Tips to improve as a graphic designer

Graphic design is a field that is quickly changing, both creatively and technically, and while it is easy to get caught up in learning new technical skills, it is just as important to focus improving and pushing the limits of our creativity.

While in design school, it was easy to surround myself with inspiration and engage in activities that helped my understanding of effective design. Once I graduated I feared losing it, since I was no longer surrounded by a learning environment. I made it a point to continue educating myself as much as possible and become more active in the field of design. I was determined not to let my designs grow stagnant, but rather transgress and improve with time. Here are a few tips, exercises and practices that have help me continue learning, strengthen creativity and become an all around better designer.

Become a collector

Each time you see a design that inspires you, collect it, bring it home and file it away. I have hundreds of brochures, posters and other collateral that I have collected over the years that is stacked away in folders and boxes that I can quickly access – great source of inspiration when needed. Even Starbucks gives out creative weekly mini-newspapers.

Buy books

Having an extensive book collection is always essential to learning. I try buying a new book at least every 2 weeks that range from inspirational, educational and technical topics.

Read design-related blogs

I can’t stress enough how much information I have learned by reading other great designers blogs. The web in an invaluable resource of information – take advantage of it and actually use it!

Start a design blog

Having started this blog only a couple months ago, I have found it to be extremely useful and educational for myself. It has made me more aware of the design community and more analytical of my own work.

Join and be active in the design community

As a freelance designer, joining the online design community is a must. Not only does it keep you up-to-date in the design world, but is also great for feedback and critique. Being your own boss is great, but not having anyone to answer to as a freelancer also has it’s down sides. No one to criticize your work and help you improve.

Take lots of photos

Solves the problem of not being able to take home designs you like – Camera phones are great for this kind of thing. Just snap a photo and file it away for later. I use Evernote for this type of thing; pictures of building designs, textures, shapes of shadows on walls. Basically anything that interests me from a design stand point.

Create fake projects

Whenever I find myself with free time (which is getting less and less lately) I create fake projects. Create a fake brand for a company. Design a logo, stationary, brochure, website – the whole nine yards. It’s good to do this once in awhile because it keeps design fun and let’s your creativity run wild without limitations. It’s often easy to get caught in a rut when clients start dictating and your work no longer becomes “yours”.

Redo other people’s design

Don’t want to create a fake brand to design? Try redesigning other people’s projects. This help’s you evaluate what “they” did wrong and what you could do better.

Redo your old designs

I know what it feels like to look at your early days of design and think “Oh my! What was I thinking?! I need to get rid of that immediately”, but is important to keep that work. It will help you see if you’re moving forward and improving your skills. Instead of throwing away or deleting old projects, try reworking them.

Attend lectures

Every few months I make it a point to attend lectures of other designers speaking at local schools and universities. Always learn a new thing or two.

Network with other designers

Attending lectures is a great way to meet other designers. I always try to search out the designers that have more experience and talent than I do. I know – it’s hard to admit someone else is better than you, but networking with people of higher skill levels will push you to work harder and learn more.

Take classes

Many local college allow you to register for classes without enrolling full-time. It will not only teach you some new things technically, but also put you back in a classroom of your peers.

Interview other designers and studios

A year ago, a friend of mine, started a ‘national studio tour‘ where he toured and interviewed with over 100 different design studios. He said the experience was amazing and learned so much by asking questions that design school could have never answered. He also met a valuable useful contacts ;)

Travel

Every time I travel to another country, I come back feeling extremely inspired. I usually find myself designing all day for a few weeks straight. Experiencing new cultures and seeing their artwork, opens your mind to a whole new world. Just wish I could travel more!

Learn something new

Whenever I am in a creative slump I try something new or do something completely unrelated to design. Getting your mind off things and into something new, usually has a funny way of working itself back around.

Grab a sketchbook

Helps you work through ideas quickly and without limitations of design software. Has made a HUGE difference in my designs. See what other designer’s say about the importance of sketching here and here.



Discussion and Comments

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  1. Elijah says:

    Good Post and nice advice. i accept this

  2. Dinesh G says:

    Great tips

  3. Mr.JOSE says:

    Exactly what I have to say about the topic! I couldn’t have wrote like this… Its perfect..

    And I have one more thing to say.. usually the new designers get a bit carried away that they design something complex for a below-normal ‘site-visitor’ to understand..

    For this reason I use a trick, I have some friends they just browse through net and don’t mind big designs but the user-friendliness… I give them my site to review.. so that I can improve things here and there… Resulting a good site meant for any type of user… ;)

    So to all designers out there.. Lets rock!!!

  4. Phil says:

    this is great advice Brian. Thanks for taking the time to give us some tips!

  5. Pascy says:

    Hi Brian, i love your blog heaps. Im a fresh student in Advanced diploma in Graphic Design. I love it and i want to be good at it. Actually i have a lot to learn at school, lots of theory before getting to applications but im patient. Your page is helping me. Im happy there’s someone around i can connect to and learn from.

    Thanx Brian

  6. [...] Students should definitely consider taking many business classes, especially if they want to go freelance or start their own studio one day. I’ve always been passionate enough about design to teach myself, but I wish I took more business and marketing classes. Also, I would recommend collecting designs. Having resources of inspiration and also an idea of good design is essential. I take photos of many types, colors, designs, etc. as I pass them by, and I use LittleSnapper to organize online media. Being a graphic designer is non-stop learning. Here’s an article I wrote that covers more: 16 Tips to Improve as a Graphic Designer. [...]

