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How to Take Your Graphic Design Skills to the Next Level

These days, it seems like anyone can call themselves a graphic designer. From Canva to good ol’ fashioned Microsoft Paint, there are dozens of free tools to create designs. But what makes a graphic designer “professional”? And if you’d like to elevate your skills, what do you need to do? In this article, we discuss the four crucial steps to move from amateur to professional.

If you’re already a working graphic designer, this article gives you some tips on how to refine your craft. The wonderful thing about graphic design is that it has immense potential, especially with the exciting new trends and technologies available now! Whether you’re an avid logo designer, passionate about fonts, or interested in doing complicated magazine layouts, the field of graphic design has a space for you. Click to read more about leveling up your skills!

  • Graphic design is a form of art, with theories, history, and best practices.
  • Those who wish to become professional-level or more skilled should research iconic designers and use professional tools. 
  • The best way to grow your skills is to challenge yourself and break out of your comfort zone.

Graphic design is a rewarding pursuit that can lead to a lucrative career. Many of us have dabbled in programs such as Microsoft Paint or Canva. But what sets professional graphic designers apart? And how can aspiring graphic designers elevate their skills?

Learn Basic Design Principles

Many successful graphic designers attend art schools, and the industry’s leading figures often teach as well. While graphic design may seem very different from classic art, the principles of good aesthetics are the same. Often, amateur designers will attempt to squeeze too many elements into their design. They may also choose clashing colors or ill-paired typefaces.

When you understand graphic design as a type of art, you gain an appreciation for the theories and science behind it. For example, it’s crucial to learn color theory and the color wheel before you start choosing colors for a professional design. A strong grasp of symmetry vs. asymmetry, composition, and negative space is also important. 

Use Professional-Level Tools

While there’s no shame in using Canva or similar programs for quick designs or to play around, anyone who is serious about pursuing graphic design should start using professional tools. Software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, PaintShop Pro, as well as illustration programs such as Clip Studio Paint Pro, all allow greater control and creative freedom. 

These professional-grade programs give designers the opportunity to fine-tune lines and shapes, select custom colors, build multiple layers into a design, and more. Anyone who would like to earn money for their graphic design skills should invest in one of these programs.

Study the Greats

Without a strong familiarity with graphic design’s iconic figures, you will be missing important context for your work. Also, if you’re ever interviewing for a graphic design position, you will probably be asked who your favorite graphic designer is! To start, spend some time studying well-known designers. Get familiar with their work and learn how they positioned themselves in the industry.

Some figures to focus on include: Paul Rand, widely considered the father of graphic design; Ruth Ansel, an esteemed art director for major magazines; Milton Glazer, known for his iconic designs; Chip Kidd, the designer of many famous book covers; Paula Scher, whose logo designs were crucial to big brands; and David Carson, known for his innovative magazine design.

Challenge Yourself 

The best graphic designers never stop learning or improving their craft. They are perpetual students of their industry, and they are constantly seeking to grow their skills. If you are committed to elevating your skills, you should map out key milestones in your development. Then, challenge yourself to reach new levels. These might include special digital brush techniques, masking, typographic effects, and so on.

You can also challenge yourself by entering a design contest. If you’re new to the world of freelancing or commission work, this is a great way to get your feet wet. Even if you’re building your skills, a contest gives you a chance to break out of your comfort zone. In design contests such as Hatchwise, a client will post a design brief and the amount they’d like to pay for the design. You follow the specifications, and if your design is chosen, you win a monetary prize. Often, the client will give feedback or request revisions if your design is shortlisted. This is a great opportunity to learn how to accept constructive criticism and use your growing skills to put it into action.

Wrapping Up

Graphic design may seem easy, especially with all of today’s convenient design programs. However, it is an art form, and like any art, it requires study and practice. If you’d like to reach a professional level — and continue improving over the years — you need to invest in your toolkit and skillset. Over time, you can monetize your talents and create stunning designs with greater ease and confidence.

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