All creative design builds on what has come before. This is probably the one constant “truth” in the world of graphic design. We have our own creative juices and unique “signatures,” but we do study the work of other graphic designers for a reason – to stimulate that creativity and signature as we find our own “voices.”
Design schools and university degree programs focus on the “science” of design and expect young designers to take that “science and add our own “art.” And if we are do-it-yourselfers, without formal training, we teach ourselves the principles of design and study how those principles are translated into design that becomes incredible.
So, whether you are a young designer armed with a degree or, simply a creative who is self-taught, you are entering a competitive field. Here are some tips for newbies as they seek to “make their mark” in the profession.
1 – Develop Relationships with Influencers
This may seem a difficult task, but social media has made it so much easier.
Whose work do you admire and whose work do you dislike?
Find these influencers on social media wherever they may be. Most will be on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They will be showcasing their designs and engaging in conversations about those designs. Become a follower and insert yourself into the conversations. You can also subscribe to blogs where influencers present – a great one is HubSpot’s Design Blog – and participate in the conversations.
This will keep you “current” on new trends in design and begin to establish yourself as a member of the design community. You will end up getting advice and tips from successful designers that no book will give you.
Here’s an example of how you can do this on Twitter. Make a list of influencers in design you want to follow. You can either use Hubspot or go directly to Twitter to then create your list. Click on your Twitter profile picture, choose lists from the menu, then choose “create a list.” Add influencers whose work you love and those whose work you hate. By following both, you will stimulate your own ideas and you will also develop an understanding of what you don’t like and why you don’t like it.
There are also websites that will provide you information about trends and major influencers. One great one is 365 Awesome Designers. It focuses on one designer each day, and is a great source of both education and inspiration.
2 – Become a Collector
People collect things – things that are valuable to them. As a designer, you need to collect things of value too.
You need a catalogue of designs that you love and that have been successful. You can do this in several ways – bookmarking in your web browsers, creating a Pinterest board, or saving them to your computer. And you can organise these designs by type – logos, posters, infographics, etc.
If you categorise them now, you will have an easier time locating them when you have a project in any one of these categories. Even when you are between projects, it’s a good idea to open your folders and review the designs you have collected.
Think about what hit you about them and how you could use some of the techniques in your own designs. You can also play with creating your own designs and saving them in that folder. Then when a project does come up, you have a collection of great ideas to draw from.
You can also begin to fill your own catalogues with items from design portfolio sites like Behance and Dribbble. They showcase some great designs from major “players” in the field – typographers, web designers, and other graphic designers. And sometimes the designers that are featured speak to what inspired them and how they worked through the process of creating the design that you now love.
3 – Take a Lesson from Biology Class
If you took a biology class in school or college, you no doubt performed dissections. Essentially you were taking apart all of the individual parts of an organism to study them and to understand how they all fit into the whole that was once that animal. You should adopt the same mental procedure as you study designs that you love.
Each element of that design has line, colour, and texture. They can be pretty simple, these elements, yet when combined with other elements, they create a whole that is amazingly appealing.
The other thing you will be able to see is the process – how each layer of the design contributed, just as each structure of that animal contributed to the whole. Once you analyse the process, you will see the sequence of steps that occurred in the design creation. Most design occurs in layers, and when you understand the layering process, you have mastered a major component of design creation.
4 – Be Specific With Your “How to” Searches
We have all seen design elements that we think are cool but have no idea how to replicate that element. This is nothing new with young designers, particularly when they see things that were never taught in design school.
So, they begin to search online for some “how to” instructions. Their searches yield very little value. You have to be very specific about the elements you want to explore.
For example, you see a logo design that has amazing long shadows – how do you so that? Do not conduct a search with the term, “creating shadows.” Instead, search very specifically for what you want – creating long shadows on logos.
Chances are you are going to find a video tutorial that addresses that topic specifically. You want to make your searches as specific as possible so that only really relevant results will show up.
One way to make your searches more relevant is to make sure that you have the correct terminology. Those of us who did not go to design school or who graduated a number of years ago, may not be “current” on terminology for the right searches. So, access a good glossary of design terms, locate the current terminology and use it as you search. The results will be far more actionable.
5 – Mimicry is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
There are copyright laws that prevent mimicry that is too close. And intellectual property is a part of copyright law. Never, never, never should you ‘copy’, borrow or steal a design and attempt to call it your own.
However, as good exercise and practice here is what you should do.
Take a design you love and dissect it. Then try to re-create that design on your own- you are never going to distribute or sell it to anyone, so you will not be violating any law. However, what you will be doing is developing your techniques and learning new ones. While you may not replicate the design exactly, you will have learned a great deal.
Use the resources you have to mimic a design – that catalogue you have created, use the software you like (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.), and see what you can do. And if you can’t get any element just as you would look, search for it specifically.
6 – Leave Breathing space
One of the unfortunate aspects of design today is that we are trying to cram so much into the space provided. So we crowd elements in and end up with a piece that is so busy it is confusing.
Young designers must understand that white space is an element of design just like any other. And there is research to back up the notion that incorporating white space is far more attractive and pleasing to viewers. Using white space effectively takes time to learn, and there are no cemented “rules” for it.
You have to experiment with changes to layout and sizing until you achieve that aesthetic value. Study how others use white space by looking through your catalogue or other sources of exceptional designs.
7 – Always Have a Project that Reflects Your Passion
Whether you have client work to complete or not, you must always have a “passion project” that you are working on. This is for no one but yourself.
What is your favourite venue of design? Logos? Infographics? Start your own project no matter what else may be on your “burners.” Often, when you are working on a project that is boring or distasteful, you can keep yourself motivated if you have the other design you can go to when you need a break. And when you get that project done, start a new one.
You should always have a design project going that is exciting and engaging – this is how you keep your creative juices flowing and how you continue to learn. And who knows? Some of the elements may transfer perfectly into a current client-based project.
Design involves creative thought, an “eye” for aesthetics, line, colour, and texture, and repetitive practice. Ideas can be worked and reworked in many ways The more you do this, the more you will develop you own “voice” in the design world, and that voice will be unique.