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7 Habits of Highly Effective Graphic Designers

Because there are seven, I’m going to be brief with my descriptions here, but I do promise I will elaborate on each of these seven habits.

1. Correct Use of Apps: The one most counterproductive error I see made in the design world today is not using proper applications to execute projects. For example, designing a 20ft banner in Photoshop resulting in a billion GB file, or using Illustrator with 16 artboards for a 16 page booklet. Adobe made multiple programs for a reason, not a single one of them is effective in executing their siblings’ tasks. So at a minimum, designers should use: Indesign for page layout, especially multi-page documents. Illustrator for vector based artwork, including logos. Photoshop for editing and manipulation of photos.

2. Communication: In our household, ever since we saw The Giver, we have been sarcastically using the phrase “Precision of Words!” in a commanding-but-timid Katie Holmes voice. As amusing as it is, I can’t number the times I’ve wanted to hold designers to that requirement. Speaking simply is a benefit, it reaches a wide audience, but speaking with lack of precision is a fault. Designers should always be able to communicate why they made the aesthetic choices they did, with clarity and conviction.

3. Respect for Brand Identity: Most designers start early on believing they’ll have free reign to design every project just how they want, not even the sky is the limit. But the sad reality is there are limitations, and it would do every designer good to embrace the limitations. Respect brand guidelines, don’t push the limits, you’ll risk watering down an established identity which makes your design prove ineffective. This does not mean delivering predictable creative. Know the difference; if you don’t, I’ll elaborate in an upcoming blog.

4. Build a Library: Not a literal library, although I do believe every designer should have a loaded bookshelf. But what I mean is, have a plethora of resources and inspiration to explore. My sources range from Pinterest boards, to RSS feeds of blogs, to books, social media networks, magazines, and even a binder of live marketing samples I receive. Your library should be constantly evolving and expanding, help you overcome creative blocks, and keep you fresh and in-the-know about trends, software updates, and notable designers and campaigns.

5. Compliment, Don’t Copy: As designers, there are varying opinions on the fine line between copying and being “inspired” by another piece of design work. I’m a huge advocate of seeking inspiration; but learn how to use works you admire as point of reference rather than a template. It’s ok to mimic a color palette from a piece, but copying a layout down to the grid, style, and fonts is not.

6. Recognize Trends, Know When to Use Them: Design goes through phases, and it’s critical for designers to know what is current, and when trends should be applied. Remember ten years ago, the *awful* ‘ornamental-swooshy-swirl’ phase? Horrific. Not to be used on big brands, but could be used on mom-and-pop coffee shops. Currently, I’m recognizing a ‘geo-faceted’ trend (Samsung Galaxy S5 marketing, Google Play logo, Starbucks Brezza Blend.) This is clearly a trend that can be used on big brands… the question is, is it already being overdone? Use your judgement!

7. Understand Consumer Psychology: I get it, you were an art major. But every designer should understand the fundamentals of how the brain works. Recognizing positive and negative use of words in headlines, how consumers react to colors, consideration of target market and their varying needs. Clients value this kind of knowledge as much as they value your ability to make things pretty, I promise!

That’s all for now. Did I miss anything? Feel free to add to the list in comments below.

PS: Stay tuned for in depth analyses of each of these ‘habits.’

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