I was talking to a medical equipment sales rep the other night at a bar who became very interested when I told her I am a graphic designer. I’ll usually introduce myself as graphic designer because it is broadly understood. In certain contexts I’ll say I’m a web designer or even front-end developer.

We got on the topic of skills versus talent when she asked how much of what I do is talent. It seemed to me that, despite her childhood memories of being crafty and creative, she doubted her ability to do it professionally from fear of not having enough talent. I told her that I believe design, drawing, painting, weaving, etc. are all skills that can be learned. You can study, practice and hone skills. I used the example of drawing to illustrate my point. You can develop the skill of wielding a pencil, making marks on a paper, observing objects, light and shadow and replicate that on paper. Imagining something in your mind and representing it on paper, I argued, is a talent.

In hindsight I disagree with my last point. I think using you imagination is also a skill that can be developed; it is just more difficult to do. I’m beginning to believe that talent is simply innate skill. Everyone has different innate skills in many areas, such as mathematics, language or the arts. If you agree with this perspective then the challenge of developing new skills is a little less intimidating. Identify your talents, not just to know your strengths to exploit, but also your weaknesses to work on.

Practice makes perfect

For anything that this rings true I’d argue it’s a skill. For some time I decided to focus on typography to further develop my skills. It seems to have paid off because I feel very comfortable and confident in my abilities. I’ve also focused on efficiency and colour theory. I know if I wanted to do more illustration then I would need to develop my drawing skills again. I’ve become rusty since I spend more of my free time writing then drawing, like I used to. The key is to continuously take stock of the tools in your tool belt and fill the gaps to become better.