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Shit I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was in Design School

Things young designers need to know

This story was originally posted on my Medium page on May 23rd, 2014

Okay, so some of the following tips were actually taught to me in school and some are ones that I still need to remind myself of today. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with younger designers for portfolio reviews, mock interviews, etc. Since there are always common questions that come up, I decided to compile that advice here.

Be confident

You studied hard and you work hard. Believe in yourself. If you’re confident, clients and your superiors will see that and it makes it easier to get what you want in a project (and get that higher rate).

Be humble

Confident but humble. It goes a long way. Nobody likes a braggart. Recognize your skills and believe in your opinions, but don’t be condescending or pretentious.

Don’t fear failure

Try things. Experiment. You may have to fail several times before you reach the right answer. All of those attempts will reinforce the right answer when you get there.

Be able to recognize professional work

Be able to spot good design from bad design. Not even in the most obvious sense, but something may be pretty to look at but not communicate the intended message well. Learn to tell the difference.

Don’t fall in love with your first idea

Usually your first idea isn’t the best. Learning to move away from an idea when it isn’t working will increase your productivity and chance for a better idea.

Be inspired by things other than design

Whether it’s another creative field or something else entirely. Experience things and seeking inspiration from outside your field can help your design. Designing a logo isn’t about the 20 minutes you spent thinking of the concept, its the entirety of your life - everything you’ve ever seen, heard, smelled, and touched manifested in your ideas.

Go Outside

As a designer it’s easy to stay glued to a screen. Be sure to take breaks from the office/workspace. This goes back to being inspired by and experiencing new things. You never know what may inspire your creativity; a walk around town, bike ride through the woods, or the presentation of a dish you’ve never had.

Draw. Then draw some more

Learning to draw well can be learned. It takes practice. Having drawing skills, even just decent skills, will help you get your thoughts out quickly. Realizing that an idea isn’t working just through a rough sketch will help you be more productive.

Write down everything

Maybe not everything but don’t let the good ideas get away. Write down the keywords, a shoddy sketch, something. Ideas you have may not mean anything now, but in 3, 5, or 10 years you may have something.

Ask for criticism

Nothing is better than good advice and criticism from your contemporaries. As mentioned before, not being afraid to fail, coupled with feedback from your peers, will help you grow as a designer. Designers need a thick skin. Clients can be hell, and not letting that get you down is important in moving forward.

Be accessible

Be a designer that clients want to work with. Be friendly, communicate well, and be genuinely interested in helping a client solve their problem. Also, be a designer that other designers, developers, and project managers want to work with.

Design is intellectual

It’s not just pretty pictures. We are communicators. Problem solvers. Remember that.