What type of personality makes a successful designer?

Throughout my career as a designer, I’ve encountered all kinds of expectations what my personality type ought to be. Creativity is highly valued by clients, but it is rarely understood or seen as mysterious. Don’t make the mistake of trying to live up to whatever baggage your client imposes upon you.

The truth is that good graphic designers can be just about anybody.  If you have done the hard work, learned from your failures, and are an adaptable professionals who can progressively solve problems, than you have what it takes to be a successful designer.

Successful designers have a firm understanding of their personality. Be able to clearly articulate your strengths and weaknesses to clients. Give your client a chance to have an accurate understanding of the way you work, and how you overcome your weaknesses. In so doing, this will lead to a productive, professional relationship based on trust.

What Personality Types Are Designers?

Michael Roller surveyed 64 designers, based on the Myers-Briggs personality test, and discovered some trends. But, there was no outstanding personality type.


Michael Roller survey
The results of Michael Roller’s survey of 64 designers.

What about you? Here’s a short Myers-Briggs inspired test to get an idea of where you stand. Discover what makes you tick and practice articulating that with others. You can start with colleagues you trust during internal critiques of your work.

Free Alternatives to Adobe CC

Adobe Creative Cloud (a.k.a. Creative Suite) is the industry standard and I argue that all graphic designers must learn it to be employable. That’s just life. Maybe that will change in the future but that’s the way things are now.

But it’s nice to have options, especially free ones. If your a student or you need to set up a design computer on a budget, these solutions give you professional capabilities. And some are pretty good. I couldn’t write a better article than Lance Evans writing for one of my favorite design blogs, Creative Bloq:

The Free Alternatives to Adobe’s Creative Cloud

Free doesn’t mean easy

Especially when it comes to producing professional work. If you want be an excellent creative professional, whether it’s Adobe or some Open Source alternative, you have to learn the software thoroughly. Take the tutorials and read the instruction guides provided for each software. Watch instructional videos. There are user-friendly software packages and apps that make it real easy to get started without any instruction but in my experience, these end up being inadequate tools that aren’t very sophisticated. The real power houses have intricate and complex tools because they’re designed for professionals who are capable of intricate and complex work.

Painting in Photoshop to Edit Photos

Painting tools in Photoshop® are not only for artwork.

It’s best to use a stylus pad and I’m glad we now have two Bamboo™ stylus pads for student use at Orange Media Network. Here’s an instructional video from the excellent training site Phlearn.com.

Photo touch up is tricky work. Sometimes you need to knock out a background, clean up smudges or blemishes or you may need to use a photo as a basis for an illustration. I strongly suggest that you learn how to use the painting tools in Photoshop.

If you’re new to the tools, here’s an overview:

Obviously, the tools turns your stylus pad (or mouse) into a collection of artsy brushes. But that’s only the beginning. The real power is the automated tools that enables the artist to quickly lay down patterns, textures and complicated graphics like hair, fur, grass, leaves and more. With a little setup time, you can blast away to fill in you art or photo with realistic-looking, organic content.



U-Haul Supergraphics

Oregon U-Haul Supergraphic
Oregon U-Haul Supergraphic by Steve King

For years, I’ve been impressed by the pictures on the sides of U-Haul vans and trailers. The illustrations are compelling, colorful, expertly done and educational. It would good enough just to fill the empty space with clever art but the themes fit well with U-Haul. The illustrations not only send a message that U-Haul covers all of the U.S. and Canada but they also show intriguing, little-known facts.

Steve King (not the author of thriller novels) is an illustrator in Phoenix, AZ and has been contributing to U-Haul for 15 years. He’s also worked on other projects.

Here are some of my favorites

Check out the gallery and see how Steve King makes them.


Using Stock Images

iStock photo of phone operator
The ubiquitous, pretty phone operator.

There are times to use stock images and times you shouldn’t. There’s no reason to be stubborn or snobby so as to avoid stock images at all costs. Using images from free or fee-oriented image libraries are not as simple as the Internet would lead to believe.

Using stock images seems cliché, contrived or sometimes worse.

Somewhere, somebody else is using the image you’re about to use and somewhere, somebody will use this image for something in the future. Maybe you don’t care? Even so, consider that the image can be used in a context that you or your audience despises. There it is, out there, with the same image and now unintentionally affiliated with your story or design.

Read the fine print

Many libraries offer free, royalty free images. This promise has many caveats. You must know and understand each license agreement on each library. Even within a library, you can find different license agreements for individual images. There are important legal consequences if you are making any money of the product (even if indirectly) or if your product has a wide audience. All this legal reading is time consuming. Which is ironic since convenience is the main reason you chose stock images in the first place. In some cases, the license on some images aren’t genuine.


If you have a commonly used face on your page, your audience will quickly remember it from other instances they’ve seen. This is a problem for advertising credibility and embarrassing for journalists. Away around this is to find photos of people that don’t show faces. But  there are limits to this approach.

Sexism, racism and stereotypes

Many people photos out there reinforce gender or racial stereotypes.  Stock image sites typically don’t carefully vet their images for this, so you’ll have to do the vetting yourself. Some popular libraries have been aware of this for quite some time and have made measures to correct it. Also be careful that the photo doesn’t go over the top and try too hard in it’s attempt to counter prejudice or stereotypes. This can make a joke out of your “empowerment” message or illustrate some other, unrealistic stereotype.

Use your own image or photo

This is especially true in the case of journalism. Use photos directly related to the story, taken by a journalist or an on-site photographer. This is more relevant and useful to your audience. Do a little planning ahead to take a photo, hire an illustrator or ask your source for images you can use with permission. Don’t dress up your story with stock images that are vaguely or metaphorically related to your message. This is distracting and looks unprofessional.

Using Stock Images

If you do use a stock image, and your legally cleared, do so deliberately in a way that suits your context. It’s a case-by-case evaluation.

Use it in conjunction with other images.

Stock images can be used as image parts that augment editorial illustrations, filling in gaps with generic content you cannot otherwise acquire. This may be textures, aerial or space photography or objects you don’t have access to. Use them with some of your own photos or illustrations and you’ll avoid the unprofessional banality that taints most stock images. But make sure your illustration work is done well and doesn’t look faked or awkward.

Vector building blocks

Similarly to the above, an illustrator can use stock vector graphics as a source of fundamental shapes and figures to create new illustrations.

Use Google image search or any image library as a source of ideas.

But don’t use the images directly. Use an image search to help you brainstorm your own illustration or photography ideas. Most importantly, you can find what you don’t want to do. You can avoid clichés or awkward stereotypes by getting an idea of what kind of images are commonly used for the concept you wish to illustrate.