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10 Lessons for Aspiring Designers

I feel extremely grateful that I’ve been able to build a career in the design industry and be creative every single day. I understand that many artists and designers struggle to make a career out of their talent, and this drives me all the more to make sure our industry grows and engenders a strong legacy through thoughtful, considered, design and is continually evolving. To share this ethos, I like to connect with art and design students and, I’ve recently been asked to speak to some about what I’ve learnt in my career. So last week I started to reflect on the last ten years and the key things I would have loved someone to tell me when I first started out…

Do good work.

The first concept work you present to a client should be able to be placed straight into your portfolio! So don’t cut corners or present something you’re not 100% happy with. Of course after the first concept, things might change and be tweaked to the client’s preference but always take care and consideration in every piece of work – your name is upon it, and you should be proud of what you’ve created.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Comparing yourself to others is inevitable as a designer, but there’s only one of you. You have a unique skill, talent, background, and ideas. Your authenticity as a designer is your greatest asset. Recently I went to The Design Conference in Brisbane and had an absolute lightbulb moment. Looking at others’ work and hearing their stories is inspiring. It makes me feel like I’m “on track” because I care about my work, and I am passionate about the industry just like they are. But I don’t need to compare my work or the stage of career I’m at with them because we’re all working on our own thing. Each person’s work is amazing because it’s unique! I want to do my own thing and that for me feels so liberating!

Be inspired by nature.

Nature offers one of the greatest sources of inspiration. Last year we moved our studio to a studio completely skirted with windows and surrounded by nature and trees so we could be connected to the outside. Sometimes four walls and fluoro lighting stifles creativity. There’s so much beauty in the natural world. The lines of trees and the composition of nature’s symmetry can be used for inspiration in your work. Move your desk to a window, or take time to create your designs in a park or in your backyard, it’s an amazing feeling!

Be kind.

Sometimes, you’ll come across a client or project that really makes you question, “Why am I doing this job?” The feeling of not being appreciated for the hours you put into your craft and the client’s project can really destroy even the most experienced designer’s motivation. But just because you’re having a rough time, doesn’t mean you need to be mean. Always come from a place of kindness, love and understanding – you’ll appreciate it at the end of the project that you remained calm and collected, and potentially gain a good review or referral. There’s no need to collect that negative energy around you, just breathe and move forward.

Travel to new cities at least once a year.

Walking down the streets of a new city and seeing and exploring a new space with fresh eyes is incredible for creativity! So make a point of your holidays being about adventuring to a new destination that you can explore and be inspired by. Could you possibly also make a connection with a fellow designer through platforms like Instagram before you go? Perhaps you could ask their favourite places they like to hang out or design galleries they’re inspired by. Most likely if you start the conversation you may also have a buddy in another city you can connect with online or when you visit!

Try not to let it get personal.

When you’re a new designer, it can be heartbreaking to get criticism from a client, mentor or employer. You’re trying so hard and your work is very personal to you, I get it. Even now, it’s hard for me not to take criticism personally, but it’s important for your growth to take criticism as a positive. When you hear criticism take the time to reflect – what does it really mean? Could you ask more questions to get a better brief next time? Could you take a more creative or conservative approach? Most of the time the criticism has nothing to do with your work, and everything to do with how you could improve your process, and knowledge makes you a more savvy designer.

Explore other mediums.

I like exploring other artistic mediums, and getting my hands off the mouse and eyes away from the computer. It’s inspiring and motivating! There’s something magical about learning the techniques of another medium, so you can apply them to your own designs in some way. At the moment, I’m really into paper craft. I’ve learnt a lot about paper and what paper can do, and it has seen me experimenting with paper and layering in my digital designs.

Spell check!

When I was a junior designer, I made a spelling mistake on a brochure that had a very large print run. Euagh, I still remember the feeling and the day and week that surrounded that mistake, writing it even makes me feel sick. So much, that spell checking now is second nature to me. Spelling errors make you look silly and can really damage the belief the client has in you doing the work with the attention to their project that they’re seeking from you. There’s absolutely no excuse for misspelled words – because we have the beauty of programs that check spelling for us – you just need to hit the button!

You don’t need to be THAT guy.

I’ve come across people in my career who intentionally do the wrong thing, and it’s disappointing. Taking credit for other’s work, belittling others in your industry just to be competitive or simply using photos without crediting the photographer is not being a good designer. You don’t need to be that guy, and you don’t want to be that guy because in this industry, reputation counts, and honesty and integrity counts for more. If you’ve worked on a project with a team – acknowledge their efforts. If you’ve seen someone in your industry do great work – let them know you think they’re awesome with what they’re doing and that you are so glad they’re around because they make the industry look good. Make friends with others in your industry, so you can support each other to grow – it only betters the industry!

Don’t work for free.

I think I might over preach this one whenever I speak to a student or intern, but working for free is destroying the value of designers in the industry, and destroying the prospects of designers getting jobs. If you charge nothing for your work – what chance does your future employer have of charging the regular rate? And therefore, charging the regular rate and having enough design work to hire a new designer – such as you? You have to understand, it’s a domino effect in the industry. If you’re charging nothing, this has an effect on the industry and thus an effect on how many design jobs are available in the industry. A business can’t run and hire designers unless it can charge the proper value for work. So, even if you’re just starting out, charge something! Make sure it’s known to the client the industry value of what you’re creating, and if you’re new let your client know you’re discounting it slightly – because you’re learning – but you’re not working for free. If you choose to work for free, it will catch you up. Because in a few years time when you want to make good money, you’ll find it hard to find clients who will pay you what you’re worth – because you’ve always been too cheap. This lesson is all about putting a value on what you do. You’ve paid good money to study and learn your craft; you’ve spent hours working to learn and perfect your skills and you want the industry to grow, so you always have a secure career, right? Then don’t work for free!

If you’re a budding designer or have just started studying, I hope these lessons have helped! Please print and share with any other designers who would appreciate this advice too by clicking the share button below!

Do you have any other questions about the industry? Please leave your question or comment below and I would be more than happy to answer!


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