  7. seb green says:

    good article,

    totally agree with your learn learn learn mentality. you can never stop learning as a designer, you can never know it all.

    seb

  8. John Foy says:

    Great tips, and I’d like to add a crucial fact that natural talent is what really counts. If you don’t possess it, no matter how many degrees you got, or books you read, you can’t really design something of real brilliance, and/or creativity.

  9. [...] 16 tips to improve as a graphic desginer [...]

  10. bob cortez says:

    what’s up brian? i really like your advice on how to become a great designer. i am improving my designs. quickly. swt… if in someway you can teach me private lessons. it would be a pleasure to do that. thank you very much.

    ur fan from the philippines.

  11. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mollybermea: we could all use a little more improvement (graphic designers) http://twurl.nl/umt3y1...

  12. Pariuri says:

    “9- Redo your old designs”
    I agree with this but you must have a large variety of old unique designs, and you must always change something.

  13. I think the “buy books” is probably the single most valuable piece of advice anyone could take. I just don’t understand why people don’t pick up more of them. If you knew that leaders in your industry were writing down all the steps they took to get to their level, wouldn’t you want to READ this.

  14. frasi says:

    Brilliant post, The content is great and i agree with all the points.

  15. aurel kurtula says:

    a great post

    im at a point where i know that i need a portfolio, i know that i have enough skill to show, but struggle on finding inspiration , reasons for design: this idea of inventing brands, seem to be a great way to go
    the redesign of other peoples work (i hear this a lot) – but would these peaces of work be good enough to display in a portfolio, to be seen by clients

    or would they think of it as “fake” and copycat

  16. dresses says:

    Brilliant post, The content is great and i agree with all the points.

  17. Thanks for taking the time to give us some tips! The content is great and i agree with some points.

  18. manojkumar_kansas says:

    I don’t know to understand or didn’t understand but i love your advice.
    i want to be a……. become a best creator. so i follow this advece and
    its very nice

  19. manojkumar_kansas says:

    I don’t know to understand or didn’t understand but i love your advice.
    i want to be a……. become a best creator. so i follow this advice and
    its very nice

  20. manish says:

    Thanks dude,
    Its amazing yaar
    I will try to follow it in my life.
    i hope its decaffeinate its improve my graphic design
    thanks again.

  21. richy says:

    wow i have lean a lot from your advice and am grateful..God bless you

  22. Stickers says:

    Some great tips here. One thing I have found when dealing with other designers is that even though they have come out of University they over value their services at first. The only way to demand such high prices is too keep improving and be more efficient than your peers.

  23. Thanks for sharing this information. I found it very informative as I have been researching a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about…

  24. A big part of building trust with a viewer is showing them you have experience! Showing testimonials or a list of previous clients is a great way to quickly build trust with a viewer of your portfolio.

    Its ok if you don’t have huge clients like Apple or Honda, but if you have worked with major clients you better have them on your site! So consider creating a page just for testimonials or previous clients you have worked with.

  25. ilovetrh says:

    I love this site. Great tips! I love ‘em (: I think these tips can help anyone who are having trouble w/ Graphic Designing. I’m bookmarking this site. Thanks for the great tips! (:

  26. Mario says:

    Great Tips! Thanks a lot for sharing this information.

  27. Chris says:

    I’m about to graduate and ive never felt less creative. I went straight through taking summers too and feel burned out. Anyone else felt that way getting out of school?

  28. add url says:

    Thanks for the tips Brian,really good ones,you was very helpfull!

  29. Max Nomad says:

    Over the course of my career, I eventually came to follow almost all of the tips in this article. There were only a couple that I’d never bothered to do (redo other people’s designs and find lectures to go to). Finding them in one concise list was pretty cool; it let me know that I share the quest for constant improvement with kindred spirits. Thanks for the post.

  30. great tips…. lets see how they work out… cant wait to try them

  31. Great work
    Thanks for the tips Brain, I will evaluate this point in my work
    Thanks once again

  32. That was a refreshing post!. I do agree no mater what age we are, books will always be the one that drive passion and creativity.

  33. Wynne says:

    Thank you for the insights! :)

  34. Good to see straight talking sound advice :)
    Thanks will be taking this on.
    Lisa

  35. Mike Manzano says:

    Hi. Great article! I was wondering if you had any links to online design communities where a beginning designer could get some good critiques? In the photography word, there’s http://photosig.com, where they actually give people points for good critiques. Is there something like that for graphic design?

  36. Brian says:

    Hi Mike,
    Absolutely – there’s Dribbblefor posting work and receiving feedback.

  37. TB says:

    Inspiring article! I am just starting out as a Graphic Designer and it is a bit overwhelming. At how much I still need to learn. I did not know where to start, so your article has been a great help.

  38. bitoy says:

    hey dude thx for your advice i hope some day i will become succesfull as your’s…

  39. Stanleydesigner says:

    Great, really great post, agree with all point. I always have a folder i call it inspiration i take design who inspirate me, and use to get inspiration from.

    Thank for all tips

    Stanleydesigner from Haiti

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello:


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