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I often meet people who aren't quite sure what I do as a graphic designer. And if you haven't worked with a graphic designer before, you may be wondering why you would need to. Those are valid questions and I want to take a moment to shed a little more light on the topic.
While a graphic designer may share some of the same skills as a fine artist, the focus of a graphic designer is quite different. A fine artist usually creates work that comes from their individual point of view, and their work is enjoyed and prized for that artistic interpretation. A graphic designer must take a very different approach with the needs of a business or cause as their focus. As a graphic designer, I'm looking through the lens of my business clients, but even more so from the viewpoint of that business's various audiences. While a part of me comes through in my individual style, the work is less about me individually and is targeted to meet a specific communication need for my clients.
Graphic designers typically have a minimum of a 4-year college degree, but some are self taught. I have a bachelor of arts degree, but I consider much of my best education came from doing the work, pursuing my own learning opportunities, and finding inspiration and good advice from other people over the years of my career. When looking for a graphic designer for your projects, one of the best ways to judge what someone can do for you is to look at their work and talk to them about their approach.
The services a graphic designer might offer can vary somewhat with areas of specialty and it's a good idea to ask about their individual capabilities. They may have different areas of expertise in print media, packaging, web design, social media, presentation design, large format media like trade show booth design, etc. There are certain core skills, however, that every experienced graphic designer should possess. Knowing how to select and use the right typographic style(s) for a project is very important because type is a very expressive element in design and the letterforms and how they are used in a layout can say a lot on its own. While a graphic designer may have the skills to create their own illustrations or take their own photographs, every designer must understand good composition and how to choose or create the right imagery for their client's work. Sometimes a designer will need to work with a professional photographer or illustrator to art direct what is needed for a project. Most designers should have keen competencies in editing, manipulating, and compositing images through software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. They also should be knowledgeable about exporting and saving appropriate file types for specific types of projects. Color is a another key element of design, and a designer must have a good sense of how to use color for the desired effect, supporting the overall tone and message of the work. Designers should also know how to use color and other design elements to create and strengthen the visual brand of their clients. Creating a layout that flows well with imagery and information in a well-designed structure is also important. I could go on and on, but this touches on some of the key skill sets that you can expect a designer to have.
Sometimes people have a misconception that I will print their business cards, banners, etc. It's a graphic designer's job to create the design for you, and then to act as a liaison in working with the right vendor to produce the final products you need. A graphic designer will know how to send the right specifications to gather cost estimates, and will prepare and send final artwork files to the vendor. They will likely also shepherd the project through the process: checking proofs, looking at samples, or attending press checks as needed.
I think one of the greatest skills a designer should possess is the ability to step into the shoes of you, the business owner, and who you're trying to reach with your products or services. If a design is approached from a purely aesthetic approach, it may have its merits visually, but it may not communicate the right message to the right people. Asking the right questions is very important to getting a clearer sense of where to head with a design direction. Drawing vital input from you, we need to be clear about what we're trying to communicate, who we're trying to reach, and consider how best to do that. This also takes some careful thought and homework on the part of you, our client. Additionally, we want to know what your competition is doing—not so that dictates what we will do, but so we have a good sense of your playing field and all of the facts on the table for consideration as we think about the right approach for your business.
This article touches only briefly on some of the capabilities of a graphic designer, but an experienced graphic designer can be an incredible asset to your business communication. The work a graphic designer creates can be transformational to any business, and seeing what's possible take real form has made my work very rewarding. If you haven't invested in design in your own business or aren't sure where to start, begin by talking to an experienced graphic designer. They can help you begin to formulate a plan for your communications and brand. Or just start small, taking on one mailer, a logo refresh, whatever. What you begin to sow now will begin to reap dividends for your business. The whole objective is to move your business forward, and the right graphic designer can play a vital part in helping you do that.