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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
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).
â€œConstantly read, look, watch and learn anything and everything.â€? 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
S T U D Y I N G
C A N
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
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’
written on the packaging.
of designers asked consider
about things from their
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
“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.
OTHER FACTS YOU MAY LIKE
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
habits that you might find useful.
FOLLOW UP WITH CLIENTS
WHAT COUNTS AS SUCCESSFUL?
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
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7 Habits of a Highly Effective Designer