14 Advice to Young Designers to Build Successful Career Pt1

14 Advice to Young Designers to Build Successful Career Pt1

Young designers have to face many obstacles on their way to build successful career. There is plenty of knowledge you have to learn. And, this knowledge is constantly expanding. The technology side is not better. There is something new every week. In this mini series, I will give you 14 advice to help you deal with all that and still do the work. We will discuss many topics such as learning, work ethic, intuition, pricing, communication, deadlines and clients. Let’s begin.

No.8-14 are in part 2.

Quick Intro

Before we start, let me tell you what this two-part mini series is about. I will give you 14 advice young designers can use to build successful career. These advice are divided into two categories. Each category contains seven advice. And, we will discuss each of these categories in a separate article. In this part, we will discuss advice for young designers related to work itself. In the second part we will discuss advice related to work with clients and business.

One last thing. The advice we will discuss are applicable to wide range of disciplines. In a fact, many of them are applicable to professions and business beyond design. In this mini series, when I talk about young designers I am talking about anyone working in any design discipline. So, if you are a graphic, fashion, UI, UX, web designer, etc. you are on the right place.

No.1: Fake it first, then, master your craft

Become the best in your field. This is the first advice I have for young designers. A lot of people like to use the “fake it till you make it” approach. And, there is nothing wrong with it. This approach allows you to start before you are ready. You take on some job or task before you know how to actually get it done. It is like jumping off the cliff not knowing how to use parachute. I believe that this is one of the best things you can do to accelerate your learning and career.

The upside of discomfort

The reason is that it pushes you out of your comfort zone. It puts you in a situation that can be quite dangerous. As a result, your focus is sharp as brand new knife. Your ability to observe and absorb knowledge is on steroids. What would normally take you twice as much time, you can do in half. This is quite reasonable. Your brain wants you to survive. Therefore, it will do what it can to help you find some way to get out of that situation. In other words, to get the job done.

Why “faking it” doesn’t lead to mastery

So, yes, faking it is a good thing if you do it right. However, it will help you get only so far. There is usually some line when you can recognize you are not learning as much anymore. Think about memorizing some basic words in order to learn new language. At some point, you can recall all the words you are trying to memorize faster than you could read them. From that moment, rereading the same group of words is not effective anymore. You have to move on.

The same is true if you use “fake it” strategy. In the beginning, this strategy can help you learn the basics. It will give you some understanding of the basics. However, this strategy will never help you master the subject. There are many young designers who believe the opposite is true. Mastery itself requires much more than just going through trial and error. It requires dedication and conscious effort. You have to immerse yourself in the subject. This is where “fake it” usually fails.

Faking it can help you get from zero to beginner. It can maybe help you reach advanced level. However, this is where you hit the plateau. If you want to get through it, there is only one thing you can do. Stop faking it and start learning about it. This is where books, articles, tutorials and daily practice come in. Yes. In order to get through the plateau, you have to level up the game.

Chasing mastery and excellence

When I talk about leveling up your game, I’m talking about chasing excellence. I believe that this is what mastery is about. Your goal is to reach excellence in your craft. Think about any discipline. You will find that all the masters in that discipline dedicated themselves to pursuing excellence. And, young designers, this is also the case if you want to get from advanced level and become an expert. Imagine competition between advanced young designers and expert young designers.

Both groups may finish the job in the same time. The difference is in the details. The work of experts will be more polished. In the terms of design, everything will be pixel-perfect. And, in the terms of code, it will look like a poetry. Experts will use best practices. Also, they will use only what is necessary. Simply said, young designers on expert level will be chasing perfection in every detail. This is what you have to do to build successful career.

Faking it and transition to expertise

When you fake it, there is always some chance someone will find your weak spot. Another problem with faking it is that it is basically about creating an illusion. You say you know something, but you don’t. If you can learn what’s necessary to get the job done, this is not a problem. The same is true in case of young designers pitching themselves as experts. When you say you can do X is not the same as saying you are an expert on X. Do you remember the part about excellence?

As an expert, it is not about getting the job done. Well, not only that. It is about getting the job done in the best way possible. Expert knows everything about his craft. If not, expert will dedicate necessary time and practice to learning. As a result, expert can deliver excellent results under any conditions. So, my advice for young designers is that it is okay to fake it in the beginning. It can help you make money while learning about your craft.

