If you’ve been a graphic designer for a while now, then you’re probably looking for ways to expand your skills or even move up within the industry. 

Maybe you’ve been working full-time with a specific studio for several years, or maybe you’re a longtime freelancer looking to gain new clients and, simultaneously, some increased security for yourself and your career. 

Professional graphic designer Serra Semi, the founder of Lumens, a pioneering creative studio, recently sat down for an interview in which she outlined several smart goals for graphic designers, largely based on her own trajectory of success and her international design career. 

You’ll find that many of these tips and goals are universal and can be applied to almost any freelancing role, whether it’s design, videography, or copywriting. 

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Tips for newcomers

How comfortable should graphic designers be with design software before entering the workforce?

Semi: In this day and age, there is no way a graphic designer will be successful without a digital skillset. I don’t mean that they need to be experts at every kind of software, but they definitely need to have a basic level of comfort with design software. Even fine artists are using digital tools to streamline processes and explore ideas before taking them to paint and paper. I work with pencil sketches in the beginning, but there is no way I can finalize a project without design software.  

About how many pieces or projects constitutes a substantial portfolio for a graphic designer?

Semi: It’s about quality, not quantity. I look at a variety of aspects in a portfolio when I evaluate candidates for my studio. Real-life experience is the most important. I don’t need someone with twenty mock projects. I would rather have someone with two or three pieces they have worked on with a professional team. Typography, layout skills, and process are important to show as well.  

Do you feel that freelancing is a good way for a designer to start their career? Are there any major downsides to freelancing?

Semi: Freelancing is a good way to try on types of projects to figure out what is a good fit. It is also a good way to gather a range of experiences. But there is value in working within a company, day in day out, along with a team of people who support the projects from sales to development. The relationships I built early on in my career are still some of the most rewarding.  Freelancing gets in the way of that a little, and it can be isolating at times. The best case is when a full-time position allows the designer to freelance on the side. When it’s not an either-or situation, designers can build a variety of experiences. 

Communication and networking

Should designers plan to attend conferences and network with other people in their field?

Semi: Absolutely. For one, there is always more to learn and conferences are a great way to pick up relevant and current information. We can’t always work alone, we do have to collaborate. Networking will help with support from colleagues, learning from each other and leading to opportunities to collaborate.

How important is it to be able to communicate well with clients and make changes they suggest?

Semi: Part of the creative business is communicating the value of the work to the client and guiding them through the process so that when we are at the last step they feel confident and happy with the outcome. Every client is different, each with a unique personality and approach.  No matter what, I listen and take note of what they’re concerned about. I always try to engage the client in a conversation to get to the root of what they want. The most challenging type of feedback is, “I don’t like it,” because it gives no direction so I engage the client to talk more about their preferences and expectations. 

Following a well-crafted creative process helps guide the client step by step confidently and minimizes extreme feedback. But the key is always communication. The more we talk, the better I can assess what the client is looking for. 

smart goals for graphic designers

The upsides

So what part of your work do you enjoy the most?

Semi: I love working with clients who value design and are enthusiastic to work with me. We end up with great outcomes when we work as a team. Being able to bring the client’s vision into the world is a huge accomplishment.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since starting your career?

Semi: One lesson is hard to pick but if I have to I’d say, be a pleasure to work with. I would not have accomplished anything in my career if I didn’t build the relationships I have over the years.  Word of mouth recommendations I received from colleagues are what enabled me to be successful with Lumens.

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Serra Semi is the founder of Lumens and an expert-level graphic designer in her own right. 

For additional info on Semi and Lumens, please visit the link below: