9 Philosophies On Graphic Design To Help You Thrive

Nine philosophies on graphic design.

My Philosophies On Graphic Design

After working for a couple of decades as an art director, graphic designer, and graphic design instructor, I’ve had a few realizations/revelations on how I approach my life as a designer. Although these design philosophies are written with graphic design in mind, many work across other mediums, such as writing. I’m sharing these thoughts on design to help you set a balanced view of the industry and help guide newcomers and maybe even more experienced graphic designers. 

On Confidence:

You cannot sell your designs by underrating your work. Be proud of what you’ve done, and present it as such.

As a teacher, I’ve seen this hundreds of times. A student is presenting their work, and the first words out of their mouth go something like this. “Ummm, here’s what I did for this project. Ummm, it’s not that good. I could have done better.” 

I usually stop the student right then and there and ask them these questions. “If you hired a plumber to fix your toilet, and they just said they didn’t do that good of a job, and they think they could have done better, what would you do? You’d probably fire them right on the spot. Correct?  So if you presented your work like you just did to a client, what do you think your client would do?”

On Trust:

Trust your viewer, don’t overly design. Give a hint. The viewer will fill this hint with their imagination.

Less is more. K.I.S.S. (Keep it stupidly simple). Leave no doubt. You want action from your design. Otherwise, it’s noise. It will detract from the action you want them to take.

On Ego:

Some designers want to please their peers. They want to be “recognized.” This is insecurity. Forget it. Care about what is right and not about pleasing others.

A little healthy competition is good. It can help motivate and inspire you to do great things. Just don’t let it be the only driver of your creativity. It’s a black hole.

On Function:

Design serves a function and inspires people to act. Art is about form—we appreciate art. Design is not here to show how smart you are or to bare your soul. That’s art. To design is to ask for action.

Our jobs in advertising/marketing are to sell a product or service. To do so, we must take the art out of our designs. Yes, as graphic designers, we use artistic techniques, and I’m not suggesting we stop trying to make our work look good. As designers, our job is to clarify the message. The artist’s position is to raise questions and make people reflect—two distinct outcomes.

On Rules:

Especially for the beginning designer, aim for good, not different. Many people work hard to be “different” or “original.” Don’t worry. Your style will come with experience.

Learn and adhere to the principles of design. You must know the rules before you can break them. Once mastered, you should only break them to create something more unique.

On Expertise:

You cannot make something out of nothing. When you design, build on your experience. Good design takes time to nurture.

You can’t grow in a void—research what is out there. Adopt parts of what you like about one design style with aspects of other design styles. What you create by doing so will be unique to you. Your voice will emerge.

On Staying Current:

Don’t rest on your laurels. But also, don’t stop pushing your boundaries.

You cannot grow your skills by living in a vacuum. Find what inspires you—research trends. But only implement what works for you.

On Growth:

Reflect on your past work to determine your growth of skills.

If you look at your work from two years ago that you thought was great at the time, but now you cringe, that’s good. That’s growth. That only shows that you have become better than you were two years ago. Be proud.

On Improvement:

You only get better by doing.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Design is not like riding a bike. It’s like a muscle. Your design skills get a little bit stronger every time you design.

Additional Thoughts

Leaning in on these philosophies on graphic design helps me when I’m feeling in a rut. I hope you can adopt some of these into your thoughts as you work on your next project.

Learn More About Me.


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