Daily Archives: September 19, 2012

Advice #49: Do I Need To Draw Well To Be A Designer?



I’m considering changing careers from biological research to graphic design. I’ve always loved graphic design, and while I have an eye for color and composition, my drawing skills stalled somewhere around 8th grade. How necessary is drawing ability in graphic design? Will I always be passed over for designers who can create their own illustrations?


Makers Gonna Make by Jude Landry.

Don’t let your lack of drawing skills hold you back! This is a surprisingly common question — but you know what? Don’t sweat it. I’m not a great illustrator either but what I realized long ago is that instead of spreading myself too thin, I’d rather be awesome at a few things than a jack of all trades, master of none. Instead of questioning your lack of drawing skills, focus on your strengths and do everything you can to play those up.

My Story

From the time I was four, I drew almost every day. I drew so much on my worksheets in the first grade that I won my school’s art award. I kept on drawing and won contests but as soon as I discovered other mediums, my level of interest began to drift. In my early 20s, I fell in love with collage. It fit in better with my love of fashion magazines, type and textures and this became my preferred art style. My interest in drawing waned even further once I discovered computers. I got my first laptop and a copy of Photoshop 7 in college and that changed my world. I barely picked up a pencil after that except for a life drawing class. I did well in it but I wasn’t passionate about it — design was where my heart was.

Your Role

As a designer, it’s often necessary to do quick thumbnail sketches of concepts, especially when it comes to storyboards and logos. But even more important is your ability to describe your ideas and effectively sell them to your audience. For example, if I’m at an agency and five designers are given an hour to knock out as many logo concepts as possible to present, if I can’t get all of my ideas into the computer, I may sketch a few. And while I’m not a brilliant sketcher, I need to be confident enough in my ideas to stand in front of a group and explain my thought process and how each design relates to the brief. In these instances, sketches are meant to be more gestural — a means to get the idea across.

While you should get to a point that you’re confident putting basic illustrations together in Illustrator and on paper, beyond that, if a studio or agency needs a professional illustrator for a project, they’ll often call in a freelancer for this specific purpose. Don’t get me wrong, there are some designers that naturally excel at illustration like my friend Jake Hollomon — but even more often, you’ll be called upon for your creative concepts, layout solutions and production-based skills.

Market Your Strengths

If you’re not an awesome illustrator, ask yourself what else you can bring to the table. Where else can you excel? Perhaps you’re amazing at photography, social media or trend forecasting? Focus on your positives!

In closing, while it’s an added bonus to be able to illustrate as a graphic designer, if you’re not passionate about it, don’t let it hold you back. Instead, push yourself in other areas. We can’t be the masters of everything but we can excel at some things. Choose your battles and most importantly, do what you love.