I've been a designer for 6 months, having previously had a 1st class honours degree in Graphic Communication. My issue is that I am a Very good designer, but I work too slow. It's beginning to drive a rift between myself and the creative director who desperately wants me to work quicker. I've always been a workaholic even in university, I put in 110% all the time, really work my ass off, but I'm still not fast enough to complete projects quickly, my work is good, but it's not efficient.

Do you guys have any tips to help me speed up?

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    What kind of graphic design do you do? That can have a huge impact on your workflow. Is it print design? If so, what kind of print items? Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 4:14
  • We're a pretty small company so I do print and web and all kinds of both. Brochures to Web Banners and Full Websites to Postcards
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Jan 15, 2011 at 9:57
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    As a designer, you will always work slower than the art director wants you to. This is a mathematical constant.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 19:32
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    Since effort includes time this sums it up pretty perfectly: visual.ly/what-designers-need-remember Commented May 17, 2012 at 9:24

10 Answers 10


"Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good."

Are you trying to produce a perfect, finished product every time? Are you spending so much time looking for the perfect font, tuning just the right shade of blue, aligning all your boxes across six spreads, that it's half past supper and you're only a third done the brochure?

Maybe your problem is the 110%. Not every flyer is the Mona Lisa. Try narrowing down your choices (pick four favorite colors, pick six favorite fonts, only give yourself half an hour for photo research) and see if that helps.

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    Thanks a lot, I think it's because I'm so scared of failing that I want to put everything I've got into every project and ultimately, it's making me fail
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 13:57
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    @Daniel: I hear you. Failing is terrifying. But it will happen, and you will survive it. Instead of putting "everything you've got" into each project, talk to your CD and find out what the project actually needs. Focus on that. And get feedback frequently throughout the process. "Hey boss, I have this spread done. Is this sufficient, or do you need more pizazz?" and let that be your benchmark. Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 14:00

First of all try to identify what parts of the process are slowing you down the most. It's easier to work on it if you analyze it well.

Maybe it's too obvious but keyboard shortcuts make really a HUGE difference. I'm using my software for a few years already and I'm still discovering new shortcuts that are significantly improving my workflow. Don't get yourself limited with defaults only. Get creative in invention of your own shortcuts because your workflow is perfectly unique.

Also try to find out which of your activities have a repetitive character. Creating various templates, presets and actions can give you some bonus time.

Maybe you could also change your digital work environment to better suit your needs by playing with a windows/tools screen layout for a while or getting a second display.

Concentration affects your workflow A LOT in both directions. Think about what helps you to get concentrated and what distracts you when you work.

Anyway being 'forced' to be creative ASAP is often struggle for me to...

Don't forget to enjoy it. Be a ninja! .)

Sorry if my tips are too basic. Its hard to guess what's right for you without knowing your style of work.
I hope it helps you or somebody else around.

  • It's a pretty small company so my field of work is wide, from brochures to full websites, I'm doing pretty much everything the graphic design field has to offer. Thanks for your advice
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 15:07
  • @Daniel it's surely the best thing to look for faults with oneself first, but that sounds like a lot of work that is often done by two or more different people. If things don't work out at all, make sure you also get input from somebody outside your company just to make sure what they are asking from you is really reasonable and realistic. (As said, do try to improve your work first. I'm not saying they are necessarily at fault. But if the crisis continues, this will be something you need to check as well.)
    – Pekka
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 15:42

I'm mostly a developer by trade, but I also do graphic design work on the side. I've noticed that there is often a difference in the way that designers and developers work. In development, though not always followed, working iteratively is widely accepted as a more productive process then taking a long time and delivering something perfect the first try. A lot of time can be lost trying to go too long without feedback.

My recommendation would be to take less time tweaking to perfection, and try to nail down some bigger more general decisions, present option to the CD, and then go deeper with feedback. He'll appreciate getting more frequent updates on what is going on (as long as it isn't too much) and get a better idea of what is taking what amounts of time. Expectations should naturally correct each other through communication. If you take too long nailing down a font, or the specific pixels of some spacing he'll more easily be able to intervene and say good enough. After a while you'll get a better idea of what exactly you should be spending the extra time on, and your hunches will get more finely tuned.

  • Excellent point! As someone in a similar position (my degree is in graphic design, most of my day is spent on an agile dev team doing HTML/JS dev) I've found that collaboration is the key...both for software development, as well as graphic design. As a graphic designer, I've worked in shops where people go off individually to work in isolation, and I've worked in shops where everything is done in groups. By far, the group method leads to much more efficient (and, IMHO, better) solutions.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 19:51

The first thing is obviously identifying whether and where you are too slow.

You're new to the job. You are required to perform, of course, but as a relative newbie you have a right to some guidance in identifying what's wrong.

