create a design is ancillary to the outcome. Use what works for you, not just what sounds best on a resume.
“The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.”
― Massimo Vignelli
Form A Design Mindset
Starting a design career is the easy part, it’s growing and developing and maintaining this career that is the most challenging. There is no magic route or qualification that is going to propel you to where you want to be. Sometimes you don’t get paid for a project that you have dedicated so much time to, You can work on a project only for it to change and you end up being ashamed of it or just generally dislike the end result which was out of your control.
You may end up being fired from that agency you thought was your lucky break because they promised you the world and never delivered on their promise, You go through things in life that take you to the lowest points in your life and you need rise up and get yourself back on track. That’s life and part of being an adult, regardless of your chosen career.
- You won’t be famous – if you ask random people like Lance Wyman, Stefan Sagmeister or even Saul Bass, more than likely they will have no idea who they are.
- You will not get rich – You can have a stable income with time and experience but you must grind and have passion as a graphic designer
- You won’t have renowned work – Average people will not be aware of the work you do, Most designs change years down the line, you may be the one making the change, it does not mean that your work your producing does not hold value or is worthless, times change and so do businesses. I did a great logo for a company a very long time ago and that business was sold and they expanded and moved in a different direction, the new owners commissioned me to rebrand them even though they liked the current logo it did not reflect the new expansion, I got the recommendation, I got to rebrand and I still work with them presently, The old logo is still mounted in their offices next to the company history wall feature which is great as it’s a progress of my work and shows the company history and progression and I’m a part of that.
Go into your design career with the correct perspective. It’s just like any other career and the reward is the work, not the perception of the work. Do your best as it is different from other jobs you could be doing the difference is we love what we do, we get to work on what we love doing creating and solving problems.
We see the world differently from average people that don’t understand design that makes the world even more beautiful in our eyes.
The great thing about being a designer is we get to improve our craft by learning new things and working in different industries and seeing how they work. We get to help, delight, inform, impact and enhance our clients business visually and we also get the opportunity to communicate visually to a worldwide audience.
Stop dreaming about things that are completely out of your control and strive for personal fulfillment, contentment and strive for balance and perseverance and ultimate satisfaction.
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*TIP – Looking for design resources like fonts and mockups? Look no further, we use and highly recommend DesignCuts