Graphic design is a unique field when compared to most industries. It is impossible to rely on stock knowledge for most of your work. While a solid design philosophy and knowledge of aesthetics help, the fact of the matter is all good graphic designers realize that they need to re-learn their fundamentals more often than one might expect.
Guest author Alex Lysak shares key tips to help graphic designers keep up with the current digital trends. Learn more about Alex Lysak.
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One of the reasons why graphic design is changing so rapidly is because the demand for more unique and creative ideas is at an all-time high. Scanteam analysis shows that consumers are willing to pay top dollar to get something that stands out from the competition, and this is one reason why graphic designers are always searching for that little extra.
The graphic design industry relies on a constant churn of novel ideas. It is not enough just to learn and relearn design software, which comes out every year or so. Those are just your tools. You also have to refine your aesthetic again and again, to keep up with the latest graphic design industry trends.
A lot of designers know and do this but is it good enough? Every graphic designer thinks it does—at first. But as you learn more about the field, you will see what all outstanding graphic designers know: keeping up with trends in graphic design is a job by itself. It’s probably even harder than the actual responsibilities you have at work.
Many of the successful graphic designers we know of possess this uncanny ability. You might think you’re hip to the latest trends. Talk to an older graphic designer and you might be surprised to see how much you don’t know about the hottest design trends.
We understand how intimidating it can be, starting out in such a ruthless industry. Anyone can go on Canva and create a passable design without much effort. Anyone can use those templates. But few can create designs that make it into Canva as the perfect template.
So how do the top graphic designers stay abreast of the latest design ideas and trends?
In this article, we take a closer look at some of the key things successful graphic designers do to keep ahead of the game—and unravel the mystery of how to keep up with trends in graphic design and build a long and fruitful career.
1. Always Have Time to Practice Your Craft
Three things remain constant for the success of anyone, both in the graphic design world and beyond: practice, practice, and (you guessed it) more practice.
You might feel like you’ve got it all figured out once you put in a few years into the industry. Whether that is true or not, you will need to keep improving your skills to keep up with all the new trends.
You might take on all five steps we outline below, but if you don’t give yourself enough time to practice your craft, you won’t have the know-how to carry out all the fancy new ideas you’ve gained.
The work of constantly honing your craft is an arduous, but necessary exercise. You may be getting forkfuls of cash for your work and think that practicing is no longer worth your time.
However, the graphic design world moves at a brutal speed. You might be making a killing right now doing what you do, but all that can end as soon as the industry moves on to the next craze—leaving you in the dust before you have an idea of what’s about to go down.
Yes, you won’t be able to rise very far in the industry if all you have to fall back on are your technical skills. But the corollary to that is that staying hip to the latest trends won’t do anything without the practice of getting that knowledge down into something that resonates with others.
2. Build Your Own Network
Graphic design is the same as any other industry in one aspect: networking is essential. Although not all of us can be the life of the party, you don’t have to be a sparkling conversationalist to gain important contacts.
There are generally hundreds of networking events each year. With COVID-19 restrictions easing around the country due to widespread vaccinations, you can expect these events to ramp up very soon.
Maintaining strong relationships beyond your office is essential for having a way to pick the brains of some of the brightest minds in the industry. Having that exposure helps keep you and your ideas sharp.
This network does not necessarily have to be people who fit in with your personal aesthetic. In fact, it might be better to network with those who have contrasting styles to yours.
Hearing a novel idea from a greenhorn might be easy to dismiss, but you will be compelled to listen when it’s someone who has attained success in the industry. Hearing ideas you would otherwise dismiss is a great way of keeping in touch with the latest trends, especially those that run counter to your usual tastes.
3. Don’t Disregard Non-Experts
The general rule of thumb, for anything, is to trust experts more than non-experts when it comes to their fields of expertise.
We cannot argue with that. Gaining a sense of what the brightest minds in the industry think is surely one of the best ways to become a more effective graphic designer.
