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5 Top Tips to Make it as a Visual Designer

Zoe Weldon, Created
Above: Ben Mottershead, Independent Brand Designer

Got the feeling visual design could be for you? Well, you’ve come to the right place, my friend. We’ve carefully pieced together five top tips to escalate your career as a visual designer, with a little help and examples from award-winning independent branding designer Ben Mottershead.

Ben has worked with clients ranging from Nike, Coca-Cola, Jack Daniels, and the BBC. His work has been published on platforms like The Design Kids, Fast Company, The BBC, Design Week and It’s Nice That. Plus regular guest on a variety of global podcasts, Lectures in Graphic Design at The University of Hertfordshire.

So, to kick-off, what is visual design?!

There’s a lot of terminology being thrown around to mean the same or similar things.

Let’s answer this question once and for all.

Visual design combines graphic design, branding and User Interface (UI) design.

As a visual designer, you utilise an understanding of human behaviour to design websites, mobile apps, emails…essentially anything you can interact with – digital or otherwise.

For Ben, it’s about “understanding human behaviour to create a visually compelling story”.

So, now you’ve got that in your noggin, and you’re all fired up, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how you become one of these well paid and sought after designers.

1. Get to grips with the basics

You’ve got to start with the basics. Ben suggests that to be a good designer in any field, you’ve got to have a strong understanding of design fundamentals. Obvious, right?

So, if you haven’t already, why not go and brush up on “shapes, colour theory, typography, composition”… the lot. For a flavour, our Visual Design Taster Course touches upon these knowledge nuggets.

Rules are made to be broken but you’ve got to understand those rules first!

Project: h264, Ben Mottershead
Above: Project: h264, Ben Mottershead

2. Get ahead with the latest software

So, as with all modern design disciplines, to be a Visual Designer you’ve got to know the software. Of course, there’s the fundamental Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, used by designers everywhere, but more specific to the visual designer’s world is Sketch and Figma.

Both are collaborative prototyping tools and used widely. The major difference being that Sketch is the old favourite Apple-only desktop app and, Figma is the web-based, universally accessible newer kid on the block. Personal preference, and ‘what you learnt first’ dictates which people use.

We recommend you familiarise yourself with both and teach both in our Visual Design courses so… download ‘em and give ‘em a go. Get ahead of the curve.

Above: Example of Figma

3. Love your problems

User flows, grid systems and organising principles. Begin to understand how to effectively balance the requirements and demands of the end-user with a company’s brand aesthetic.

All designers have to solve creative problems. The difference with visual designers is that they LOVE to solve problems… erm… visually. They not only make user interfaces look good but, through an understanding of human behaviour, user research and wireframing, make them enjoyable to engage with too. All while keeping to the brand guidelines.

You connect the audience with a brands product, service or message, beautifully.

what is visual desgin: ...
Above: Project: h264, Ben Mottershead, across platform example

4. Be curious. Think and work laterally.

As Ben says, “life’s too short and too interesting to limit yourself to a box”. If you find something that interests you, learn it. Don’t just focus on one particular skill or discipline because you think it’ll keep you hired. Studios are looking for curious creatives who always hunger for more.

Many visual designers come from a graphic design background. They explore an interest in technology, user behaviour, web design and discover a new challenge in applying their graphic design skills to the digital world. As Ben says “do what you enjoy but be open to experiencing new things”.

If you see yourself as a multidisciplinary creative then you might just have the makings of a visual designer.

To help you, we suggest keeping a bank of references or a “folder of ideas”*. Go far and wide in search of inspiration. Always ask the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, and find the answers.

House of Yosef, Ben Mottershead
Above: Project: House of Yosef, Ben Mottershead

5. Get yourself out there

The best place to progress is out there in the real world. You can pick up the skills needed to succeed from accomplished Visual designers while also building connections with potential employers and like-minded creatives.

There are some incredible studios out there if you are looking to gain work experience. Koto, Nomad, Toyfight to name a few. Alternatively, our Visual Design courses offer a structured way of learning, with a lot of engagement and exposure to the industry too.

Ben says, “we’re hitting a pivotal point in the creative industry, where you are required to have so much knowledge… creative, technical, teamworking…”.  The only way to really excel in creative industries is to keep up your hustle, don’t be afraid to give everything a go, experience it first hand. Bloody go for it.

Dope Cannabis, Ben Mottershead
Above: Project: Dope Cannabis, Ben Mottershead

So there you have it, five tips to help you on your way to becoming a visual designer. You’ve really just got to dive in and do what you find interesting. The rest will come with effort and time.

And, hey, if you need a helping hand, our Visual Design Foundation or Visual Design Professional courses are proven to leapfrog designers into the industry.

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