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I N T R O D U C T I O N What makes a successful designer? How do they stay on top of things? What keeps them going? Do you ever feel like some designers have just got it sorted? They don’t simply get by in life, they constantly raise the stakes to create bigger and better designs. Their client base is always growing and yet they always manage to keep ahead of their workload. What’s their secret? This eBook can finally give you an answer! We surveyed graphic designers from a range of different industries – not-for-profit, entertainment, retail etc. – to learn about their work habits. We wanted to see if there are any common trends that could shed some light on what makes a successful designer. Thankfully, our survey produced some rather interesting results which we’re excited to share with you today. Read on as we count down the top seven habits of a highly effective designer. From constantly searching for inspiration, to asking your clients the right questions, discover what it takes for your freelance design business to thrive.


“Always look for inspiration everywhere. Take lots of pictures and relax about coming up with new ideas.” Marty Furgal, ABC Creative Group



ny creative individual will tell you,

59% of respondents said they look for

inspiration is essential to producing

inspiration online

good work. Working without inspiration

41% said they find inspiration offline,

is like playing cards and persistently

such as in nature, magazines, and books

getting dealt bad hands – you’re in an

Of that 41%, 20% said that they find

uphill battle to make any sort of progress.

inspiration from other designers Rather than searching for inspiration for each


individual project, it can be more effective to


top up your inspiration bank as and when ideas hit you.




of designers in our survey said that they look for inspiration

more than once a week



The most common online sources named by

unexpected sources - that’s why it’s important

our survey respondents included: Pinterest,

to remain open to it, to take note of the


things which impress you and make you feel

Interestingly, when we refine the results to

amazed. Sometimes, however, you do have to

those with the job title “Owner”, the percentage

go looking for it.

of people who search online jumps to 87.5%. 











“Be open to change. You can’t be precious about your work. It’s a tough world out there for designers but by putting your client’s interests first you’ll be likely to succeed. Be patient and take on board negative feedback and move forward positively from it.” Karrie Brown, Karrie Brown Design



ith design work, the odds are you’re

Being able to hear negative criticism without

never going to get it right first time.

taking it personally, is a great skill for a

This is especially true when you’re

designer. The only way to learn it, though, is

trying to please a client, but while

to regularly send your work to be reviewed. If

it might not feel great to hear your

you don’t have any graphic design buddies to

work criticised, it’s very important that you do.

help you out, there are websites you can use to get your work reviewed.

Getting feedback obviously means that you’ll be able to meet your client’s brief better but

Also, if you struggle to take negative comments

that’s not all it’s good for. Listening to and

well, try these simple tips.

accommodating feedback makes you think about things from a different perspective and

Take a deep breath and don’t immediately

lets you learn from others.

jump to defend your work


Clarify what exactly it is that they don’t

of all respondents think that

like about your design

you shouldn’t allow negative

feedback to affect you

Ask solution-focused questions to find an



of business owners think that you shouldn’t allow negative

feedback to affect you.


“Apply what you have learnt, sketch every idea you have, even if it’s dreamy.” Elizabeth Arostegui, Coloripop



ou can often divide designers into

There seems to be a general opinion that

two camps; those who sketch and

sketching is faster and allows a more natural

those who jump straight on the

flow of ideas than a computer. With a pen and


paper, you don’t have to be precise and you’re not limited by what your software can create.

48% of respondents prefer to use a pen

Sketching also means you don’t have to go all

and paper when generating ideas

in on one idea straight away. Instead, you can hedge your bets by coming up with several

36% prefer designing straight onto a

ideas quickly and figuring out which designs


aren’t worth pursuing. In the end, this could

15% prefer to use a mix and say that both

actually save you a lot of time.

have a place within design So it would seem that using a pen and paper is the ultimate winner with our designers. When we asked why they preferred a pen and paper, the same words and phrases kept coming up in their answers (see diagram).


“Constantly read, look, watch and learn anything and everything.� Tom Buttle, Tom Buttle Ltd.



ontinued learning is one of the best

Skill development has so many benefits for

things you can do for your portfolio

you and your business. For one, it allows

and, as we all know, a great portfolio

you to keep up with industry trends so that

is the only sure-fire way to keep the

you always remain one step ahead of the

chips rolling in.

competition. Also, it means you can fill any skill gaps so that you know, no matter what



M E A N ;

your clients ask of you, you can provide the goods.

Learning a new skill that you don’t currently offer your clients Honing an existing skill so that you become an expert in that area Reminding





technique that you haven’t used in a while You don’t necessarily have to sign on to a formal course to learn a new skill – it could be enough to watch a couple of tutorials online. As long as you’re challenging yourself in some

See here for suggestions on how you could

way, you’re learning.

expand your portfolio.