But just because experts are right more often than not doesn’t mean that you can disregard the ideas of amateurs.
The internet is awash with amateur graphic designers. Sure, checking out their unpolished work might be tiresome—but there will always be something to learn from them, whether positive or negative.
Websites like DeviantArt, Raster, Delicious CSS, and Behance are great resources for works by amateur graphic designers. They may not know the ins and outs of the industry as you do, but their non-professional perspective might be just exactly what you need to break out of a creative slump.
We certainly have been surprised more than enough times with what we’ve seen on these sites. We’ve seen styles and themes we haven’t encountered before that inspired us to create art using elements, tools, or styles we would not have considered otherwise.
Don’t write off amateurs. They may not have the most technical skills to pull off their ideas, but they are sure to have ideas you haven’t considered before. Your job is to use your developed skills to separate the wheat from the chaff.
4. Maintain Your Magazine Subscriptions
While not everyone is a bookworm, it really does pay to read all the trade magazines. Since we all have to prioritise our time, it would be impossible to keep abreast of all the trends without some outside help.
One of the most accessible ways of getting that help is by subscribing to trade magazines. There are several famous magazines dedicated to graphic design, such as Photoshop Creative, Communication Arts, and Print.
Because each has its own special identity and focus, you cannot limit your subscriptions to just one. To get a good sense of what’s hot and what’s not, you have to collate information gleaned from multiple sources.
Say for instance that you subscribe to just one graphic design magazine. With just that as your inspiration, you might develop a blinkered sense of the industry’s trends. Some graphic design magazines get things spectacularly wrong.
It’s human nature to make those mistakes. But you can read a wide range of magazines to make sure that, if one makes a mistake, you’ll be able to triangulate your information with other informed perspectives.
Further resource: IncredibleMag
5. Build a Graphic Design Library
Too many graphic designers sell their books after graduation and never think about them again. At most, they sell them to make up for their college debts.
While we would never judge anyone for having to do this, we also feel confident in saying that some of those books will be useful for you long past graduation.
You might already think you know all about them, having read them in school. But the act of reading evolves as you do. You would be surprised how differently your understanding is today compared to back then.
The experiences you’ve had as a graphic designer will undoubtedly change you. Reading old books with new eyes can lead to a broader sense of how far you’ve come along, and how far you still need to go.
Keep your favourite books after graduation. Then read them after a few years of working professionally. Notice any differences? Tracking and reflecting on those differences will help reveal the kind of designer you were, are, and will become. Knowing more about yourself as a designer is one of the surest ways to make your art more effective.
6. Invest in Your Continued Education
This might seem hoary but trust us: you’re never too old to learn. At least that’s what successful graphic designers think. How did they survive decades’ worth of trends and still remain atop the industry?
If we knew, we would be living that life instead of writing this. But one thing we know for sure is that such designers have a clear passion for their work. If you are passionate about your work, you will, of course, never pass up an opportunity to learn more about it.
Investing time and money to take on these opportunities is always a good bet.
Enroll in a community college near you. The tuition fees are low, you can learn about the latest design software, and get to collaborate with designers with wildly different takes from you.
You probably know the saying that steel sharpens steel. The academic environment is especially conducive for this sort of thing. Having strong arguments at your workplace is generally frowned upon, and it can be difficult to argue a point forcefully if the person on the other end of it is someone higher-up.
In a college environment, this is all par for the course. Some designers benefit from having their ideas tested. While investing in your continued education is a sure-fire bet, either way, this is an especially great fit for those who like to talk their ideas out to refine them.
If you really want to stand out from other graphic designers, it becomes essential for you to stay abreast of the current design trends. It is important to follow all of the six steps we have listed above but if you cannot, then pick a couple that you fancy and start with them.
Alex has been working in online marketing since 2011, his main areas of expertise are marketing research, social media marketing, and SEO. During 9+ years of experience, he has helped many products and startups to develop marketing strategies and to implement them further.