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July 31, 2019 8:19 PM   Subscribe

How do I become a faster graphic designer?

I've been the in-house visual designer for a small marketing team for about three years. I am largely self-taught, but I can handle a lot of various kinds of projects at a high level (front-end web development, print materials, layouts, illustration, web content like infographics/micrographics, etc). In my quest to become a one-woman creative powerhouse, I think my biggest weakness is how quickly I can create these items.

The things that take the longest time for me are 1) deciding on a concept and 2) endlessly tinkering and playing with my designs/illustrations.

I'm solid at creating thoughtful, high-quality designs, good at project management and using efficiency tools and learning new things, but... I just never learned how not to be a very noodly worker. I have also always been this way when it comes to writing, forever editing and rewriting.

I would love to be able to tackle projects faster. So, speedy designers of Metafilter, how do I become like that spider thing from Spirited Away, churning out creative goodies left and right?
posted by moons in june to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Save the code and image templates of your best ideas and executions, so that you can re-use them. If you have a header template that does just what you want, a layout that can be re-purposed by changing the colors and images out, etc...keep ‘em and start building a library. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every design, and when you have elements that you can re-use easily, you can spend time noodling on the design without multiplying the total time spent on it.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:45 PM on July 31, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Sketching is faster than producing, and visualizing is faster than sketching. Closing your eyes for 15 minutes and laying out a design in your mind can save you hours. I have never seen a designer waste time by thoughtful sketching. I have seen them waste a lot of time at the computer, noodling in Illustrator and hoping.

Also, most good ideas can be executed into something very satisfying. Flipping through a dozen ideas and changing your mind over and over until you have a perfect idea is not worth the time.

That said, tinkering in the old manual paste-up days (I’m old) used to be fast with paper and my hands. Consider doing a manual mockup, even just with post-its and cut-out bits, and moving it around with your hands. I find it flies compared to grind time at the computer.

The computer should be for execution only.
posted by argybarg at 9:16 PM on July 31, 2019 [12 favorites]

I save my various iterative steps along with designs that didn't make it as far as finished drawing. I mainly do this where the solutions were novel. Occasionally I can just reach into the 'box' for a solution. I normally start on butter paper and with really complex things iterate my way around the sheet and number each stage.

Yes, get a library together, I seldom have to hunt books or the web now as I have most things to hand - and as it's mine no license issues.

this and this by Adrian Shaunessy I found very helpful when starting out, and now too.

And to reinforce Autumnheart you don't have to be entirely novel with each job. One core thing I learned yonks ago was to produce organic and rectilinear versions of the same iterations of the same solution; it's both troth? a way of looking anew at something I liked; a way of avoiding anchoring on a design; and different enough to be reusable.

Oh and finally, ask questions as early as possible.
posted by unearthed at 9:23 PM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Noodling can be really helpful, but sometimes it’s the result of spending too much time looking at the same plate of beans. If you’re stuck on a decision, if you’re at the point where you’re fiddling with minor variations, if you’re almost but not quite satisfied, try working on a different project for an hour and then come back to it. Things often look a lot better after a break.

Also, yes to reusing as much as possible.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:24 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I cut my designer teeth as a graphic artist at a newspaper. When you have an hour to crank out an ad, you get real good at "fish or cut bait."

Nailing-down-a-concept tactics:
- As Autumnheart says: make your own templates for common things, then iterate on them. Goes double for front-end dev: if your problem can be solved by an existing framework or library, then use that tool.
- Color palette generators! Coolors is my favorite. Pinterest often works for this purpose as well.
- Start with the simplest / smallest version of something and then add detail as it's warranted. If you're designing a logo, do the black-and-white version before you do the full-color one. If you're designing a website, go with a mobile-first approach.

Anti-tinkering tactics:
- Echoing Argybargy: Do all your early thinking in a low-fidelity way through sketches / wireframes / rough drafts, and then nail it down in your software program of choice. I do most of my initial concepts/roughs on a whiteboard. Precise tools and infinite canvases beg to be noodled with.
- Create a solid layout and typographic structure first, then stick to it. Spending an hour putting together a good layout / baseline grid and set of heading / copy styles will save you multiple hours in eyeballed adjustments. For small pieces, I often don't even need that if I just stick to the rule of thirds and a basic type scale.
- Limit your typeface library to a few high-quality workhorses. It doesn't have to go to the Dieter Rams "built a whole career off Akzidenz Grotesk" extent, but definitely don't spend your time trying to decide between twelve different flavors of neo-grotesque.
- Same thing, but for other assets like icon sets: build your go-to library of one or two good sets and use those whenever you just need An Icon. Save the endless stock searches and custom-made graphic assets for when your concept truly demands that level of visual specificity.

General advice:
- Try posting a proof once you've feel like you're "halfway there" and then see what your clients actually notice. Then just fix those things. What feels sloppy to you probably isn't even visible to the viewer.
- Make sure your effort is strictly proportional to the item's importance. Is this a one-pager that five people will read? Don't spend more than an hour on it. Use a template. Set a timer. Forget that you even have kerning controls.
posted by fifthpocket at 9:51 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the fantastic answers, each of these has something that will concretely help me improve. I am marking argybarg as best answer for the phrase "The computer should be for execution only." which has immediately revolutionized how quickly I am working. How did I never understand something so simple?

I have seen them waste a lot of time at the computer, noodling in Illustrator and hoping.

Could you please stop spying on me? Thanks.
posted by moons in june at 4:43 PM on August 2, 2019

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