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5 Characteristics of Successful Creatives

by Margaret Penney | April 18, 2017

To define success is not a simple thing, as success depends on each person’s worldview. Success can be defined as when a person is able to thrive and be relatively happy with their chosen career.

For creatives, learning how to be “successful” to the outside world and, more importantly, to themselves and their loved ones, requires you to develop specific creative skills and ways of thinking. Successful creatives often share some characteristics and values in common. Here are five of those qualities.

1. They Come Up With Different Ideas

I once heard it said that it’s not about being better than everyone else, it’s about being different. This is very true for successful creatives. New creatives can often think it’s about trying to be better at something some other designer has already been. In some ways this is how trends really take off, which is totally fine, however, creatives who want to really stand out must focus less on doing it best, and more on doing it differently.

A creative can be inspired by one idea but jump from that inspiration to come up with something different and new. If they can learn to do this over and over, they will learn how to create fresh, inspiring work of their own time and time again. If they can do this and also make it look really amazing, then they will succeed as designers and creatives.

2. They Are Really Interested

Successful creatives are really interested in their field of choice; it’s their livelihood and perhaps even their life support. They love pouring over design books and exploring color palettes. They live, eat, and breathe graphic design, animation, illustration, or macrame. They bring that devotion and interest to their projects and their work shines brightly in print or onscreen as a result.

3. They Take Criticism Well

This one isn’t easy for many creatives at the start of their careers. Creatives can be quintessential “sensitive artist” types, so being tough and able to take criticism isn’t exactly the go-to reaction for them. It can be difficult if you’ve put in the time and energy to make something you think is really a ‘masterpiece’ to be told it’s ugly, or weird or just not what the client wanted.

Clients can have really different ideas about what they think looks good. A new designer might be inclined to be really reactive and upset with the client, but it’s important to remember it’s not personal. The reality is there is something every client can teach us, and generally, if they are finding enough things wrong with your design, then there is something wrong with it — even if you think they don’t know a thing about design.

If a client really doesn’t like your work, you have to assume they are at least partially right. The reality is that their criticism is actually free feedback for you and can help you learn to make better work.

Often a client may just know they don’t like the design. In that case, it’s up to the designer to actually find out why. It could be something as simple as that the scale of the type is just off. The client may not know how to articulate that, they just know it doesn’t look good.

Successful creatives learn how to stay open to criticism and really listen to what others have to say to them about their work. It’s helpful most of the time and a key way to begin to improve your creative work as well.

4. They Know How to Adapt

Designers and creatives over time can develop a way of working and a certain look and signature style that’s their own. Trends come and go so it’s not necessary to follow up on every new visual mode. However, it’s also important to make sure that ones work stays culturally relevant within a contemporary context, so it’s key for creatives to learn how to interpret their times and adapt their work to speak to the moment.

It’s possible to take a signature style and work in a new color palette or font style that works within a new season’s idea of timely. Successful creatives speak the language of the now while still bringing to the work their own style and vision.

5. They Have a Killer Work Ethic

Finally, this one kind of goes without saying. Successful creatives work really hard at what they do. They work hard and when they get tired they stop, but they soon come back to the work with a fresh eye and work on it again. They are incredibly resilient and have high standards and make sure that they don’t hand over a project to a client until it is their best.


Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


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