However, sooner or later, you have to make the transition. You have to stop faking it and rely improvisation. Instead, you have to learn about design to build solid foundation. And, no you don’t have to go school to become great designer. We discussed this in earlier article. What you need is discipline, dedication, confidence and patience. With that, you can work on your skills on a daily basis. And, one last thing. You don’t have to specialize in order to master something.

No.2: Work harder than anyone else

Becoming an expert itself will not guarantee you success. Many young designers reached this level and still didn’t make it. Why? One of the reasons is weak portfolio. It is not enough to be the best in your field. You also have to prove it with your work. This is why my second advice for young designers is to work harder than anyone else. If you want to build solid design career or business, work ethic is a necessity. You must get used to work harder than anyone else.

Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is. This is a quote from Mark Cuban, one entrepreneur I admire. It is one of my favorite quotes. When you think about it, this quote is right. Your work ethic your most valuable asset. Nobody can take it away from you. And, you are the one who is in control of it. Also, solid work ethic is something you can develop over time. I like to think about work ethic as a skill. The more you practice it, the better you will become at it.

Over-night success doesn’t exist

The truth is that no one became great over just one night. Every one who achieved something had to work hard for it. Young designers like to put titans of design industry on pedestal. Well, we all do. Every one of these titans had to put in the work to get there. The problem is that we don’t see this early work. Have you seen first sketches of Massimo Vignelli or Paul Rand? Probably not. You saw only the best of their work. You saw only the results of their dedication to their craft.

All these titans worked their butt off to become the best. In addition, they were not afraid to show their work. If you think that working hard on your craft will guarantee you success, you are wrong. Another illusion many young designers like to believe. You are working hard and create exceptional work? Great. Now, do you show your work? If not, how do you think people will find you? Unless you put your work out to the world, they will not. This is how to make working hard work.

Young designers need a body of great work to demonstrate their skills. And, this work can’t sit in your drawer. If it is great, it must go out. Otherwise, there is almost no chance someone will “discover” you. So, work hard and share the results of your work. Just make sure to polish every detail before you ship. Remember, experts chase excellence. So, every detail has to be flawless.

No.3: Keep a beginner’s mind

There is one mistake I see some young designers do. As the get better in their craft, they become arrogant. There are many ways one can describe arrogance. I like to describe arrogance as reluctance to admit mistakes and learn from them. When you are arrogant, you believe the illusion that you can’t be wrong. It doesn’t matter how big the mistake is. You don’t see it. You are basically blind. This is the difference between arrogance and confidence.

When you are confident in yourself and your skills, you are not ignoring your mistakes. Sue, you believe in your skills. However, when you make a mistake you are willing to acknowledge it and learn from. This is not all. In addition, you are also willing to question yourself and your skills. The same applies to the tools you use. When something doesn’t work, you are willing to replace it with something better. In Zen Buddhism, this is a concept called “beginner’s mind”, or “shoshin”.

Having a beginner’s mind is about keeping your mind always open to many possibilities. You believe that there is always a way to do it better. I believe that developing beginner’s mind is very important for all young designers with goal of becoming great. Paradox is that beginner’s mind is also about letting go of being an expert. However, it doesn’t mean not pursuing excellence. It just means that you are willing to question what you know.

The more you know …

You will never become real expert because there is always something to learn. This should not discourage young designers from pursuing knowledge and honing their craft. Rather the opposite. It was Aristotle who said: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Again, this is not a bad thing. There is always some space for you to grow. You can always improve your skills and get better. This is, I think, the goal of having beginner’s mind – always be learning and growing.

How can you and other young designers cultivate beginner’s mind? First, don’t be afraid of failure. Every time you fail is an opportunity for you to learn. So, there is always some upside. Second, don’t judge things before you try them. What you know may not be right. And, your judgment may not be right as well. Following this, disregard common sense. The common sense can be wrong as easily as your judgment. The same is true about your assumptions.

Fourth, stay curious. Start to question anything and everything. Also, don’t settle with one question. If you don’t understand something keep asking and dig deeper. You have to get to the core if you want to really understand the subject. So, young designers, take these tips and start developing a beginner’s mind. It is worth it.

No.4: Look for inspiration everywhere

My fourth advice for young designers is to stay open and look for inspiration everywhere. It doesn’t matter what type of designer are you. Anything around you can be source of inspiration. It can be music, architecture, books, nature, movies, art, technology, food or just anything else. Go back to the previous part. Let go of your judgment and assumptions. Start observing the world around you. It doesn’t matter where you are, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I know, these advice are for young designers. So, let me give you a couple of suggestions for online places where I like to look for inspiration. These are Designspiration, panda, dribbble, behance, MaterialUp and abduzeedo. However, as I said, inspiration is everywhere. So, don’t rely only on these resources. The world is much bigger than the online space. And, it is full of interesting things you don’t know about yet. So, young designers, become explorers.

If you want to spark your creativity, try something new as often as you can. Explore different genres of literature and books. Visit new places and meet new people. Open your mind to new ideas and discuss them with others. Try different tools, approaches and make the leap to different disciplines. Trust that the dots will somehow connect, no matter how chaotic they may seem.

No.5: Train and trust your intuition

Since we are talking about trying different things and connecting the dots. There is something very important for you and other young designers. You have to trust your intuition. In the beginning, your intuition may sometimes fail. You will make a bad decision. Well, maybe quite often. However, with time and practice, your intuition will improve. The more you learn, the more precise your intuition is. And, as your intuition becomes sharper, you will rely on recalling knowledge less.

This is the work of experts and masters seems so smooth. They practiced their craft so well that they don’t have to think about every step. They can trust their intuition and let it control their work. In the beginning, it can be hard to trust your intuition completely. Don’t worry about that. Focus on expanding your knowledge and your intuition will improve. Many young designers are trying to rush this stage and it often leads to failure.

It is similar to trying to run before you know how to walk. It is better to learn how to walk properly and with perfect form. Then, you can think about moving to another level. The same with design. Learn the theory so well you can teach it to others. Then, your intuition will come naturally. You will be able to see patterns. You will understand why some designs work and some not. It will look like a magic. It is not. This is a result of hard work and dedication to mastering your craft.

No.6: Be yourself

Being yourself is key component for young designers to build long and successful career. You have to know thyself and what works for you. It also means knowing what types of projects do you want to work on. And, it also means saying no to some work. In the beginning, you may need to take on any project that comes around. You have to make money to pay bills and buy some food to survive. Many young designers just starting has to deal with this. I was no exception.

However, as you get better you should become more selective. The reason is that your enthusiasm will reflect in your work. So, if you take on work you don’t like, chances are that you will get adequate the results. Sure, you can fake it again. However, this will not work indefinitely. Do that and sooner or later you will start to hate your work. It is not worth it. You should be excited about your work. This is possible only if you work on what matters to you. Embrace who you are.

If something doesn’t seem right, it might be better to reject it. In the end, are the money really worth hating your life, work and yourself? Is it really worth waking up every morning depressed and disgusted? Be honest with yourself. What if you do have to work on some projects you don’t like? Find something else to balance it. Even if it means working for free. It is still better than letting one project suck up all your enthusiasm and passion. Again, be your unique and weird self.

No.7: Stay positive

My final advice for young designers in this part is to stay positive. Chances are that you will have to deal with difficult clients. You may even experience what some designers call clients from hell. In addition, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge there is to learn. Design industry, especially web design, is moving in a lightning speed. There is new technology almost every week. You may also have some issues with money.

There will always be good and bad projects. There will be clients you will love and clients you will hate. In addition, some people may criticize you work while other people will love it. All these things and much more can be a reason for wanting to give up. This is why young designers must stay positive. Don’t give up. Remind yourself why you do what you do. It is because you love design. It is also because you have some dream. Don’t let some jerk take this away from you.

When you find yourself on the bottom, remember that there is sun behind every cloud. It doesn’t matter how tough the day is. Every day has to end. Just because this day was hard doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be the same. This is a message to all young designers in difficult situation. Keep your head up and look for the sun behind the clouds. The sun is always there.

Closing thoughts on advice for young designers

This is all I have for you today. I hope that these seven advice for young designers will help you in improving your work and building your career. What’s next? In the second part, we will move to the business or career side of design work. The topics we will discuss will be a little bit different. These topics includes things such as deadlines, communication, pricing and much much more! I hope to see you here again on Friday. Until then, have a great day!

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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