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!
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.
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.||
|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.||
|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."||
|Publication Graphic Design: Print and digital design work for books, newspapers, magazines, and catalogs.||
|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.||
|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.||
|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)||
|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)||
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:
- Thinking With Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students By Ellen Lupton
Typography is a cornerstone of good design. This book has tons of information about how to use type. It's a great guide to keep on your desk.
- The Non-Designers Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice By Robin Williams
This book is an excellent resource for rules on color, typography, alignment, proximity, repetition, contrast, and other design elements and principles.
- 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People By Susan Weinschenk
To maximize the effectiveness and usability of your designs, you need to understand the psychology behind people's actions. This book teaches some essential usability principles every designer should consider as they approach a new project.
- Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities by David Airey
If you're interested in creating visual identities, this is the book for you. David Airey explains his logo design process using real-life examples of working with clients.
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!