What qualities and skills should a good graphic designer have?
1. The ability to listen
Probably the most important. When I meet a new client I will spend most of the conversation listening. The majority of what I say will be in the form of pertinent questions, designed to get important information from them about the design project. Getting this is crucial if a project is to have a successful and effective outcome.
A good designer should always listen, be attentive and ask intelligent questions. Listening means the designer gains critical knowledge and it’s this that gives rise to truly effective design solutions.
2. Ability to put clients in an informed position so they can make evidence-based decisions
A good designer will be able to show a client not just one, but a set of options, in order to put them in such a position so they feel they can make an informed decision about which direction they wish to take the project.
A very simple example of this is color choice of a new logo design. When designing a logo, I have a tendency to design it, initially at least, in black and white (this method of designing a logo is a common practice among designers. Knowing the logo can work in black and white means that it will work in many situations, like if it’s used as a stamp or a watermark).
Once I’m happy with the design I will add a suitable color. In the first presentation, I will point out that the color can be changed. I don’t want them to feel they have to go with my choice. If they are happy with the logo in general, I will let them know they have the choice of viewing it in a variety of colors, so they can make an informed decision about which color they prefer, having seen various options. Seeing options like this is important, as they can contrast and compare.
It’s not just logo design this applies to, but all design projects such as website design, packaging design, and brand design. It’s usual, for example, to design a few elements of a brand at the same time. It could be a logo, a homepage, a polo shirt, stationery, and van graphics. I will create three different options, each consisting of all of these items. This gives the client a chance to see how each concept works across a variety of customer touch points. And again, they can contrast and compare all three concepts, enabling them to make an informed decision about how they’d like their brand to work.
So, a good designer will have the ability to put clients in an informed position so they can make evidence-based decisions. Evidence-based decisions are the foundation of effective design solutions.
3. A passion for effective design
A designer can be passionate as they like about their designs, but if the design is ineffective, it’s useless. A good designer will have the drive to produce a brilliant design solution that answers their client’s needs, and one which achieves a set goal.
An advert extolling the virtues and benefits of a client’s services, whether online or in print, should have a measurable impact on the number of sales leads coming into the business. If it merely looks pretty and delivers no additional business, then you may as well just print it out and stick it on your bedroom wall.
Another important aspect of the effective design is that it needs to communicate the brand’s values and vision in a tone of voice appropriate for the brand. A designer with a passion for effective design will know this and will make sure they have a deep understanding of their client’s brand.
To have a deep understanding of any brand means you need to know about not just the brand, but also the wider context. Including the customer, marketplace, competition, challenges, weaknesses, strengths and opportunities.
So a good designer has a passion for effective design and an eagerness to know their client’s business inside and out.
4. The ability to generate many different ideas for the same project
I nearly wrote ‘4. Creativity’, then thought better of it. It’s not good enough for a designer to say they’re ‘creative’. Making a lovely patchwork quilt is creative. No, we need to be more specific. A good designer should use their creativity to generate many different ideas for the same project.
It’s one of the main reasons I love the design. Every project has many solutions (this differs from certain types of mathematical problem for example, where there will be only one answer). The designer has a responsibility to explore these solutions with the client. Hence presenting a minimum of three design concepts. It’s critical to the success of any creative project as it puts the client in a position where they can make an informed decision about which direction the project should take (see point number 2, ‘Ability to put clients in an informed position so they can make evidence-based decisions’).
A good designer will be able to think in a way that enables them to come up with many different ideas. It’s what Edward de Bono calls lateral thinking (check out the website for more information on lateral thinking).
For example, when starting a design project, let’s say a logo design, I will sit down with my sketchbook and scribble down at least ten ideas of how the logo could work. I’ll then start developing them on my computer. Some will work very well, others will be problematic but will work with a bit of tweaking here and there, and others will turn out not to work at all. Of those that work, I will choose the best three to go into the client presentation.
It’s crucial to have at least ten ideas to start with. If you only start with five, for example, there’s a good chance that three of them won’t survive the development process and you won’t have enough workable ideas for your presentation.
The more ideas you scribble down, the more contenders you’ll have for that first presentation. More contenders mean you will be better placed to choose the most effective design solutions.