Immerse Yourself in the Sea of Design
Perhaps the most important contribution to becoming a great graphic designer (or great architect, great interior designer, great film-maker, great fashion designer, great poet, great writer, etc. — is being open to and aware of all of the societal inputs of content bearing on design, such as film, theater, fashion, food, art, architecture, science, music, language and culture. The very best graphic designers manage to surf along the leading edge of current design — building on the rich and broad history of past and present design, while incorporating something new and arresting and appealing that has not yet quite arrived. (Just review all of the most memorable logos or bits of pop and cultural art of the last few decades.) The only way to stay aloft that ever-breaking wave of design is to be immersed in and cognizant of all that is good in design, no matter where it is manifest.
Graphic design often lags behind and follows other, more immediate fields, such as art or film or video or music, from which it may glean new trends and innovative concepts. Graphic design may also lead and inseminate other slower-moving fields, such as fashion or architecture or culture. (To test the truth of the preceding two sentences, simply pick a hot trend — whether it be disco, or fusion, or vampires, or grunge, or all-natural dieting, or shaved skulls, or going green, or whatever — and track how that fad happened to ripple from one field of artistic or design endeavor to another.)
Graphic design at its best captures the zeitgeist: the spirit of the times, the mood of the day. It must inherently reflect much of what is already happening and being felt throughout current culture and society. But the best graphic design — like the best of virtually any art form — also points the way to a new tomorrow. It shows us something about the unfolding day that we have not quite yet fully realized.
By contrast, the day-to-day pragmatics that many consider essential to graphic design are relatively easy to teach and to learn. For example, there are numerous high quality texts available on such matters as layout, composition, color theory, creative writing, illustration, photography, digital design, and so on. Classes on such topics are regularly and consistently taught within virtually every graphic design curriculum about the globe. One can learn to color calibrate, prepare separations, creatively write ad copy, crop photographs, storyboard a commercial, or pen pithy tag lines. But these are mere technics of graphic design. They require the over-arching thematic consciousness that unites them into a forceful graphic design campaign.
To develop that consciousness, the graphic designer must gain a comprehensive understanding of basic design principles, but must also, more importantly, absorb a sense of the design universe that is constantly simmering and bubbling all about us. What are art galleries showing? How do this season's fashions appear? What's buzzing the loudest on the music scene? Which movies are resonating most with viewers? and why? What is most viral in digital media?