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10 Proven Ways to Develop Your Graphic Design Skills

Yes, there is a huge amount of design work out there. In fact, it seems like the market is growing every day with more and more sites coming online and more and more magazines needing your help. The problem, however, is that it’s not just the demand is growing. The supply is growing just as fast. For that reason, you need to find ways to stand out from the competition, so that you can actually get ahead.

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Now, of course, that depends on marketing yourself correctly. But you can’t market what you don’t have. For that reason, you need to take whatever actions you can to improve your actual graphic design skills. That’s where daily exercises come in.

Here are some of the best-proven techniques and exercises that will help you get that edge you need to climb to the top of the field. And yes, the view from up there is amazing.

Improve Graphic Design Skills By Reading Every Day

Step one to improve your graphic design skills is to read broadly and widely. Find some of the more interesting voices in the field and follow what they’ve got to say about it. This will give you insights and ideas that otherwise you would entirely be missed out on.

Don’t know what to read? Well, there are plenty of choices out there. You can check out Awwwards, for example. These guys find the best pages out there and then highlight them for you in a central location so that you can see what’s moving and who’s shaking in the design world. Other good choices are MotoCMS design blog, Line25 blog.

Take an Hour To Draw By Hand

You should treat drawing by hand a little bit like meditation. Done right, it can inspire you for the rest of the day. So how do you do it right?

Draw By Hand

First of all, learn to just draw. The part of your brain that edits and the part of your brain that is responsible for creative insights are not the same. In fact, the more critical you are of what you’re putting down, the harder it will be to actually do stuff.

For that reason, just draw. Don’t erase. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work. This is not about the result. It’s about the inner journey and reflecting on what you’re doing. What comes out onto the page is in many ways secondary.

Don’t know what to draw about? Then just take a regular object, like an apple or a tap, and draw that. Do a different version every day of the week. Try different styles. Then move on to something new.  Make use of handy drawing apps.

Take Courses on Graphic Design

You can get a long way with hands-on experience, but you can only ever get so far without understanding the fundamentals. Obeying the rules of color theory and typography will make it so that your designs go from chaotic to clean.

Now, you don’t directly have to enroll in a school to get this stuff down. There are fortunately a lot of opportunities to do it on your own. My suggestion is to find out the reading lists of the more popular courses and just working your way through those. This will give you a lot of the fundamental knowledge without you actually having to pay to go to the universities.

So work that into your schedule. You’ll be surprised how much you can pick up if you read 30 minutes a day.

Connect With Other Graphic Designers

That doesn’t sound like an exercise, you’re thinking. If it doesn’t, then you’re not doing it correctly. You should learn to set a certain window of time aside every day to engage with other designers. This can be just to stay on their radar, to ask for feedback or to give your own comments.

 Graphic Designers

Doing this every day will help you build up a network. More importantly, the more people engage and comment on what you’re doing, the more easily you’ll know when you’re learning stuff that’s valuable and when you’re just spinning your wheels in the air. That’s important, as most of us waste a lot of time chasing dead ends. Any help you can get to avoid doing that will be incredibly useful to you.

Work on Your Dreams

It can be exhausting to do the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately, that’s where you’ll often find yourself as you’re climbing the design ladder. Down below there is a lot of grunt work that can get incredibly repetitive.

And sure, you’ll become good at that, but that is not what you’re after. You want to be good at a wide range of skills. For that matter, take the time to work on what you love. This will constantly stretch your design muscles in different directions and – more importantly – will make sure that your enthusiasm doesn’t wane. And let’s be clear about it, that enthusiasm is key to continuing your climb upwards.

After all, it’s with enthusiasm that you’ll get noticed and make sure that you keep getting better and improving your graphic design skills.

Fail a Lot

The idea that failure is bad for you is baked into our modern culture. It’s also a pile of horse manure. If babies were afraid of failure, they’d never learn to walk, talk or figure out that the circle really doesn’t go in the square hole. If you’re afraid of failure, then you’ll never learn what it really means to design.

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The trick isn’t to avoid failure. Instead, it’s to accept when you’ve failed, to learn what you can from the experience and then to move onto the next thing. In other words, fail fast.

Or, as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I have only found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”  

Where should you try to fail? Try new techniques, new software and new ways of doing things, for starters. Of course, if you’re very unsure if it’s going to work, then do so on your own time. Then you can relax and you have nothing serious riding on accepting that something didn’t work.

Put Your Graphic Works Out There

And here I don’t mean in the protective circles of people who are your friends and who don’t want to hurt your feelings. Instead, find the meanest and most critical audience that’s out there and be willing to put your stuff in front of them and when you do, resist every urge that you’ve got to defend it. Instead, just take what they tell you.

Here are some things to note:

  • Just because they’re mean, doesn’t mean it’s true. We all know there are plenty of trolls out there.
  • The reverse also holds. Just because they say nice things, doesn’t mean your design is nice. Some people just say nice things.
  • Use the rule of three. If three different people say the same thing, then there might be some kind of value to what they’re saying (be it positive or negative).
  • If you can’t take the criticism of absolute strangers who ultimately have almost no effect on your wellbeing, how do you think you’ll do when a client has bad things to say? So, use this as an opportunity to get a much thicker skin.

Final Words

The design is a process. That goes both for what you put out and your career. As long as you keep trying new things and working at it, you’ll keep improving your graphic design skills. If you don’t, then you won’t.

For that reason, build some habits. Create a schedule with tasks that you want to do that will push you beyond where you feel safe. That – and plenty of feedback – will make sure that you keep growing and keep climbing design mountain until finally you’ll be out in the sunshine and dictating terms instead of reading them.

Chris Mercer
Chris Mercer, pro writer, developer, and founder of Citatior, a powerful academic formatting tool for the students. 
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