What makes a great designer? I compiled this list after a decade of trying to be one. (This list applies to graphic designers as well as web designers.)
Designers worth their salt must have their resources close by. This allows the designer to work quickly and efficiently. Not to mention being able to explore a multitude of potential directions for a design in a short amount of time. A few years back World Wide Creative employed a whiz-kid who blew us away with the frantic motion of his Wacom mouse pen. It was amazing to watch him work – but the thing that struck me more than anything was the way he had his vast array of stock libraries, templates, font sets and icons all within close clicking distance. His scanner was ready for action within arm’s reach. He had a template ready for every need: 1000 pixel-wide sites, 4 column layouts, query forms, buttons, icons etc. He even had vector illustrations predrawn for t-shirts, caps, vehicles and billboard in case a concept needed to be taken over to external media.
2. Technical proficiency
As any designer will know, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a hurdle in trying to recreate the picture you have in your mind… and there’s nothing more satisfying when you ‘crack it’. Having in-depth knowledge of all the software you need is unbeatable – and this only comes with experience. The guys in our studio blow me away with the speed at which they solve problems using packages like PhotoShop, Fireworks and Illustrator.
3. A creative eye
We’re not talking just about being creative here – that’s the easy part. Most people can come up with great creative ideas. What’s more important, by far, is being discerning enough to look at your random scribblings and decipher what’s good and what’s not. A great designer has the ability to transcend an ordinary design idea into a remarkable one. A great designer will be able to gauge whether two colours work well together; whether an image actually communicates the appropriate message; and whether the final product really matches the requirements of the brief.
4. Conceptual ability
Perhaps the most important aspect of a great designer is the ability to come up with cracking concepts. If you look at great designers like David Carson and James Victore, design is not merely something that delivers something that looks sexy. It is something that delivers a message in a mind-numbingly intelligent way. When evaluating a design, ask the questions: ‘Is this impactive? Does this surprise and delight me? Is it memorable?’
5. Attention to detail
I used to work in a studio with a guy who was renowned for seriously pissing people off. He was a great designer… apparently. When I met him, I thought, ‘He’s not such a bad guy!’ It took me a week to want to throw him off a balcony. The reason: he was uncompromising on getting the details right. It took me a long time to appreciate his ‘talent’, because he was just so teeth-grindingly annoying. Now, I look back on the body of work we created at that studio and realise how good he really is… if you can get past wanting to kill him. He proved to me that God really is in the details. Perfection in design often comes at a price (sanity, friends, sleep, etc.) but it can elevate something ordinary to something extraordinary.