Do You Need to Be Creative to Be a Graphic Designer?

November 24, 2021

"I'm not creative enough" is one of the most common hesitations I hear from people interested in pursuing a career in graphic design. The truth is, most of these fears come from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it truly means to "be creative."

As long as you follow the rules of good design, you can become a successful graphic designer, even if you don't consider yourself creative. This list of design rules will provide you with the formula you need to produce visually-appealing designs.

Once you understand basic design principles, you'll be able to take on branding, typography, page layouts, color selection, and more. Keep in mind that some graphic design roles require more creativity than others. For example, in-house designers need a lot less raw creativity than someone who develops logos.

Plus, there are many "uncreative" ways to expand your creativity and increase your value as a designer. I'll explain how in this article - let's get into it!

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What Does it Mean to Be Creative?

When someone talks about how they aren't creative, they're usually referring to their ability to be artistic. Most people engage in creative exercises every day without realizing it. When you stop measuring creativity based on your ability to draw, paint or sculpt, you begin to realize that there's an element of it in almost every occupation.

"You don't have to be an artist for your work to have an artistic element. Opportunities for creative thought in the workplace vary from obvious artistic positions to highly technical ones. Creative thinking includes analysis, open-mindedness, problem-solving, organization, and communication." - Balance Careers 

Creativity shows up in the workplace nearly every day. It's about looking at problems from a new angle, finding patterns, identifying workarounds, or experimenting with new ideas. 

In graphic design, these elements of creative thinking are the same. You might use your creativity to brainstorm ways to package a new product or generate solutions for improving some on-screen features.

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Not All Graphic Design Positions Are Creatively Equal

Some graphic design jobs require more artistic talent than others. Landing the job that best matches your level of creativity is just a matter of gaining the right set of skills. Both creativity and artistic talent are skills that you can improve with practice. You don't need to have an innate design sense to become a successful graphic designer. 

Below is a chart of graphic design jobs and examples of design projects you may run across (referenced from 99 Designs). The goal is to give you an idea of how each role uses creativity. Hopefully, this chart will help you determine which specialization is the best fit for you.

Graphic Design Career Specializations

Types of Graphic Design Examples of Work
Visual Identity Graphic Design: Helps form the brand identity through images, shapes, and color. Includes designing logos, color palettes, and style guides for the company to use consistently across media platforms.
  • A style guide for a company describing what, when and how to use colors, typefaces, logos, and such in branding efforts to create a cohesive brand message.
Marketing & Advertising Graphic Design: May work alone or in-house. Creates an assortment of print and digital collateral or may specialize in a certain type of media like brochures for marketing strategies.
  • Vehicle wraps
  • Signage and trade show displays
  • Infographics
  • Postcards and flyers
User Interface Graphic Design: Improves how a user interacts with a device or application. Variety of work options including desktop, mobile, and web apps, games, and websites. According to 99 Designs, "in the context of graphic design, UI design focuses on the user's visual experience and the design of on-screen graphic elements on-screen elements."
  • Changing button size to improve visibility
  • Increasing font size to increase readability
  • Redesigning checkout page to simplify the process for customers
Publication Graphic Design: Print and digital design work for books, newspapers, magazines, and catalogs.
  • Designing book cover page
  • Determining newspaper layout
  • Selecting typography and artwork for a magazine
Packaging Graphic Design: Communicating a brand's story through packaging choices, whether on a shipping box or container the product is held in at a store.
  • Sketching a bottle design for a wine company
  • Developing a box design to best showcase and market a product which may mean leaving part of the product exposed for customers to feel a fuzzy blanket, selecting certain colors that complement the product better, or adding a fun word search game to the back of a cereal box
Motion Graphic Design: Used in online media, television, and film, designers in this segment will often use storyboards to display their work. Elements used in motion graphic design include animation, audio, imagery, typography, and video. 
  • Designing graphics for movies like Disney
  • Producing ads for TV commercials
Environmental Graphic Design: Combines the disciples of graphic design, architecture, art lighting, and landscape to enhance the user experience through the visual translation of ideas in a built environment. (RSM Design)
  • Wayfinding systems like you may find in airports 
  • Placemaking and identity which can include architectural signs outside a store like McDonald's' famous golden arches
  • Branded and themed environments like stadium branding
Art and Illustration for Graphic Design: "Graphic artists use any combination of media and techniques to create their work as they collaborate with writers, editors, managers, marketers, and art directors across all graphic design types. They'll often have a foundation in fine arts, animation, or architecture." (99 Designs)
  • Album artwork
  • T-shirt designs
  • Stock images
  • Graphic patterns for textiles
  • Concept art

Increasing Your Creativity As A Designer

In the world of design, there is far too much emphasis on your natural ability to be creative. In reality, creativity is a skill that anyone can learn through study and practice.

Expand Your Visual Library with Behance

One way to expand your natural aptitude for creativity is to look at Behance once a week. Behance is one of the largest platforms for designers to showcase their creative work. 

Establishing a habit of perusing Behance can help you develop a sense of what good design looks like across a wide variety of media. It can even get some of the creative juices flowing for design projects of your own.

Once you begin designing, Behance is also a great place to store a portfolio of your work.

Learn The Design Rules & More With These Books

Following a list of design rules may not seem creative, but it will help you consistently render higher-quality designs. Here's a list of some of my favorite resources for learning all about the design rules:

professional in minnesota considers career change to graphic designer

What Kind of Creative Are You?

Now that you know being artistic isn't a requirement for being a good designer, it's time to start flexing your creative muscles!

Begin by identifying a potential career specialization from the table above. With that specialization in mind, learn everything you can about the design rules. Browsing Behance at least once a week (preferably every day if you have time) is a great place to start. I also suggest reading a few of the books listed in this article. 

The more you learn about design, the more you will set yourself up for success. Good luck!

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