Graphic design never was and never will be solely about making things pretty. It is about presenting information appropriately – persuasive, useful and usable.
Like how the lay of a piece of land dictates the design of a building on it, the underlying structure of content and concept defines the look and feel. So typography, color palette and imagery are elements or tools to achieve the desired result. They are not the end by themselves. Though it is still valid to debate Spiekermann versus Hoefler Frere-Jones you should know how to use their products intelligently to tell a story. And if you do not know of these guys go back two steps and start over.
There are few things that you need to do to make hardworking pieces of design. Design schools do not teach you to:
- Structure it: Look around, research to understand domain and objective. Prioritize information to visualize your own content structure (a photograph or a video is also content). Create an information architecture that is intuitive, compelling and clever. Now your job is to gently walk the audience/user through this architecture by crafting (with type, colour and imagery) well resolved visual assets that work.
- Articulate your viewpoint: Graphic designers need to write and talk. Not like a poet or a playwright. But well enough to clarify thought processes, communicate to team members or at times add to the effectiveness of a deliverable. They need to use and teach tools like mind maps, or thinking hats. These tools help you organize your monkey mind to walk a tightrope and reach goals faster.
- Emote: Persuasive communication is all about emoting right and creating emotional work is all about being humanist. You need to understand the audience/user to twang at their heartstrings. Close hands-on research techniques that involve personal presence among the target group is the foundation for concepts that affect sentiments. An empathic approach towards audience/user automatically triggers emotive concepts that work. And emotion buys you unwavering attention and recall.
- Design as a craft: Now that you have distilled stuff down to the product, you are ready to apply your skills in typography, imagery, color and other such elements of design. Choose visual and verbal style deliberately by trial and elimination. Assemble content on a grid with pride that comes with precision. Learn how to depart from the grid to make your work interesting. Importantly, do not ever fall in love with your work that it devastates you when others refrain from appreciating it. Be distant.
There is a lot to be done outside the artboard on your computer. If you resist and delay the warm glow of your Apple you can prep more and create compelling work.