6 best skills graphic designers need to flourish in 2019

Reason why you should build your career this year.

A new year is an incredible time to think about the need to upskill yourself as a graphic designer throughout the next 12 months. Why? Since whatever stage you’re at in your career, you have to abstain from getting cleared aside by the tide of history.

The job of a designer is constantly changing, presently like never before because of a revolution in the manner in which we live and work,” explains Bill Strohacker, principal director of Strohacker Design School. “So it’s critical for designers to stay aware of these changes by continued professional development. Design is developing, and we have to adapt over the digital experience and be important.

Ben Christie, creative accomplice at Magpie concurs. “A really prosperous graphic designer builds up a natural ability to persistently grow and adapt to their ever-changing condition,” he says. “So you should always be looking and learning. Sucking up as a significant part of the world as you can. Sustained designer nourishment.”

However, what skills are extremely going to enable you to develop your career? Here, we take a look at what’s most in demand right now, and how you can meet those needs by upskilling yourself in 2019.

01. Digital typography

In case you’re filling in as a graphic designer, you should already know the basics of typography; if not, begin with our refresher, Typography guidelines and terms each designer must know.

But as graphic design gradually advances from print to online, the need to comprehend the standards of digital (instead of print) typography have never been greater. Also, it’s not just an instance of swapping ems for pixels.

“In spite of the fact that the skills are transferable, there are an entire host of differences when designing digitally,” says Alexandra Lofthouse, senior UX originator at Fifteen. “These incorporate licensing, font sizes, resources, accessibility and that’s just the beginning.” And that is not even to make reference to new technologies like variable fonts and responsive type.

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With so much to consider, and new techniques evolving all the time, it’s important to stay informed by reading around the subject, believes Jack Statham, designer at Ragged Edge.

“There are plenty of high quality tutorials and blogs that cover typography for web and apps,” he says. “A more in-depth approach would be to subscribe to a video course. Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com) are two providers of graphic design courses that are put together by professionals.”

02. Software skills

It’s perfectly possible (and indeed, surprisingly common) for graduates to emerge from respected design courses without actual software skills. And in one sense that’s fine: as long as you’ve covered the fundamental principles of graphic design, you have a firm bedrock on which to add those skills later.

But at some point, you will need to do so. In fact, it’s unlikely you’ll get even a junior designer job without a good grasp of at least Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Meanwhile, if you’re in a later stage of your career, it always helps when applying for positions to add a few software strings to that bow, depending on which direction you wish to specialise in.

To get a taste of what people are looking for, check out the job listings on a site like Design Jobs Board; most ads will list particular tools as ‘must haves’ and others as ‘preferred’. But also remember that by the time you’re fully trained, that may have changed.

The most important thing, then, is to focus on software skills that will help you grow in the areas that you’re most passionate about. For instance, you might want to try out Blender in order to develop your 3D modelling skills; After Effects to build your abilities in motion graphics and animation, or WordPress as a way of dipping your toes into web design.

“Constantly changing software, channels and end user terrain mean that nothing stays still for long,” stresses Mick Dean, creative director and lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University. “So it’s important to know your strengths and play to them.”

“You can’t know everything about everything. But when you recognise either a commercial or academic need, and you also have the passion to drive yourself into new areas, then on completion of that journey, you’ll be a better designer.”

03. Image editing

As the world gets more visually minded in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, editing and retouching images is becoming an increasingly important part of graphic design jobs at all levels.

Primarily done using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, it’s about everything from small-scale cleanup work (removing tiny glitches from a photo such as dirt, dust, flare and glare), to cropping pictures to fit different social platforms, to full-on image manipulation and enhancements.

The best way to improve your skills in this area is, of course on the job. “Since starting working here at PWAR Creative, my photo editing skills have improved massively,” says graphic designer Kara Clifford. “I personally think the pressure of working for clients and also working alongside other talented designers has taught me more about image editing than any course has in the past.”

But if your role doesn’t currently involve image editing, it’s certainly worth taking some time to build on your current skills. Especially as it’s something that you’re unlikely to ever completely ‘master’.

“For me, it’s been a slow drip of knowledge over a number of years,” says Sarah Gray, a freelance designer based in Dublin. “I’ve learned as I’ve needed to from various sources: school, projects for university, YouTube, freelance projects, skills on my internship. But Photoshop is so functionally dense I feel like there’s still so much to learn.”

You can also boost your image editing skills by taking a course, following Photoshop tutorials or by pursuing a side project.

