Autumn Green

Content needs a graphic designer’s work – font variation, colors, visual hierarchy, anything and everything that catches the eye. Otherwise, your audience is just looking at a Word doc. Boring.

But have you ever wondered about the minds behind the designs? Who turns your Word doc into a masterpiece, and how do they do it?

Graphic designers: Visual content superheroes

Graphic designers are visual communicators, using color, imagery, fonts and other elements to attract, inform and convert consumers. They take your message and make it more effective.

Most have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, graphic art, digital art or a related creative field, although some earn an associates or take continuing courses. What’s most important is the designer has a solid foundation in modern art and graphics basics, including composition, color theory, font use and design principles. Knowledge of web design, programming, printing techniques and commercial graphics are bonuses.

That said, graphic design is one of those areas where talent vastly outshines education. Plenty of self-taught designers are well employed or make a stable living off their freelance work.

When it comes to choosing a great graphic designer, the primary selling point isn’t the existence of a bachelor’s degree. It’s the portfolio. This is a display of a designer’s best work, showing off their range, talents and real-world experience.

How a typical graphic designer works her magic

To get more insight into the life of these artistic geniuses, I asked deskmate and Senior Graphic Designer Lauren Monaco how she approaches projects. Turns out, she takes a unique approach for each type of asset.

“For infographics, I usually start by reading the full outline to get an idea of the content,” she said. “Then I’ll sketch out some ideas on pen and paper. I find that ideas come more freely when I do rough sketches on paper first, rather than just starting from scratch on a blank canvas in Illustrator.”

Lauren touches upon an important concept that many people overlook:

Graphic designers are artists. They’re trained (or train themselves) to look at both the small details and the big picture in a creative project.

“Once the graphic is complete, I like to look at it from a distance to make sure everything is lined up and there aren’t awkward gaps between sections or between headline letters,” Lauren continued. “It can be hard to see when you are staring at a graphic at a close range for a long time.”

It’s this attention to detail that makes Lauren and the rest of our in-house graphic designers so good at what they do. That’s also the quality that will push your content’s visual elements to the next level.

Why you need a graphic designer

If you’ve ever fooled around in Microsoft Paint (R.I.P.), you might ask yourself what’s so great about a trained graphic designer. “I can make text look good all by myself!” you say.

… but can you, though?

I’m not trying to insult you (I certainly think your graphic design skills are better than a joke meme, Mr. or Ms. or Mx. Whoever You Are), but I want to reiterate that graphic designers are trained to spot important visual elements that most people ignore. They know that colors have moods, eyes need directions and the odd man out is the most memorable.

Those are high-level examples, but graphic artists get a lot more granular. For example, did you know the width between letters in copy has an effect on readers?

The fourth“Indianapolis” feels much more open and airy than the first. It would be suitable for a wide shot – perhaps of the downtown cityscape – with lots of sky in the image.

The second word, on the other hand, is much more cramped and can create a feeling of anxiety, stress or tension. These emotions can be emphasized with different text, colors and effects.

Visual designers use little things like this to alter the impression readers get when they view your content. Whether your goal is to appear casual and friendly or corporate and informative, they’ll structure the layout accordingly

Side note: If you want to see how your eye for good kerning stacks up, try this game. Don’t do it at work though; it’s easy to get sucked in and waste an hour.

Hiring the right graphic designer

You know you need one, so how do you find one?

First, identify what you need for the project in question. Are you looking for general branding materials, like a logo or a website template? Do you need a specific asset designed – maybe an infographic or an eBook? The better you define the parameters of the project, the more easy it will be to find the right person for it.

Regardless of whether you decide to go with an agency or a freelancer, your first stop should be the design portfolio. Look for:

  • A good number of assignments: A designer’s portfolio is supposed to contain the pieces they feel most proud of, so it says something if there are only three pieces. Look for a healthy body of work – anywhere from 10 to 15 items is good – to gauge whether the designer has experience.
  • Variation: A good designer can match any client’s brand style, no matter how unique. A portfolio with a number of different design assets that match a variety of brand types is the best indication that this person is versatile enough to match your guidelines with ease.
  • Software experience: Some software just comes with the trade. Your designer should, at the very least, be able to speak fluent Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Knowledge of Dreamweaver (or web programming in general), GIMP and CorelDraw are bonuses.

That said, there are some designers who prefer to work in a consistent style, whether that’s using muted colors or favoring a particular composition. If your branding guidelines match their style, there’s no reason not to hire them as a freelancer.

What graphic designers need from you

When it comes to creating content for you brand, designers don’t work magic out of thin air. They need a bit of help from you to make sure every asset matches your marketing goals.

If you’ve got the following information on hand, you’ll make your designer very happy. They might even buy you a gift:

  • Branding guidelines.
  • Font files.
  • Photos at 300 dpi resolution (if applicable).
  • Logos (in vector format, preferably saved as .EPS or .AI).

If you don’t have this information (or don’t even know what it means), don’t worry. A skilled designer can help you. In fact, if you ask a designer, “Is 300 dpi good for photos, or would you like a higher resolution?” and he or she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, consider that a red flag.

Enhancing your content with the right graphics

Graphic design can make bad content good and good content amazing. A poorly written infographic can still catch someone’s eye with great visual appeal. Likewise, an excellent white paper will get shared widely if it’s both clever, grammatically correct and beautiful to look at.

Content strategies evolve, and graphic design trends come and go, but a solid foundation in the basics is key. A graphic designer’s skills can make or break your content, so choose your designer with care.

Got any great content design examples or funny fails to share? We want to see them!