25+ Tips to Improve Your Skills as a Graphic Designer

Published 15 Aug, 2017
Shmoon Mascot and Creative Champion

If it wasn’t for beautiful design, we’d all live in a drab world. Steve Jobs would have been anonymous, and nobody would buy Apple products.

The best designers, people like Rob Janoff, who designed the Apple logo in two weeks, dedicate themselves to improving with a lifelong hunger for more. The last great project is never enough - that’s the big secret of how to improve your design skills.

For them, design is freedom. Freedom to create the dream that is in the mind, freedom to craft what the eye should see, starting with a blank screen and nothing more than an idea.

For all the graphic designers who love the craft, we’ve hunted down the best ways that you can make the breakthrough to truly be a top designer. Whether your focus is web design, logos or print, the quest for the best graphic design can be one of the most fulfilling experiences. Read on for 25+ tips on how to be a better graphic designer:

1. Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Source: TwentyTwoWords

Steve Jobs said, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." He declared this in relation to his visit to Xerox, where the graphical user interfaces he saw provided the gem of an idea for Apple’s personal computer. Jobs never stopped copying and, in his words, “stealing” design ideas for subsequent Apple products. With that in mind, whenever you notice a brilliant piece of design, steal it and use it in your next project. This will improve your design powers exponentially over time.

2. Become a Perfectionist to Get to the Next Level

Being a perfectionist gets a bad rap, but many of the great designers, like Jony Ive, are perfectionists indeed. “Pixel perfect” is a cliche only because it is the minimal standard for outstanding design. What happens after pixel perfection is where it begins to get interesting for the elite designers.

3. Do Lots ff Throw-Away Work

Yes, being a perfectionist is good, but, paradoxically, you need to embrace imperfect work as well, since it’s an important part in learning how to get better at graphic design. Between those perfect masterpieces, practice your graphic design chops on pieces of experimental, throw-away work that improve your abilities. This approach will not only help you improve your graphic design skills, but also create a stellar design portfolio.

4. Take on the Audacious Project that Scares You

Taking on far-reaching projects that genuinely scare you because scope and design requirement is the surest method to surpass the inevitable plateau of your design skills.

5. Study Under a Great Master

Back in the 1500s, Palma il Giovane, known as Palma the Young, became Venice’s most dominant artist, painting masterpieces that would become among the most valuable in the world. Not only did Palma the Young have a painter father, but he studied under the illustrious Renaissance painter Tintoretto. Wanna know how to be a better graphic designer? Seek out opportunities to study with a master who has scaled the graphic design heights you can only dream about today.

6. Pick a Specialty Early

Whether web design, mobile or logo design, stake your claim. Deciding on a specialty early in your design career helps you spend more time developing relevant technique.

7. Learn to Trust Your Artistic Instincts

Lucretia By Paolo Veronese - [1], Public Domain

Trust your instincts; they will take you where you need to go on your journey on how to get better at graphic design. Veronese, one of the first major painters to have his works sought by collectors in his lifetime, was educated in the Mannerism school of painting, which was popular at the time. His instincts led him to shed tradition and pursue the naturalist style for which he became famous.

8. Make it Pop

Great design tends to stand out. Whether it’s simple like this classic Ferrari made in 1951 or complex, there is a remarkable quality about the piece. You take one look and you just know: it pops! That’s what you want. Keep working on your piece until it pops, and when it will, you will know, because people will stare.

9. Set Aside Time to Work on Your Dream Project

Working on a project you love is one of the fastest ways to improve, as it brings out the best in you.

10. What is Your Signature Style?

Invest time and work in developing it, as chances are, you don't have one, yet. Almost all the remarkable artists have their own unique, distinctive style. You can find some of the outstanding design styles like Grunge, Expressionism, Minimalism and Photorealism in art references or design collections.

11. (Re)Study Design Theory

Getting back to fundamentals with a fresh mind takes you beyond what you already thought you knew and will help you come up with new design ideas.

12. Have a Better Designer Pick Apart Your Best Design

Because your work is advanced to you, but beginner material for a more skilled designer.

13. Show Your Designs Proudly to the World

Show your work, whether it is on social media, design blogs, or industry forums. If they shred them, that gives you the opportunity to evolve.

14. Learn Your Tools Inside Out

Master and relish Photoshop, Illustrator and other design tools.

15. Collaborate with a Better Designer

Collaborating with someone more experienced from the design community, teaches you better design perspective and opens you up to new techniques of the trade.

16. Enter a Graphic Design Competition

Competitions pit you against other graphics designers who are just as good as you, offering you an excellent opportunity to force you to seek an edge.

17. Rework an Old Project You Did When You were not So Good

You will be impressed how much better you make it the second time around. In the process, you will see so much more clearly what the essence of good design is for you.

18. Attend a Design Bootcamp

Design bootcamps can accelerate your growth as a graphic designer. You learn from industry-leading instructors how to be a good graphic designer and get to work on real projects under expert tutelage.

19. Do an Internship for a Top Company

Internships in design at world-class companies like Airbnb and Apple can be an entry into a whole new realm of design values.

20. Work on Making Your Portfolio 10 Times Better

A remarkable design portfolio will impress design teams who want to give you a job, while simultaneously being a great practice of your design skill.

21. Take the Coursera Graphic Design Specialization

Looking for new, affordable ways on how to improve design skills? Offered by the California Institute of the Arts, this online series of graphics design courses will make you a much better designer.

22. Experiment with Different Kinds of Grids

Grid design is a staple of graphic design. Working with different kinds of grids helps you develop the range of work you can do.

23. Read Some Good Design Books

Reading “The Design of Everyday Things” is a good place to begin.

24. Learn to Draw Like One of the Greats

Improving your drawing skills gives you the new liberty to sketch designs and creative projects. Taking a drawing class can help you massively and teach you how to be a better graphic designer.

25. Hang Out with Other Designers on DeviantArt

Spend time with people like you on DeviantArt, Behance, Dribbble, Facebook design groups, design sub-Reddits and other places where you can learn by sharing experiences.

26. Critique Your Last Piece of Work

Fend off from criticizing your design while you are working on it, as it can paralyze your creativity. After it’s finished and done, analyze it and plan how you can make the next one even better. This is continuous improvement in practice.

27. Attend Design School

Schools like the Royal College of Art in the U.K and the Rhode Island School of Design continue to churn out designers who continue to do award-winning work. If you’re interested in taking your skills to a new place, attending even a part-time program can propel you to design stardom.

10,000 Hours of Graphic Design

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book “Outliers” says it takes 10,000 hours to become world-class. When you push yourself, there is almost no limit to how much better you can be as a graphic designer. Superside, the future of work, has created a workplace where the top graphic designers push each other every day to improve.

Whether by revisiting design theory, working on challenging graphic design projects, or collaborating with a more senior designer, you need to learn by doing. The real underlying key, however, is to deploy your own creative instincts and the passion that got you wearing the designer’s cap in the first place, because that’s how you manage to improve your design skills. Great graphic design, like all other great work, is a labor of love.

Images sourced from Pinterest, Pexels and Wikimedia Commons.

Shmoon Mascot and Creative Champion
My fellow Supersiders and I enable and elevate ambitious marketers and creative teams—breaking through bottlenecks and scaling creative. There is a better way to get design done. We chase the sun to bring you the "Shmoon"— that's me :)
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