I began my professional design career ten years ago, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve had the opportunity to work at both large and small companies, and even ventured out on my own for a brief period of time. As I hit this ten-year mark, I began to reflect on the things I have learned, and wanted to share them with those who may be seeking some guidance getting started—or those just needing some encouragement.
1. Developing a process is a process
Designers like to talk about their process, and while that may be helpful, using someone else’s formula for success doesn’t always provide the same results. There are a multitude of ways to systematically approach design problems and solutions. Through time, I have concluded that it is important to take the time and make the effort to find out what works for you. Develop these skills for yourself and take pride in the realization that your path to a solution may be different than someone else’s.
2. Networking takes work
As a designer, the work you keep in your portfolio is crucial, but what they don’t always teach you in school is that developing and maintaining your professional relationships is equally as important. Treat each new meeting with respect, because you never know when your paths might cross again. Your contacts can potentially lead to new jobs, clients, vendors, and other opportunities.
3. Force yourself to get uncomfortable
It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but that doesn’t promote self growth. Push yourself to learn a new skill or attend a conference where you don’t know anyone. Choose a different way of finding a solution a problem or project you are facing. Take the time to ask someone else how they would approach it. The more you push yourself to expand your comfort levels, the more you will grow and exceed the expectations of those around you.
4. Criticism isn't always critical
Designers tend to have egos, and sometimes it is hard for us to take criticism. Bringing a set of fresh eyes in on a project can bring new perspective, which will end up benefiting you and the final product. Don’t take constructive feedback personal. And remember to be considerate when giving that feedback to others.
5. Find your own inspiration
It’s easy to look online to find design inspiration, but it’s also good to branch out and away from what is convenient. Stepping away from the computer and observing your own environment or your other interests can be refreshing. I’m often inspired by architecture, photography, and film. Discovering what makes these fields great can bring a fresh, new approach to your work.
6. Collaborate with other creatives
If you find you’re not being creatively challenged, collaborate with others after hours to keep your creative juices flowing. Develop small projects where you are thinking creatively with other people. Utilizing the strengths of other creatives can help you produce work you wouldn’t have done on your own.
7. Surround yourself with good people
If you find yourself around people who leave you feeling creatively drained—whether they be clients or other designers—you should probably look elsewhere. Surround yourself with people who keep you feeling inspired and energized. With that being said, make an effort to be someone others can be inspired by as well.
8. The golden rule
This should be a given, but have respect for other professionals if you want to earn respect in return.
9. Failure happens
Countless projects can fall through, whether it is due to a client’s preference or an unforeseen event. Don’t dwell on it. All you can do is learn from the experience and move forward.
10. Design with a purpose
If you’re doing work just for the sake of making it “pretty” then you are doing it wrong. You should try to approach each project with fresh perspective. Think with an open mind and debate the purpose of each project. It’s our job as designers to consider every angle and develop the best solution. Providing rationale and giving meaning to your work will result in a stronger design, and a stronger sense of worth as a designer.