“Always review your work, always try to see your design through customer’s eyes.” Martin Vinař, Design Channel



hen creating a design, one of your

Not understanding the target audience is one

first considerations should be the

of the main reasons marketing campaigns

target audience. Unfortunately, this

fail. Instead of asking “How can I sell this?”, ask

can easily be forgotten – especially

“Who am I trying to sell to and why might they

when the target audience is not, in

need this?”

fact, your client. C A S E

S T U D Y :

Of course, you have to please your immediate client and ensure that the design is branded

Bic once created a range of pens ‘for her’

to their business. However, making sure

which were exactly the same as the pens

that the end-user, your client’s customer,

they already sold except they came in pastel

receives the design well is essential for the

colours and had ‘for her’

campaign’s success.

written on the packaging.



of designers asked consider



about things from their

themselves “successful”



The most common reason given for

they only thought about

this was that they were able to fully

what they wanted to sell

understand their clients’ needs and meet

and ended up offending

their briefs

their buyers.


“Ask enough questions and you won’t have to look for so many answers.” Jon Tarrant, Jon Tarrant Creative Services



t might seem obvious to some

Sometimes, it can be hard to speak up in a client

but you’d be surprised how many

meeting. If your client has lots of their own


ideas, they may be more interested in telling you





about them rather than hearing your opinion.

discussing it first. If it’s a detailed brief, that might work out fine but

if you’re unsure on something, why take a

As the designer, however, you are the one

gamble when you could just ask your client?

who will be turning these ideas into a physical form so you need to fully understand what is being asked of you. Asking questions lets you find the information you need if a client is being vague at all.


Keep these tips in mind when asking your client about their brief; Ask open-ended questions


Ask about the end-user’s needs of




Avoid using design jargon

asking clients questions is the

most important habit to have as a designer

Use sketches to explain what words can’t


“Don’t be so hard on yourself, no-one gets it right first time. Design is always a process, a constant trial and error situation. You’ll get better in time. We live and we learn, don’t be afraid to ask for help for no man is an island. Lastly, make a lot of mistakes, tons and tons, for life is all about learning and with this you’ll be able to pass it on and teach and inspire others about your journey and they too will create a meaningful life.” Klarence Tolosa, a Freelance Graphic and Brand Identity Designer



inally, we have arrived at the number

If ever you’re wondering if you’ve done the

one habit for a successful designer! It

right thing, remember that you are the expert

may seem cliché but it’s true – if you

here. You have trained to do this and there’s

want to be successful at anything, the

a reason your clients have chosen to come to

first thing you need to do is believe


you can do it.


of respondents said that if they could give themselves

one piece of advice when they started out, it would be to believe in themselves. Making decisions with conviction can be hard when clients start questioning you. While you do need to be open to feedback (see habit no. 6), sometimes you also need to have faith in your own skills as a designer.



TRY TO LEAVE SOME WHITE SPACE White space has been celebrated throughout the design industry for its ability to draw the eye, add emphasis, and create a balanced design. It certainly seems like our respondents agree!

Although our survey was designed to find the


top seven habits of successful designers, we did find some other interesting statistics and

space in a design makes it

more effective.

habits that you might find useful.




of designers think that white

of designers who have been

If you’re wanting to improve your business,

working for less than a year

it’s often a good idea to see what your current

do not consider themselves to be successful.

customers think of your work – our respondents were pretty clear on this point.

The reasons given for this included lack of experience, still learning, being

99% of designers who have been working

a beginner, and just starting to build a

for 9 years or more try to check in with their

portfolio and client list.

clients after a project has been finished.



HOW MANY IDEAS DO YOU NEED? Surely the number of ideas you present





creative task at the end of the

day so that they can jump straight back into

depends on the number of ideas that come

their creative flow the next morning.

to you. We thought it might be good to have REVIEW YOUR WORK

a target to aim for so we asked our designers how many they try and come up with.

In almost any line of work, it’s a good idea to The majority of respondents try to come

look back over your past work and see what

up with 3 or 4 ideas during idea generation.

could have been done better, design is no different.

Most designers are against only coming up with 1 or 2 ideas with the exception of


those who have been working for 9 years or more (see here for why some designers only come up with one idea). LEAVE YOURSELF A TASK FOR TOMORROW “Try and end your day part-way through a task so you can quickly get on with work in the morning


without being stuck wondering ‘what am I going to do today?’” – James Martin, Route One Print


of respondents review their work

We’re passionate about print. Helping resellers grow by providing high quality, low cost print is what we’re good at. As the UK’s biggest trade printer, we see ourselves as partners with our clients. We help print selling businesses around the UK thrive with reseller tools, white label packaging, and an order process to make your life easier. That’s why 9/10 customer come back time and time again. We dispatch around 4,000 jobs every day from our 100,000 square foot production facility in South Yorkshire. Our products are all printed on GMG colour managed presses and we follow ISO certified production processes. We utilise the very latest technology available and none of our machinery is more than five years old. Come and find out how we can help your business grow today.


0114 294 5026 | |

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Designer  

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Designer

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Designer  

7 Habits of a Highly Effective Designer