14 Advice to Young Designers to Build Successful Career Pt2

14 Advice to Young Designers to Build Successful Career Pt2

You and many young designers have to deal with countless of roadblocks. Whether it is difficult client or boss or tight deadline. Your life is not easy. Everything gets even more difficult if you run your own design business (freelancer or agency). Here, you will find advice and tips to help you with this challenge. We will start by talking about deadlines, communication and educating our clients. Then, we will discuss pricing, setting expectations and more. I hope you will enjoy it.

No.1-7 are in part 1.

No.8: Stick to deadlines

We can say a lot about hard work and how important this is for young designers. Yet, hard work is not everything. We also have to learn how to stick to deadlines. It doesn’t matter how hard we work or how many hours you put in. If we can’t stick to defined deadlines, clients will not want to work with us. The same is true in case of working for some company or agency. In a fact, I would say that sticking to deadlines is even more important for young designers working in agencies.

Why sticking to deadlines is a must for young designers

The main difference is that, in case of agency, it is your boss who gives you a clear deadline. Sure, you have an influence, but only to a certain extent. You know how long it approximately takes to get that job done. Your boss probably knows this too. This is the basis your boss will use for estimating the deadline. Chances are that she will also consult this with you before giving the client final estimate. From this point, the experience between work in agency is different.

First, agencies usually work with bigger clients. This doesn’t mean that young designers working as freelancers can’t land a big client. It is just as likely, especially in the beginning. As a result, the expectations are much higher. Clients expect different service from agency than from one freelancer. They expect a premium service and excellent results. And, they pay a lot of money to get it. This puts the agency under serious pressure.

As a result, there is no way of missing a deadline because it would lead to losing the client. Remember, we are talking about clients in the form of million or even billion dollar companies. These clients don’t care that why you missed the deadline. You missed it. Period. In addition, these clients like to speak openly about their experience with agencies. Meaning, agency screw it and the world will know about. The reputation of the agency is irreversibly damaged.

The opposite is true as well. When the agency does excellent job, the world will know about it and its reputation will reach new highs. This also means getting more clients and making more money. Conclusion? Agencies can’t afford to miss deadlines. It is either the deadline or you. If you can’t get it done, there are other young designers. The problem is that it can cost you your job.

Make no mistake. If you work on your own, and you screw it up, it can damage your reputation in the same way. However, your are the person setting deadlines and negotiating with client. So, when things don’t go as expected, you can try to renegotiate the terms. Whether you succeed or not is a different story. You may lose your client. However, you will probably not fire yourself. You will still have your “freelance job”. In case of agency, you could end up on the street.

How to make deadlines work for you

We talked a lot about sticking to deadlines in one of the previous articles on timeliness. So, I will keep it short today and give you a number of quick tips. First, think about the worst-case scenario. Assume that what can go wrong will. Then, use this to estimate the deadline. What if you don’t know what is the worst-case scenario? Let’s say you are one of the young designers working on their first gig. In that case, use my rule of ten. Whatever you estimate is, increase it for ten percent.

That was the second tip. My third tip is to divide the whole job into smaller tasks. This is also the strategy we discussed in the guide on goal setting. It is usually easier to make more precise estimates when you can see all the small parts. Still, I would suggest using the rule of ten. My fourth tip is to schedule it ahead. Create a precise schedule for getting finishing the work, just like you would if the deadline was already set. Again, divide the project into smaller task.

If you know how long each task will take, you can then calculate the time required for finishing the project. Fifth tip is about looking at the project from the outside. Imagine you are talking with someone in the same situation. What would you think about his estimate? Would you think she is insane? Or, would you think she can do it much faster? The idea is that when you distance yourself from the situation, your expectations will become realistic.

My last tip can feel a bit usual. Tighten up the deadline young designers! Sometime, we either think that we need more time or we just want to stay comfortable. Whatever the reason is, we like to give ourselves too much time. The problem is that we usually don’t finish the task sooner. Somehow, we use it all. This is also known as Parkinson’s law. This law states that “the work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

For example, if you say that designing a website will take three weeks, it can. However, it is likely that you will work slowly. Or, you will procrastinate the first week or two and then work like a maniac. So, before you estimate deadline that is too overly optimistic, look at it from the outside or talk about it with someone else. In other words, double-check your estimate.

No.9: Over-communicate

A lot of young designers are very bad at communication. I heard about this a couple of times from my clients. The problem is usually either the frequency or depth of communication. Some young designers will get in touch with their clients only once a week, at max. Also, they don’t seem to like to talk as much. What else would you think about message like “I’m working on it.”? Well, this is an extreme example, but it did happen. Well, I used wrote this message once as well.

I understand that there are times when you have almost nothing to say to your client. Also, you are paid for design, not writing lengthy emails or messages. However, your client has certain expectations and wants to see some progress. If you send her message, like the one above, it is like writing nothing at all. She has no idea about the progress. In a fact, it can make her think you are not working on it at all, especially if you use this wording more than once.

In that case, it can seem like you are just trying to make it look like you are working. However, who knows what’s the truth? Conclusion? Young designers, please be more descriptive. Add some details about what has been done and what’s coming soon. One or two medium-size paragraphs will do the job. Also, you can add a screen or link to demo to show the progress. I know that this can be a pain in a butt. However, impatient client will be a much bigger pain.

And, what about the frequency? I like to get in touch with my clients at least twice a week. Usually on Monday and Friday. Again, say what has been done and what is coming soon.

No.10: Educate your clients

Another thing young designers could do to improve their relationships with clients is educating them. What does educating your clients mean? It is simple. All you have to do is this one thing. Explain why you did what you did. In other words, provide some background for your decisions. Showing your client the design and describing your thought process can add enormous value. Clients often see design as something that is just pretty to look at.

