How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul – A Review

It’s easy to explain our individual sources of inspiration; they can be acquired from many things, whether it be from a specific genre of music or a famous designer – anything that pushes us into our creative state in order to begin our creative process. Everyone finds inspiration somewhere. You don’t have to be a professional designer to do it. But, will knowing what inspires you help you to find a real world job once you have that piece of paper (aka a diploma) in your hand? And, when you land that design agency job, how will you know if the job is a fulfilling and meaningful one? Will it be the perfect fit, or will you feel like you lost your soul?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a designer somewhere who could give us advice on how to overcome these unknown obstacles? In How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Adrian Shaughnessy does just that. Throughout this book, Shaughnessy addresses the concerns of the just-starting-out designer. Whether it be about how to manage the creative process or how to generate ideas for projects when you’re drawing a blank, this book – written by a designer for designers – offers clear and concise guidance on how to solve these common problems.

The advice in this book is insightful and sound; Shaughnessy expertly guides us through his own experiences as he narrates each and every page. One of my favorite topics is found right in chapter one where Shaughnessy explains three key points:

  1. Cultural Awareness
  2. Communication
  3. Integrity

Cultural Awareness

To be culturally aware, a person must know his or her surroundings: the people, businesses, history, etc. But, how can you become culturally aware? If, for instance, you move to a new city, what sort of research should you do to acquire this information? Is an intense Google search sufficient? Shaughnessy uses this example to open up the concept of cultural awareness within the design process.

As Shaughnessy notes, designers are attuned to everything around them. They notice every minor detail in everything they see (much like being aware of your surroundings: the people, businesses, history, etc). However, designers must also go the extra mile by being aware of their audience at all times. An awareness of audience allows designers to target these individuals and sell them on skills and abilities.


Communication, then, is tied directly to cultural awareness. In order to sell a project, designers need to build relationships with clients and discuss their ideas in a way that makes sense. Shaughnessy stresses the importance of striving for designer/client harmony, which is achieved simply by having meaningful conversation and getting to know one another on a personal level. Once ideas have been discussed, and a project is started (and soon finished), a designer needs to articulate his or her creative process, ultimately explaining why they believe it will work for the specific client.

Designers also use communication to generate client buy-in – essentially, persuading the client into thinking that the designer’s ideas are the right ideas. This is ultimately achieved by explaining what was done and why. A clear, concise explaination is always necessary, because a client does not want to hear, “this works because I said so.” A client needs to know that their ideas were taken into consideration while the project was in production, and that the final result may or may not reflect the ideas they brought to the table.


The final topic Shaughnessy discusses is integrity; What do strong moral principles have to do with being a successful designer? Shaughnessy states, “If we believe in nothing, then our clients will have no reason to believe in us.” I feel that this statement is exactly where the “losing your soul” phrase comes into play. If a designer participates in a project for something he or she does not believe in, they slowly chip away at their underlying core principles – eventually losing bits and pieces their souls. But, the designer is getting paid for it, so what other option do they have, right?

I believe that Shaughnessy uses the topic of integrity to explain that each person has to know his or her limits, ultimately deciding when to accept work and when to turn it down, based upon individual standards and values. If designers continue to produce work that has no meaning (and has a negative impact on other people), then our souls will slowly disappear and we will possess no morals at all.

How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul offers real experience for designers who are just beginning their careers. The book is packed with interviews from well-known professionals in the design field, do’s and dont’s of the industry, and so much more. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone starting their career (Click Here to Read).

Want more on design? Check out Measurable Goals for a Graphic Designer