Every graphic designer has problem areas in their design work. Whether you hate to create fonts or haven’t yet brushed up on your character animation, you certainly aren’t alone.
But what’s a designer to do when they encounter these issues and need to overcome them to complete a project and get paid?
They challenge themselves to conquer their top challenges. And that’s just what we’re hoping to do here.
For every obstacle or problem spot, there’s a good design exercise you can use to practice. Even if you’re just starting out in the world of design — or you have hundreds of completed visuals under your belt — there’s always room for improvement.
Key Challenges Graphic Designers Face
Whether you’re a design student building your skills, or a professional designer working with multiple clients at a time, chances are good that you’ve run into these issues at one point or another:
- Creative burnout: All creatives — from designers to videographers to copywriters — have dealt with this, and from experience, I can tell you that it’s the Worst. Feeling. Ever. Particularly when you’re burnt out on something that you’re passionate about and get paid to do. Whether burnout stems from a lack of ideas or inspiration, or it’s the result of repetitive projects, it’s a signal that it’s time to shake things up a bit.
- Unspecific client demands: Working with a client who can’t explain the vision they have, or at the very least, the purpose and results they’re hoping for, is one of the biggest challenges designers can face. A project without clear direction and expectations can quickly go off the rails and leave you making all of the design decisions. (But note, there’s a difference between “I don’t know what I want,” and “I trust your design experience and expertise.”)
- Too many cooks in the kitchen: This is basically the opposite of our last issue. Clients who don’t provide enough guidance can be problematic, but clients who have a team of stakeholders, all with their own opinions, are completely different challenges. (And don’t even get us started when someone says, “Make it pop!”)
- Lack of trust for your expertise: Professionals who have to defend their design choices to non-designers are not happy people. There’s a reason for everything, and when a client asks for something that’s simply not visually possible (for instance, due to sizing, formatting or trademark constraints), it’s enough to make a designer want to scream.
And that’s just the start. Things like time management, keeping to deadlines, maintaining creative control, working through a creative block or dealing with wild client requests can also create challenges for even the best designers.
But there are several ways to overcome these issues.
The Content Marketer
Get weekly insights, advice and opinions about all things digital marketing.
Thanks for subscribing! Keep an eye out for a Welcome email from us shortly. If you don’t see it come through, check your spam folder and mark the email as “not spam.”
Inspiration for Overcoming Graphic Design Challenges
Let’s explore a few practice exercises and activities that professional graphic designers can use to:
- Flex their muscles and get over creative blocks.
- Improve their skills in particular graphic design areas.
- Boost their level of experience.
- Add to their graphic design portfolio.
- Have examples to turn to for ideas and inspiration.
We’ve gathered some of the most creative, compelling and interesting tips and tricks to help you overcome challenges in everything from logo design and web design to post-worthy social media content and more.
Whether you’re a student working toward a graphic design degree or a pro building a client’s visual brand identity, here are some exercises you can use to become a better graphic designer and kickstart your creative process:
1. Create Something Wayyy Outside Your Comfort Zone
Remember when we talked about repetitive projects in connection with burnout? Yeah, that happens to more designers than you might expect.
It’s not hard to feel stuck in a rut when all you’re doing day after day is working on logo designs or dragging and dropping elements into a web design template.
If you’re dealing with burnout or just want to try something that you haven’t had the opportunity to do yet, try a graphic design prompt that’s as far as possible outside of your comfort zone. This will flex your creative muscles and support the skills that make a good designer, well, good. One place you can turn to for such prompts is Sharpen, which boasts more than 15 million graphic design challenges.
Take this one, for example, which had me laughing out loud the minute the page loaded:
Color me super intrigued.
Sharpen even lets you set a timer so you can flex your time management skills — or so that you don’t get caught up in the exercise for longer than you have time to. And if you don’t love the first challenge, simply hit the button for a new one that really speaks to you to help get your creative juices flowing.
2. Take Inspo From Social Media
If you’re a designer looking to learn new skills, or you’re having a hard time keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest design trends, this tip is for you. Taking inspiration from social media is a great way to expose yourself to new design strategies and learn what other pros in the industry are doing.
Or, if you’re a student in a graphic design degree program, you may be looking for all the inspiration you can get, and social media is the perfect place to turn. This article from Creative Bloq is a good starting point for building out your Insta feed with inspo from the pros.
2½. Visit the Library!
Whereas social media can provide you with cues and inspiration for the latest graphic design trends, some clients may be looking for a more classic or retro style. In these instances, consider checking out what your local library has to offer in the way of print and other designs.
There are a few big upsides to this approach:
- You can score inspiration in spades: From logos to typography, chances are good there’s a book or resource to speak to any inspo need.
- There’s more than just print: Many local libraries have digital indexes so you can brush up on your website design, and a periodical guide so you can check out older magazines or newspapers.
- You can browse graphics history: Libraries offer more than just the obvious inspirational resources — grab an art history publication, an encyclopedia or a picture-filled history book and expand your art education horizons.
