Last week I talked about tools (software) being only a part of what you need to design. But what else do you need? I call it “design sense.” Unlike common sense, design sense is a (sort of) intuition combined with education about design.
This doesn’t mean I think everybody needs a formal education in graphic design in order to be a great graphic designer. I think research into some of the very best graphic designers would show that this is not the case, and that many of them did not start with any formal design education. However, you can’t be a great graphic designer unless you take the time to learn some essential parts of design. Some things you need to learn for example: Fonts & Typography, the Principles and Elements of Design, and Color Theory, to name a few.
I will definitely write about each of these individually in future posts, but I wanted to give you an idea of the things you need to be educated in. Most anyone can figure out software on their own just by playing around with it long enough. But these other areas require you to think a little bit more and really immerse yourself in them. You should not only know what it is that you’re doing but also understand why you’re doing it. It’s easy to throw together a bunch of information and clip art and make a “design”. My seven-year-old daughter often makes drawings and says, “look what I designed!”. Although it may be a created piece of art, it’s not a work of graphic design.
Graphic design is an art; it is the art of gathering, organizing, and planning information in order to achieve a specific purpose. Graphic designers arrange type, various graphics, and images with a specific goal in mind.
Unlike a fine artist who might do what feels good or seems right, a graphic designer must do their art with purpose.
In addition to being educated in all the right areas related to design, having design sense is also intuition. It’s knowing when to choose Bodoni or Goudy; even though they are both beautifully reliable serif fonts, they each have their own nuances that can completely change the feel of a design. Intuition is knowing how to choose which one feels right based on your knowledge, and also being able to define the why behind the choices you make in a design. Telling a client that you chose a font or color for their design because “it just felt right” is not the way of a professional graphic designer. You can give yourself credibility by simply knowing how to explain every single choice you made. No design decisions should be arbitrary.
Whether you are reading this because you are curious about graphic design, or if you’re truly interested in what it takes to be a professional designer (not just a “technician” who knows the software – shout out to @seanwes), stick with my blog and I promise I will share my love of all things design with you. Design is a wonderful world, I hope you’ll join me here. Because design matters.