by Bill Long
Graphic design is a complex profession that requires intelligence, knowledge, talent and skill in a wide range of work domains. Graphic designers are, first of all, designers who work with images, words and media.
They utilize advanced technology to create visual and multimedia presentations. They interact with other professionals, clients, customers and managers. They market and sell products, including their own talent. Graphic designers need skills in cognition, technology, art, business and interpersonal relations in order to succeed.
Graphic designers must develop specific cognitive skills. Cognition has to do with the ways in which we think and acquire knowledge. Graphic designers have creative, yet well-organized minds. They are artistic and logical. They utilize both the left (logical, organized, linear) side and the right (creative, global, intuitive) side of the brain.
As artists, graphic designers are highly creative, original, intuitive and perceptive. They are able to think visually; to envision a project from beginning to end. At the same time, they must be able to solve complex problems, make judgments and decisions, and think logically and critically.
Time management and organizational skills are also important, as graphic designers work on multiple projects simultaneously, have strict deadlines to meet and must work within budgetary constraints.
In the past couple of decades, graphic design has become a highly technical profession. Layouts that were sketched out in the past are now designed on a computer. In today’s world, it is impossible to compete as a graphic designer without expertise in state-of-the-art computerized graphic design software—and the ability to learn quickly and adapt as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
Graphic designers must also be multimedia experts, skilled in utilizing audiovisual technologies, animation, digital photography and other multimedia techniques. Again, the technology continues to evolve rapidly, and the graphic artist must be able to learn, adapt and adopt new techniques as they become available.
Graphic designers are artists. They have a solid understanding of color, line, composition and design. They create graphs, charts, images and symbols and use them, along with other audiovisual components, to create a coherent message. They take an idea—a concept—and communicate that idea in a way that informs and/or entertains visually.
In order to do this, graphic designers create art.. The particular project may be a brochure, an ad or a presentation, but the project will be a work of art.
Graphic designers need a foundational understanding of business practices. Much of their work is done to help businesses improve their profit margins and all graphic designers work within budgetary and time constraints. They need to understand budgets and profit-loss concepts. They utilize branding concepts to create a visual identity for a client or product. Sales and marketing rely heavily on graphic design to influence customers to buy the products advertised.
Many graphic designers have their own businesses, and rely on their understanding of business to help them succeed. Graphic designers in every setting and situation will find themselves packaging, presenting, marketing and selling their own ideas and products to clients.
Graphic designers work extensively with people and must have good interpersonal skills. They must be able to work with fellow designers, other professionals, vendors, managers and clients. They need to be able to delegate and manage technicians and assistants and work as part of a team.
Graphic designers must have excellent customer relations’ skills. They work extensively with clients, listening carefully to a client’s needs and interpreting those needs into a design project. They often present their ideas and discover that the client had something else in mind, so they redesign until the customer is satisfied. A graphic designer cannot be so in love with his design that he or she fails to meet the customer’s needs and expectations.
Most importantly, graphic designers must have outstanding communications skills. They must be able to communicate visually, verbally and in writing. The mechanics of oral and written communication—grammar, punctuation and spelling—are as important as color, line and composition. Part of communication is listening, and the graphic designer must be a skilled listener in order to understand what a client is trying to communicate.
Today’s graphic designers are highly skilled technicians, talented artists, outstanding communicators and knowledgeable, intelligent, business-savvy professionals. Knowledge and skills can be learned; intelligence and talent can be developed. Individuals who choose a career in graphic design will use all of their talents and abilities, all of their brains, all of their creativity and intelligence to translate thoughts and ideas into visual communication that informs, entertains and sells.