Top Traits of a Great Designer

When people go to hire a graphic designer for a project, the first trait they consider is the designer's skill. However, there is more to the making of a good designer than an impressive portfolio. By making the decision to hire a freelance designer, a business is making the decision to invest time, money and energy into working with an individual to make their vision become reality. It’s a big and important task, but how can you be sure you’re entrusting it to the right person? If you're wanting to hire a top-notch designer, here’s a list of qualities to look for.

Top Traits of a Great Designer - Gillian Tracey Design



Artsy types typically get labeled as disorganized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants people. Sure, a designer may have a messy desk every now and again, but the thing to watch for is if they are organized in the execution of their work. An experienced and organized designer is one who has a structured process and procedure that is applied to all of their projects. They develop a system that helps them nail down the vision, mission, likes and dislikes of the client so they can have a solid framework for the project. A structured process starts the project off on the right foot by exercising communication, sharing ideas, and outlining expectations and timelines. A business owner looking to hire a designer should see if these processes and procedures exist. These systems vary from designer to designer, but they usually includes components like a creative brief, questionnaire, mood board, etc. 



If someone asked me what a graphic designer's job was at the very core, I would say it's creative problem-solving. A seasoned graphic designer should be able to talk to the client, hear the vision, and start forming ideas and creative solutions from the first conversation. The ability to problem-solve is essential to making sure a project runs smoothly and any obstacles can be dealt with swiftly and calmly. This ability can also reflect how creative, versatile and flexible a designer is, so this trait is definitely a key one to look for.



Communication is a key component to a successful project. Consistent and thorough communication will ensure expectations are fulfilled on both ends of the project, deadlines are met, a vision is shared, etc. Good communication takes the form of prompt responses to emails, an outline of the project's timeline, etc.



Communication as a whole includes relaying information as well as taking in information. In other words, good communication skills can also mean good listening skills. When a designer works with a client, it is essential for them to be attentive and listen to what the client wants for the end product. The sign of an excellent listener, though, is when they are able to tune in to things that aren't being said. When a designer can tap into those feelings, they will be able to ask questions that open up the dialogue with the client even further, which will ultimately lead to more thorough communication, an even better end product, and a stronger partnership. 



Do you remember hearing the saying, “treat others how you want to be treated,” when you were a kid? Well, that lesson can be carried over from the playground into the professional world. The Golden Rule goes a long way, especially when a designer is building a reputation and a relationship with a client. Respect for a client is reflected in being mindful of deadlines, budgets and wants/needs. The respect shouldn't stop there though; a designer should also have self-respect. This is most easily shown in the careful boundary lines that are set in place by the designer at the beginning of a project. Clear boundaries, or expectations (what the designer expects from the client and what the client can expect from the designer), from step one means the designer is building a framework for a respectful and harmonious working relationship.



Confidence, not to be confused with cockiness, is a trait that a designer should quietly exude. Confidence is that special something you can't always put your finger on. It's an important trait for a few reasons. For one, a designer with self-assurance can take feedback and constructive criticism and apply it in a positive manner. For another, a designer who is confident in their abilities will have an easier time building trust with a client because they come across as professional, grounded, and are able to guide the project in a structured way.



When an entrepreneur comes to a designer with the hopes of hiring them to bring their vision to life, there should be a mutual sense enthusiasm about the project.  As a designer, I know that I hop on the enthusiasm train with a client when I see how passionate they are about this awesome thing they’ve created! And really, it's an honor to be trusted with that kind of responsibility. Having an enthusiast outlook on a project creates a fun atmosphere and an extra motivation to push great ideas to even greater ones. When a designer shows they are invested in the project as much as the client, it's a win-win situation. The client feels cared for and the designer has just built a strong connection that could quite possibly lead to future projects or referrals.

Making a list of qualities is great and all, but how do you know if a designer actually has these traits?

  • Referrals: A referral from a trusted source or a fellow entrepreneur is a good starting point. Getting a referral from someone you know is helpful because they're not getting paid to sing the praises of that designer; you're getting their honest opinion. It means they had a great experience working with the designer and trust the quality of work enough to recommend it to their friends and peers.
  • Testimonials: Oftentimes designers will collect testimonials from clients they've worked with in the past and make them available on their website. Testimonials will give you a good feel for what the designer's strengths are. For example, if there are multiple testimonials that all mention timeliness and great organization throughout the design process, I'm sure it's safe to assume that the designer will be respectful of deadlines and have a clear process in place to make sure the project runs smoothly.
  • Blog: If the designer has a blog, go ahead and read through a few posts and the comments below if available. It will give you a feel for their areas of expertise, their values and how they engage with others.
  • Portfolio: Even though this post is focused on traits besides talent, solid design skills are still very important to the success of a project. Looking at a designer's portfolio can tell you a few different things: you see their talent on display, the versatility of their skills, and you can see if their personal aesthetic suits the work you need created.
  • Start a conversation. Still not really sure if the designer is a good fit? Go ahead and contact them directly about doing a consultation before committing to the whole project. After a conversation, whether face-to-face or over the phone, you should be able to tell if a designer shares your vision, is listening to your needs and will be flexible during the process. 

This list could keep going, but these are some qualities I personally view as being very important to building a lasting relationship with a client. What are some other traits you would say make a top-notch designer?