Industry News

The 15 Creative Skills That Will Set You Apart

By Kristin Ellison

In order to survive in today’s highly competitive market, we creative pros need to be Swiss Army knives. If you feel like there are gaps in your skill set, you’re not alone. It is estimated that the average creative pro needs to be learning new skills and freshening existing ones on an annual basis, and 1 out of 4 don’t feel they’re living up to their creative potential.

Being an expert at everything is not possible; it’s more about knowing a certain amount, and then knowing where to find the answers you need quickly. The bottom line is that the more you know, the more opportunities you’ll have and the more interesting your work will be. Full disclosure, I work at LinkedIn Learning, which hosts’s online training library of more than 10K courses. We constantly hear from our members that doors have been opened for them because of what they have learned, or tight spots they have gotten out of because they found the answers in our library. Below is a list of the top skills that creative pros need, with links to where you can find training on them in our online library. Consider this your cheat sheet to being the all-knowing one!


More than 90% of the world’s creatives use Photoshop—the importance of this tool cannot be overestimated. From editing images and digital painting to creating icons, graphics, wireframes, and mockups, Photoshop is an invaluable tool. But like our brains, we rarely even scratch the surface of all it has to offer. Do yourself a favor and become a power user. You’ll see your work reach heights you could not have imagined.

2. Illustrator

Vectors are every designer’s best friend. Illustrator makes it a breeze to develop logos, create illustrations for print or the web, draw in perspective, and so much more. And with Adobe being the preferred platform, at some point you’ll likely be in a situation where you’ll need to use one or more of their tools. You may be wanting to avoid the monthly Creative Cloud fee, but in the end, all CC has to offer as a package is well worth the price of admission.

3. InDesign

You really can’t find a better layout program for everything from quick, little jobs to long, complex documents. If you’re a graphic designer, you need to know the ins and outs of InDesign. And with Typekit being part of CC, you really can’t go wrong.

4. Typography

The mark of an exceptional graphic designer has to be their typography skills. This is what separates the good designers from the great. If you want to rise in the ranks you need to dedicate time to really honing your skills. Good typography is in the finest of details. It’s a beautiful craft and studying it will sharpen your eye.

5. Layout and Composition

Yes, this is a super obvious skill, but layout is so much more than just an attractive and well-balanced design. Layout is communication. A good layout leads the eye so that the right information is delivered in the right sequence, and a good layout is not confusing. At its core, it is both the organization of a piece, and the beauty.

6. Color

Another core area of graphic design is color. It’s also one that we often take granted. We learn our colors as a child and make color choices all the time, but there is so much more to color. This is a science, and understanding the properties of color and how they interact on a molecular level will help you put together killer palettes that energize your work.

7. Brainstorming

Creativity is the lifeblood of a designer; knowing how to tap into it is vital. Stefan Mumaw, author of Caffeine for the Creative Mind, says that creativity is learnable. You can actually hone your creative skills because creativity, at its core, is problem-solving with two characteristics, relevance and novelty. Relevance is the degree by which a solution actually solves the problem thoroughly. Novelty is the degree of difference or originality that the solution exhibits. Practice solving problems with higher degrees of relevance and novelty, and you’ll train yourself to generate ideas in greater quantity and quality.

8. Print Production

Print is not dead and at some point most of us have to produce designs that will be printed. This is no straightforward matter and getting it perfect can mean the difference between keeping and losing a client. Take the time to learn about the printing process. A great way to do that is by going on a press check. See if you can join a colleague before your first big print job. Find out what the important questions are that you need to ask, and make sure you know exactly how your files need to be in order to get the exact results you desire.

9. UX Design

In our oh-so-connected world there is a perpetual need for our clients’s messages, services, and brands to live on multiple platforms, so getting a good sense of how these all work in concert will make you a more valuable creative provider. You may not need to go down the rabbit hole here, but gaining a good understanding of the basics will be a very valuable use of your time.

10. Web Design

Web design has gone from highly complex to relatively straightforward, depending on the job at hand and your tool of choice. You may not need to learn to code complex sites, but you do need to know which tools are capable of what so you can advise your clients on what solution is going to be right for their job.

11. Branding

A tight,well-choreographed brand that resonates with its intended market is an incredibly powerful driver for business and engagement. If, however, that brand misses its mark or is not consistent, it can have a very negative impact. Developing and maintaining a brand over time is complex, so invest the time to really understand what makes a great brand and the steps you need to take when developing one. 

12. Photography

When it comes to visual storytelling, photos are the most popular form of visual content. Stock images often feel contrived and false, and they can cost a lot! Do yourself and your clients a favor and learn how to shoot images that they can use in their pieces. This will result in better work for your clients and more money in your pocket!

13. Design Thinking

Design thinking is something we hear about all the time, but many are not sure what exactly it is and how it can be used in their work. Essentially, it’s a process of problem-solving that involves a set of steps, which leads one from defining a problem to ultimately testing and refining its solutions. The benefits of this process are that it forces us to focus on the end user, work collectively, employ empathy, and thoroughly test out our ideas.

14. Communication and Creative Briefs

Communication is vital to all business, but it’s especially important when translating a client’s idea or brand into a visual. It’s impossible to see their vision, so using mood boards or other types of visuals to help define their ideas will save you both a great deal of heartache. Even more important is having a detailed creative brief that outlines their expectations and your deliverables (including the number of revisions and any costs associated). A brief is a contract meant to protect you both so take this step seriously and get comfortable standing your ground.

15. Managing Your Career

We are all so busy doing our jobs that we often forget to actually think about, plan, and manage our careers. What do you want out of your career? A promotion? A new role at a different company? To go out on your own? Determining your next desired move is the first step. With that in mind, you can then find mentors, use networking to uncover opportunities, look into furthering your education, or whatever else it is going to take to get you there. Each year you should be evaluating where you are and determining where you want to go next. If you don’t, achieving your dream will be nearly impossible. 

Kristin Ellison is the Manager of Content for the Creative Pro titles at LinkedIn Learning (with content).