04. Photography

As well as editing images, the ability to capture original images is an extremely useful one for designers to have. As a freelancer it means you can reduce your reliance on stock imagery and add more value to the client. And if you’re working in a studio and commissioning other photographers, your personal knowledge of the discipline can help you communicate with them better and get the exact shots you need.

“Although it’s a cliche, a picture really does say a thousand words,” says Jacob Cass. “And for this reason I use photography in the vast majority of my projects, especially in web design. A good example would be for Brooklyn Bowl, where we had to show off artists performing on stage, the extraordinary interiors of the establishment and of course, the finger-licking food. ”

There are a near-infinite number of ways to hone and improve your photography skills. “I own a lot of books by photographers and I’ve read plenty of articles, but it was trial and error mainly,” says Mark Dearman, a creative director based in Bristol. “Take some photos, analyse them and work out what I needed to do to improve. I’ve learnt a lot from my mistakes. There really is no substitute for taking lots of photos. I always liked the quote: ‘Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.’”

In practical terms, graphic designer and photographer Matthew Holland recommends: “Get a DSLR and explore all the manual settings. If you rely on automatic, like you get on a smartphone, you’re only really capturing half a photo. The camera is making all the decisions for you. It would be the equivalent of laying out a wireframe and clicking a ‘design’ button which decides the colour pallet, typography, images etc. Only when you start to understand the power of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance can you start to make informed artistic decisions.”

He also urges that you “shoot in RAW rather than jpg, as you can then make the processing decisions yourself. If you shoot jpg, then your camera is making the decisions on how your image should look.

“RAW allows you to experiment with exposure, contrast, saturation, Levels, Curves, White Balance and dozens of other settings in post. Some people argue that this makes you lazy as you can ‘fix’ a photo after capturing it, but people have been adjusting their images in the darkroom for years.”

05. UX design

As the design industry becomes ever more focused on digital, user experience (UX) design is becoming more and more important. “Designing the part of products that people interact with is increasingly in-demand among employers,” says Strohacker. “Data has become central to many products, which has created a need for people with user interface design skills who can make those products easy for customers to use.”

So what is UX, exactly? “The role of the UX designer is to take every opportunity to enhance the other person’s enjoyment of an end product, not just visually but cognitively too, removing obstacles and easing the experience,” explains Alec East, founder of Narrative Industries.

“UX design is not graphic design nor web design; it’s a different discipline that goes much deeper and is more aligned with human behaviour – but it is something that many designers are well equipped to perform if they have the discipline.”

And it’s not necessarily about pursuing a career change to become a UX designer, but boosting your ability to do the job you’re currently in.

“I believe graphic designers should aim for a wide and deep ‘T-shape’ with knowledge and appreciation for other disciplines but with a specialism (and therefore a point of view) that they excel in,” says Lee Carroll, senior interaction designer at Seymourpowell. “So it’s about graphic designers learning to speak the language of UX designers, and to communicate their point of view better, not to replace them.”

Get started by learning some of the basic rules of UX design and check out some of these TED talks on UX design.

06. Coding

As it is for UX, so it is for coding. Nobody is expecting someone focused on graphic design to build a website from start to finish – that would make them a web designer – but the more you can understand about the coding process, the better you can collaborate with developers and programmers on your digital designs.

“I hate the ‘you must code’ dogma,” says designer, developer and artist Mike Brondbjerg. “But learning to code at some level – even if that’s scripting in Illustrator or Sketch – can help designers to generate and iterate through ideas faster, and opens up a world of design complexity that is not possible manually.”

As Dean puts it: “All these skills – or knowledge of what they are and how to design with those aspects in mind – are useful. However, programming is such a vast area that the need to know how to program is less important than the need to understand how and what a programmer needs to create an outcome within a designed environment.”

Indeed, these skills are in such high demand now that your employer may well provide time at work for you to develop them. Nelson Bostock Group certainly sees things that way, says lead designer Laura Gibbons. “Here, our personal development plans identify areas of interest and important new skills to learn,” she explains.

“We believe in self-learning; encouraging our people to use resources like SkillShare.com alongside their day to day work. We protect this personal development time and offer ‘creative days’ to inspire or realign their thinking and passion. We also encourage partners and suppliers to share skills – this happened recently with an external developer sharing their insight into HTML and responsive coding.”

And even if you can’t get time at work, something as basic as HTML is pretty quick and easy to pick up. There are many good online courses, including the free ones provided by W3Schools. And if you want to go a little further, check out Don’t Fear the Internet, a learning resource from by Jessica Hische and Russ Maschmeyer that’s specifically aimed at print designers, photographers and other creatives.

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