In some careers the key to professional growth can be as simple as education, experience, and advancement. But graphic designers are a different breed in the sense that we really want to be better designers and produce better work.
So here are 3 ways to grow in these ways:
1. Read all sorts of books and articles
My first recommendation are books and articles about the history of design. You will gain a greater appreciation of how design has evolved and been influenced by historical events and advances in media. And, of course, read articles about contemporary design trends. So, you can keep abreast of what is current, what is becoming cliché, and what is becoming mainstream.
But for books that have little to do with design itself, I would recommend books on sociology and psychology. In this way you'll understand how people and cultures think and function. This will effect how you think about audiences and how you design for them.
2. Examine successful work
A good place to start are design annuals and online gallery sites for inspiration, viewing trends, and previewing different styles. But don't just stop at viewing. Try to break down each work to its component parts to discover why each component contributes to the whole. Try reverse engineering design work by gray-boxing print and web designs, or wireframing them to understand the general structure and why it works. When visiting well-designed websites use this handy tool to wireframe it instantly.
Another approach is to visit a museum to saturate yourself in fine art, creativity, and good work. Let yourself be influenced and inspired serendipitously.
And last, find old magazines, design annuals, and packaging to see how design looked in past generations. Looking into the past can inform your current work, and help you diverge from current tried-and-true solutions.
3. Improve your drawing skills
Today some designers pride themselves on not being able to draw. However, being able to draw is an asset. You will become quicker at developing ideas, be less dependent on the computer for inspiration, and be able to visualize solutions faster when you can draw well.
A good way to get started is to take a drawing class to develop skills quickly and efficiently, and develop camaraderie. But if you don’t want to take a class, get a great how-to book. And no matter what you do, sketch a lot. Just taking the time to draw will improve your skills immeasurably.
Photo courtesy DodgertonSkillhause of morgueFile.com