When you explain the theory and function behind it, they will understand that design is more than that. Clients will value your work more. They will no longer see you as someone spending his days in Photoshop or Sketch. They will see you as a professional using science-based theory, techniques and rational reasoning. Not just someone playing with different colors. This is something young designers often have to deal with, even veterans.

When you describe the rationale behind the individual design elements, it is no longer some “magic”. It is now something that has specific purpose and function. And, it is also something you can measure and evaluate. Successful web design is not about creating nice website. It is about creating a website that achieves goals you and your clients set. When you educate your client, you can show her how every element in the layout moves the website closer to reaching these goals.

From this point of view, educating clients can help young designers pitch and sell their ideas. Clients want to see that their money are invested wisely. Demonstrate it by showing how every decision is moving the project towards it goals. So, remember, don’t talk about WHAT you did. Your client can see it herself. Instead, talk about WHY you decided to do that instead of something else.

No.11: Set your prices high

There is one episode of Tim Ferris Show where Marc Andreessen shares his advice for startups. This advice is quite simple. Raise prices. I believe that young designers working as freelancers should listen to this advice as well. We are often setting our prices too low. There are several reasons for doing that. First, we don’t know how much to charge for our work. This is especially true in case of young designers just starting out.

Since we also don’t want to risk losing the client, we rather reach for lower estimate of what we think is reasonable price. However, there is no evidence that says that this, lower price, is the right one. Another reason is undervaluing ourselves and our skills. If we don’t think your skills are worth it, why would we charge a higher price? The last reason I want to mention is competition. When we see number of other young designers charging x, we tend to lower our prices as well.

The idea is that we don’t want to lose some project just because someone offered lower price. The problem is that these price wars are not sustainable. There is always someone who can do the job for lower price. So, stop focusing on the price itself and competition around the world. Instead, focus on the value you provide to your client. Then, you don’t have to think about your skills or your competition. Focus on doing the best work you can.

Lastly, setting higher prices is also about setting higher expectation. If you charge more, you are also showing your confidence in yourself and your skills. The opposite is also true. So, think about how do you your clients to see you. Do you want to be seen as a beginner or professional?

No.12: Over-promise and over-deliver

The brings me to over-promising and over-delivering. Some people don’t like this approach. They are afraid of over-promising because they don’t believe that they will deliver on their promises. So, here are we are again, talking about self-doubt. I think that self-doubt is very common among young designers. We like to compare ourselves with people who are currently on the top, who already “made it”. Well, at least I did that when I started.

I was looking at the work of well-known designers and thinking that I am nowhere near that level. It took a lot of time to understand what a mistake it was. First, it is not accurate to compare ourselves with someone who is on completely different level. These people have much more experience than you do when you start. They had to work hard to get where they are. And, it wasn’t a matter of a day or two. It usually takes years to reach that level.

Second, when you look at the final piece, you see only that. You don’t see the hours of hard work that led to it. Uploading a shot on dribbble or creating case study on Behance is usually the smallest fragment of the whole time. Let’s get the facts right before making any assumptions.

What if our self-doubt is not caused by comparing with other young designers? When we are starting, we don’t know much about our abilities. In that case, it is better to aim higher. You can’t grow if you are comfortable. You have to raise the bar and rise to the occasion. Not only that. You have to over-deliver. Do better than you said you will. Sure, you can fail. However, you can also succeed. The only way to find out is to give it a try.

No.13: Don’t work for (or with) assholes

This is a quote from by Erik Spiekermann and it is quite straightforward. The majority of young designers wants to build career in design. For them, design is not a one-time gig. It is something they want to do for the next decades of their life. Chances are that you are one of those people. Then, choose wisely the people you are working with. Wrong people can suck up all your enthusiasm and passion you have for design.

You should wake up every day enthusiastic about your work, not hating it. Sure, there will be days that will be harder, but these should be rare. If you find yourself in a situation where these days are more frequent, maybe it is time for change. Sure, it might not be an option for young designers to be able to choose clients in the beginning. When you start your career or business, you may have to work with less pleasant people. However, this should be only temporary.

If you need some motivation to work hard and do great work, this might be it. Remind yourself that you are doing it so you don’t have to do it in the future. If you are now working with client from hell, remind yourself that it is only temporary. It will get better. And, when this happens, it will be up to you to decide who to work with. Don’t rush this decision. Remember that wrong people can suck up you passion for design. Don’t work with assholes.

If you want to stay in the game for a long time, work with people you admire and like. Work with people you would want to hang out with. Work will take a lot of your life. Spend this time in a good company, not in hell.

No.14: Be grateful

My last advice for young designers is to be grateful for everything that happens. I believe that it is better to see everything as some kind of opportunity. Everything that happens is a chance for you to learn. It doesn’t matter whether it is good or bad. In a fact, what is good for you may not be good for someone else. I also believe that nothing is either good or bad. All events are neutral. It’s the meaning we give to these events that makes the difference.

If you think that something is bad, it will be. The same is true about the opposite. My advice for young designers is to focus on the positive side. Remember, there is always something you can gain from the experience. Tight deadline or impatient client can teach you how to handle stress. Difficult clients can teach you how to get better in communication. Difficult clients can also remind you how great your previous clients were and how you would love to work with them instead.

Vague project description can teach you how to improvise and be more independent. There is always some lesson you can learn and improve yourself or your work. There is always some benefit. Be grateful for that and remember that even the worst things are just temporary.

Closing thoughts on advice for young designers

These are the 14 advice I have for young designers around the world. I hope that these advice will help you build your career or business. I know that not all advice will provide the same value. Some will be more helpful and some less. Also, some will become more useful with only time. Still, I hope you enjoyed this mini series. And had a good time reading it. 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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