Unless you know for yourself where you're too slow, ask your CD or a more senior colleague to help you find out. Have them monitor your work for a while, or make detailed notes about your workflow and which part takes how long.

A trustworthy senior colleague who is neutral on the matter (if such a person exists in your environment) could be the best "judge" on what to do.

  • This is a very good idea, I'm sure my CD will help with this, he's as eager to up my speed as I am. Thanks a lot!
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 15:09

I can really empathize with your position, as I was in a similar situation for a very long time.

So far as speeding up your workflow, I find templates and a large collection of stock resources to be incredibly helpful. Where I was working, we had basic templates from the printers for certain items, but other times I had to create my own templates from scratch (lots of measuring, printing & assembling mockups, remeasuring, etc.). Don't ever throw away a template just because you're told this is a one-time job. And sometimes you can even create a company template that you just need to drag-n-drop text/images into for future projects. Not all projects need to be unique, and using a uniform template can be more professional for certain items.

Having a large collection of stock photos, textures, brushes, fonts, etc. is also incredibly helpful, as it saves you from having to acquire these resources (or make them) for each project. As a designer, you may dislike the idea of using someone else's work, but you have to decide whether artistic integrity (or personal ego) is more important than timely/efficient completion of a project. Buying stock art can many times be cheaper than spending 20-30 hours creating it yourself (and it can even produce better results). Otherwise, you should spend your free time creating these stock resources on your own.

Also, organize your resources. If your graphic resources are scattered across different drives/computers/CDs/DVDs, some are in Mac format while others are in PC, some are in obsolete proprietary formats, some only exist in analog form, some only the printer or outside designer has the source files to, etc. then it will really slow down your workflow.

Lastly, sometimes you're just not the right person for the job. Especially at small companies, it's often quantity over quality rather than the other way around. It's more about saving money and spending just enough to get the job done, not creating groundbreaking masterpieces of design. If this doesn't suit you, look for a new job. It's not fair to you or your employer for you to continue working there. They're forcing you to do work you're overqualified for, and you're forcing them to spend an unnecessary amount of money on each project.


Try to recognize creative and repetitive jobs early on.. Most of the time repetitive jobs are the ones you can speed up early as it requires hands skills and can be trained easily.

Try speeding your workflow with tweaks listed by other, keyboard shortcuts, multitasking, todolists, mail management and etc.

These will give you more time on creative work which is totally dependent on person's speed which can shorten in time or never.

Creative speed very much relies on experience and self-confidence, you will obviously get those in time, but that time depends on you. For now either you are fast or slow, if you are good, it can worth waiting for. And if you help others with speeding up your other traits, it will make it more bearable for others.


Pick the right project if you can

If you're so thorough and good maybe go with the high-end projects where your work would easily shine. Their budget expects great results that take a bit more time to complete which matches perfectly to your abilities and your working habits.

You're obviously not just another layout person with mediocre design skills that usually just do what they're told and tweak things a little so they look better.

  • thanks for the help but as we're such a small company I do pretty much what I'm given and the CD himself gets all the high-end projects which is frustrating. He quotes my speed as a reason I'm not doing better things
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 8:56

I'm a recent design grad, and I find that I've been struggling with a similar problem. Maybe taking all those fine arts classes kind of screwed me, but I think it just makes me (and I'm assuming you) work harder for better results.

Honestly, I agree with some of the answers here- maybe you're just not the right person for the job. Maybe you'd be 10 times better off doing freelance where YOU manage your time, and YOU pick the projects after gaining a decent range of clients.

I've been doing freelance, and it's really great. I've gone to a few interviews to be a part time designer for newspapers and...they always seem so obsessed with speed and how good you'll be at pumping out pizza ads and furniture ads.

If anything, I suggest maybe doing this job part time if you can afford to, and marketing yourself as a freelance designer. Once you have enough clients that produce steady income because they like your work, then quit the grunt job that seems to be burning you out. I don't believe the creative process is meant to be fast...unless your Jackson Pollock throwing paint at a canvas. And even that took SOME time.


Speed? I've been in the industry for 20 years and I have to say that the whole time I have felt the pressure of speed and mostly feel that I am failing or letting the client down because of not designing fast enough. I make up for it with late nights and ocasional weekends. My work however is well above average. Not clever or fancy, just solid and strong and clean. You'll find what works for you. We all have weaknesses and designers generally struggle for various reasons. It's a tough one and you are really your own teacher, in the meantime should I find an answer to my own situation, I'll certainly share my discovery. All the best.


Great works are not produce in a vacuum. Get some inspiration. Sketch ideas down from the inspiration you got, you can tweak some inspirations to your own.

Phone calls and messages are very distractive, put them on silent.

Don't create plenty of option, just three or two.

Set a timeframe for yourself and within that time frame the result you had should be shown to your client. He could make some perfect suggestions that will save you from thinking again.

Download useful apps that will help you manage your time.

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