Tools of the Trade: What you need to succeed in graphic design

picture of a Centennial College Graphic Design program student working on their laptop in an on-campus studio

Graphic design is literally everywhere you look. It is the logo of your favourite brand, the way that magazine you subscribe is formatted, your most frequently visited website's design, and it is also product packaging, signage and communication design.

Graphic design has changed quite a bit over the years, with advancements in technology expanding a graphic designer's toolkit. But aside from actual tools such as computers and software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, graphic designers must also master a certain set of skills if they want make the big bucks (the highest paid designers make as much as $155,000 a year!). As with every industry, these skills are ever changing so here are some of the most essential skills for 2017.

1. Creativity

If this isn't at the top of a must-have list for graphic designers, don't bother reading the rest of the list. Graphic designers are people who march to the beat of their own drum and think outside of the box. That's because this is a competitive industry and the limits have to be pushed daily. There is no copy and paste in graphic design, as each design must be unique. The last thing you want is for your design to look like anything that already exists. So, if you want to be a graphic designer you have to be someone with a vision who can turn that vision into a visual.

2. Typography

This is the granddaddy of graphic design skills. Typography is the art and technique of arranging type. But it goes beyond just choosing a type that is reader-friendly. Your choice and how you lay it out, the colour scheme, the design theme and so on make all the difference. These days, typography for the web is just as important as typography for print so designers must stay on top of what fonts are in and what ones were left behind in 2016.

3. Colour Theory

A colour can change the entire feel of the design. So, understanding how to create colour palettes that convey the right emotions is a vital skill for any designer. Beyond that, colour involves lighting and shadowing along with the effects they produce. Did you know that according to skilledup.com, "readers subconsciously appraise colour decisions and factor them into their split-second decisions to continue browsing a site or go elsewhere for their content?"

4. Coding Skills

Today's graphic designers can't escape the Web (who can?), so it is not unusual for designers to have to do some coding. In fact, graphic designers with some coding knowledge do a lot of the graphic designs you see on sites. Can you get a job without these skills? Yes. But the designers who really want those high paying jobs will have some coding skills in their arsenal to make themselves stand apart from the rest.

5. UX Design/UI Design

User experience (UX) design deals with the way users experience an app or website (and their designs). UI design, while closely related to UX design, is more focused on the look of something and how it influences functionality, rather than the functionality itself. So why do graphic designers need some UX/UI design knowledge? Well, they are the ones who are responsible for answering questions like, "What colours are people more likely to click or make them keep scrolling?" and combine the answers with design conventions.

Don't have these skills? Want these skills? Centennial College has your answer in its Graphic Design program. This offering takes a hands-on approach so you are exploring your creative boundaries (spoiler alert: there aren't any boundaries in graphic design) from day one.

By Izabela Szydlo

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