- IT’S FREE: Yep! Fill your head full of knowledge and check out all the inspirational books your little arms can carry — all free of charge. Worth it!
3. Create Typography Based on Your Own Handwriting
Some designers’ trouble spots lie in typography and fonts. This can be a difficult skill to improve on, particularly when there are so many opinions swirling around about the use of fonts (including our own!)
One of the best ways to beat this kind of challenge is by creating your own font. You can start by establishing a font based on your own (or someone else’s) handwriting, and go from there. Or, you can design a font that helps send a specific message, or to go with a particular logo — the choice is yours.
A tool like Calligraphr can help you create typography based on your handwriting. Or, for something a bit less template-y and more creative, try FontForge, an open source program that lets you play with font style, size, italic angle and so much more.
4. Logo Design: Revamp a Classic
Like a throwback jersey, but better. This exercise is something seen everywhere from student graphic design projects to brand identity refreshes on a public scale.
The basic idea here is to take an existing logo design and turn it on its head, with your own creative inclinations and ideas leading the way. Check out some examples from designer Sara Marshall, who actually won a student graphic design award through her work.
The Sara Marshall remix:
This kind of logo challenge can help you break out of a creative rut, or look at a troublesome project from a new perspective. You can also use this kind of challenge as an opportunity to trial-run some new design trends or approaches that you haven’t been able to fit in elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to get creative and let yourself run wild.
5. Put the Company’s Materials to Work for Its Brand Identity
Crafting a brand identity through visual elements can put a lot of pressure on designers. You have to visually capture what the brand is all about, and work to send this message (or at least hint at it) in the design. That’s a lot to fit into a single project.
One way to overcome struggles with brand identity design is to incorporate products used by the brand itself. You can take the approach of leveraging brand materials directly in your design, or as inspiration — whatever works best for you. Overall, though, using the company’s own products and supplies in your design is a great way to ensure that the visuals you create truly reflect the company’s identity.
A fantastic example comes to us from designer Wake Coulter, who took the idea of leveraging a brand’s own materials in his designs to new heights. For rooftop urban farm company ØsterGRO, Coulter created prints using produce straight from the company’s own fields. The results were rustic, beautiful and the perfect way to present the brand’s identity:
Creative, visually appealing and sustainable – what more could a brand ask for from its designer?
6. Branch Out: Practice Copywriting and Photography Skills
Here’s another challenge that can not only help get you out of your comfort zone, but can also encourage you to practice skills that are important to your design craft, even if they may not immediately appear related.
Instead of solely focusing on design, flex your abilities with copywriting or photography.
Even if you work for an agency that has a separate team of professionals in charge of copywriting (*cough cough* like Brafton!), trying your hand at written content creation can be good for you — and good for your design skills.
After all, successful design hinges on your ability to send a message, and approaching this from a writer’s perspective is a great way to practice this skill.
You can even use your own visual designs as a starting point, and write something based on your process. Or, take this to the next level and start a blog that offers design advice to novice or student graphic designers!
Similarly, practicing photography can help you be more observant, and to look at visual elements from a new perspective. Try challenging yourself to take a walk and snap at least 10 photos along the way — you might be surprised with what catches your eye and what new ideas you come up with.
7. Update Your Portfolio
This is a fantastic challenge because there are so many different ways you can approach it:
- Check out your existing portfolio, and identify any gaps: What’s missing? What styles or graphic design approaches do you not provide examples of? What skills are you not demonstrating? Update accordingly.
- Mine examples from recent client projects: Did you just finish work on something that you’re particularly proud of? Include it in your portfolio! Just make sure to check for things like permissions, nondisclosure agreements and other stipulations before going public with the design work.
- Add in work you created for graphic design challenges: Use our previous challenges (or daily design challenges from other sources, like Daily UI) to produce interesting work and expand your portfolio.
Tips for All Graphic Design Challenges
You’ve got the smarts, imagination and drive to create something wonderful when taking on any or all of these graphic design challenges and exercises. Here are a few things in mind as you set off on this creative adventure:
- Choose the right tools for the job: Every creative person has their preferred methods for doing their work. Maybe yours are as simple as working with a paper and pencil, or maybe you’re a diehard Photoshop, Canva or Adobe fan. Whatever your preferences may be, start every new project with the tools that will make you feel the most assured in your abilities and help that workflow thrive.
- Don’t go at it alone: We’ve all been in creative ruts, but they don’t have to be weathered alone. Hunkering down to work in a creative industry might feel isolating sometimes, but brainstorming and working together is the way to get through it. Lean on that coworker who constantly shares design inspiration, or get going with a friend on a fun tutorial.
- Get a little external motivation: When we’re stuck, sometimes we need a little push. There are quite a few programs, tutorials and submission tools out there to help make you a better designer. The Daily Logo Challenge is one such product design day challenge where products are shared and get feedback through Instagram and Dribbble.
However you decide to challenge yourself and your graphic design skills, we hope you come out on the other side feeling creatively refreshed and accomplished.
Editor’s note: Updated March 2022.