What You Need to Learn Before Design: The Do’s and Don’ts

Do you want to become a graphic designer, is the idea of digitally creativity luring you in? Well, as far as career choices go, becoming a designer isn’t a bad choice at all.

Most junior graphic designers earn around 2,19,34 USD as a starting salary.

  • Websites
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Book covers
  • Magazines
  • Posters
  • Logos
  • Computer games covers
  • Product packaging
  • Exhibitions
  • Displays
  • Graphics
  • Illustrations

In short, if there’s a product which needs to be made to look cool, it’s time to find a designer. From the UFC logo, infographics, Apple’s ads and this very website itself, owe their look and design to a digital artist of some kind.

As a combination of creative fulfillment and good pay, the idea of becoming a digital designer (I prefer the term to graphic designer) is a career many pursue.

But, just like any another career, there are some tips on how to perform and learn better, and advice on how to avoid common pitfalls as well, Which is why we’re here today, to talk about what you need to learn before design: the do’s and don’ts.

The Do’s and Don’ts

1. Don’t Lose Focus on Creativity

The core of design is creativity. It’s what earns you the big bucks, respect, accolades, awards and personal fulfillment. Of course, creativity (just like any other talent), needs practice and execution. Don’t assume ideas will simply roll off the brain.

Look for hobbies and outlets which exercise creativity and keep you engaged, drawing, cooking, gaming and really anything that piques your creative interest is something you should engage in.

A creative block is one of the biggest hurdles a graphic designer has to face, and answer to avoiding one is prevention, not a cure. Keep your mind and body active, and make sure it’s having fun while being engaged.

One awesome way to actually become creative is through exercise. Studies have shown that doing moderate exercise does increase both long and short term creativity. It’s basically a mind opener. And considering how sitting is the new smoking, why not kill two birds with one stone? Staying both healthy and creative at the same time.

2. Do Learn Drawing Skills

Most of the best (but not all) designers have experience in drawing or painting, and it shows in their work. So even if you’ve never drawn a stick figure before, it’s worth taking the time to sit down, pick a course on drawing for beginners and learn how to express your creativity on a piece of paper or canvas. Or even MS Paint, whatever you need.

Although this is a personal preference, I find sketching out designs and logos on paper to be a great way to get cool idea and look for designs. Try it, can’t hurt. If it helps you, let me know in the comments below.

Of course keep in mind this is a tool for beginners to make use of, no one has enough time to both meet a deadline and sketch a whole website or campaign on paper at the same time. But once you get to a productive stage, actual drawing skills do come in handy often, so go get some of dem skillz (if you don’t have them already).

3. Don’t Forget to Learn About The Tech

Virtually all of modern graphic design is done via computers, usually with very beef rigs using the latest and greatest in GPUs. But don’t be that guy or gal who doesn’t even know what a GPU stands for (in case you are that person, it means Graphical Processing Unit).

You don’t need to be a mechanic to know how to drive a car, but a competent driver knows how to check their own oil, refuel, change a tire and how to keep the car clean. And they should know what kind of engine they’re running.

The same mindset applies to designer, that computer is your car, and you better be competent with it, because nobody will pay an incompetent designer.

So learn what GPUs are, which ones are the best for your personal design work, as each set up is unique to the task and owner of that rig.

What kind of monitors best show pictures and videos? Is a 4K monitor worth it? Should I stick to a 1080p display? Do I need dual monitors? Nvidia or AMD?

Or, if you plan on buying a laptop for work, which one would be best suited to you as a person and have enough horsepower (plus a great screen) to run/render your designs? Also, there are graphic tablets out there with various features, that need to be considered and evaluated against a budget.

There are plenty of guides on YouTube across the ocean of info known as Google, with step by step guides on how to breakdown and assemble, or purchase, a machine with which to practice graphic design. So DO NOT ignore the tech side of design, it is very important.

In short, any respectable designer needs to be a tech savvy person, if you’re not at the moment, now would be a good time to start learning.

4. Do Learn How Juggle Costs and Deadlines

The two inevitable facts of professional design work are Cost and deadlines. You will never be free of these two factors, and learning how to construct your creative process around them is one of the keys to becoming a truly successful digital artist.

The idea works like this: Do your best job, within the time and budget allocated to you. Of course, freelancers generally get to have some leeway in this process, but designers who work for companies may not.

Keep that in mind.

An easy way to work around the problem of deadlines and costs is to create templates for basic websites and similar designs, and then give them a makeover with every new customer. This strategy works on a basic level for:

  • Blog
  • Restaurant
  • Shopping
  • Tech sites
  • Infographics

Some templates already exist, you can purchase and dress those up (simple way out). Or create your own templates, and then dress them real pretty and unique for every client who wants a project that fits into the template.

Of course, for bigger campaigns, more high profile clients or just someone who wants something truly unique, one must start from scratch and work around the deadline/cost paradigm.

Just like creativity, the knack for handling a client’s budget and deadline will become second nature, and there’s no rules saying you can’t talk to a client about extending a deadline, making them more flexible.

Sometimes meeting a deadline means working extra hours or working over time. This may seem hard at first, but it’s a common enough occurrence in this line of work, so don’t stress over it too much.

5. Don’t Forget to Backup

Seriously, nothing can kill a deal like lost projects. Just cause your computer died, had an HDD crash or the PC simply packed up its bags and left you heartbroken, there’s still a deadline to meet.

And computer screw ups are inevitable, there’s simply no predicting what can down a computer, from a virus to an Avenger crashing through your office wall, computers can drop the ball without notice (and they don’t care about deadlines).

So backup your work, personally cloud storage is what works best for me, I can simply login and continue work from another PC. But even an external HDD is enough (though they are prone to breaking as well, which is why cloud tech is still better in my opinion), also don’t forget to protect it with encryption and a password, remember, this is somebody’s property, even if you’re the one creating it.

Most modern operating systems come in built with some sort of online backup tool, such as OneDrive on Windows 10 and iCloud on OS X. There’s no excuse to not back up your work, especially if it’s a project which has a tight deadline.

And there are plenty of great (not to mention cheap) services out there which will store, backup and sync your files.

6. Do Learn People/Communication Skills

There’s a reason the term “client” is used in the design industry, and not the term “customer”. Because the term client implies a relationship, and maintaining your relationships requires people skills.

Now this may or may not apply to your personally, but nonetheless it’s an important point to make for those who do need to realize the importance of having people skills. Most employed designers work in teams consisting of programmers, managers, photographers, animators and various other talented individuals.

Learning to be polite, casual, on time and helpful is important, because even a genius designer will get kicked off the team if they don’t fit in well.

Then of course there are the clients, with whom you need sometimes travel to meet, talk on Skype and even be in constant chat mode with. But if your people skills and work are both pretty good, chances are you’ll nab a client who wants a repeat performance.

Clients with whom you have a trust based relationship are an awesome asset to have, they generally provide steady work, great recommendations and also help boost your reputation as well.

People skills can take you far in the design industry, so take some time to learn or improve them.

7. Don’t Forget to Have Fun

This one might sound strange, but it’s easy to get bored or frustrated with the work coming your way, and that in turn slowly kills the creativity bug that all designers need to be effective.

So if the job you got at an ad agency isn’t tickling your creative side, find something you truly want to design and have fun doing it. For example: if your Star Wars fan, how about creating a mock up of the next movie’s poster?

Create an illustration of your most bored moments of the week, post that on Facebook. How about designing a background for your favorite sports car? Whatever it is, do something to keep your creative edge honed and focused.

Work won’t always bring creative projects or clients may simply be very rigid about what look they want. So this piece of advise leads back to our first one, focus on staying creative, and generally the best way to that is have fun designing things.

And everything good you design will end up in a portfolio, plus it counts as practice (remember, practice makes perfect).

How about making your own rendition of a favorite or cool design piece you’ve seen? Maybe Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon’s album cover could use a redesign, why shouldn’t you do it?

So it’s not even remotely a waste of time. As a matter of fact, it’ll take about 12 months of constant practice before anyone will even consider you for an entry level position, so spend that time well, have fun and be creative.

8. Do Learn Presentation Skills

Presentation is the “make or break” of a project, you need to communicate your ideas correctly and simply, learn to use visual aides such as PowerPoint, and be honestly insightful when answering questions about the project.

Don’t try to be falsely confident about projects, come with real facts, figures, solid explanations and be mentally flexible when unexpected questions come flying your way.

And in case you were wondering, yes, graphic designers are expected to have pretty good PowerPoint slides.

And easy way to present ideas and projects is to first introduce the project as a whole, and the break it down into chunks that make progressive logical sense.

Presentation and people skills kind of intertwine, but they’re not the same thing. One involves talking to people, the other involves pitching an idea so well that people feel compelled to accept it.

Here are some tips that have come in handy personally:

  • Be clear
  • Be concise
  • Be prepared with answers
  • Make the best presentation you can
  • Explain things as simply as possible
9. Don’t Have Weak Skin

Any graphic designer worth his or her salt needs to be able to take criticism, a lot of it in fact. To put it bluntly, a lot of graphic design involves spending time, effort and creativity making something, just to be told it’s not good enough.

And that hurts, no point in denying it, but you’ve got have thick skin.

The ability to take criticism well, evaluate it, and proceed accordingly is invaluable. Sometimes we fail to see the tree in a forest, and having someone point out the tree you missed is a really important service (which usually comes free).

When someone critics your work, they’re not saying “you suck”, they’re saying “you can do better”. And I see no reason why I shouldn’t strive to design better products. However, not all critics are always correct, a lot of the time you’ll meet people who know less than yourself about design, yet deign to advise on how to do better.

Kind of how like single people like to give parenting advice to parents.

However, sifting through the good and not so good criticisms is apart of the job, so keep in mind to address all your critics politely, and find the ones with some truly good advice to offer and learn from it.

10. Do Stay at The Edge

Want to be a truly good designer? Then practice a lot and stay on the cutting edge. There’s no end to journey of creativity, and new tools, toys, ideas and contacts and places to create. Keep learning, keep making and keep being creative.

The better you do, the better things become, and the more you’ll earn. Spend time researching the latest trends, tools idea, update your own hardware (when you can afford to), try to retain clients based off good work, communication and presentation skills.

Check out what the best in the industry are making, then try to see if you can do the same or one better. Don’t be afraid to ask for advise, and offer it in return. You’ll only get as good as you give.

And above all, always stay creative.

In Summary…

If you thought design was just about making stuff, now you know better. There’s plenty more to learn and experience, but these are the top ten things anyone about to dip their toe into the design world should know first (in my opinion).

If you’ve got questions, tips of your own to share on the subject, feel free to holla in the comments section below. And thanks for reading!

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One Comment

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