Back to Journal
10 Lessons for Young Designers

10 Lessons for Young Designers

I gave a talk to the part-time students at Shillington College not too long ago. I talked about the journey I have been on in my life/career to get to where I am today, talked about some mistakes I made along the way and wrapped up with a list of 10 pieces of advice for them. As I talked, I noticed a lot of the audience furiously scribbling down the advice as I went through the list. With this in mind, I thought it might make sense to flesh these out and post them here for people to see, so here they are:

1: Be creative in the face of constraints

Give yourself restrictions during your studies and early in your career when producing self initiated work. With a fairly loose brief and ample time, most graduates or young designers will be producing good work, so yours then has to be amazing to stand out in a crowded market. I know, that’s hardly a revelation, but in a world where everyone is producing work in these exact same circumstances, standing out is no simple task. A way more appropriate introduction to the industry that you ultimately want to be a part of is to ensure some of your portfolio is filled with work that has been produced under a set of constraints. Give yourself a tight deadline, a restrictive print technique, design constraints… Basically mimic the conditions you may have in industry and work to the best of your ability within them. On the start of most of your journeys, this will prove invaluable. Also, creativity in the face of constraints is a sign of a talented designer, and will help you to stand out when applying for roles.

2: Measure everything

Another point to note with relation to the above (in the quest to be commercially aware) is to measure everything on your projects, be aware of how long it takes you to do things. Eventually, someone will ask you how long a project took to complete or ask you to give a quote for how much something will cost, so make sure you have a record of how long it takes you to produce your work.

3: Be interested

You design best when you are interested in the subject matter. This is not a cue to disappear into your own world and only design covers for the kind of brands and industries you like, but instead me urging you to make yourself interested in what your client is doing – they’re interested, and you can be too. It’s the best way of showing that you have fully researched and understood what it is that they do, and how they do it.

4: Just cause the client is happy, doesn’t mean it’s good

Depending on how ambitious you are, and whether peer feedback and reputation is important to you, producing something on time isn’t the sign of a good piece of design, being under budget is not necessarily something to hang your hat on. If creative work is compromised to hit budgets and timescales (which is understandable), it is still compromised. Sometimes the best thing to ensure the success of a project is to be honest with yourself, your employee and/or your client. If something is improved by having more time or budget invested in it, then in some instances this extra investment should be fought for.

5: Don’t wait for the perfect project

“This brief is too restrictive for me to do anything good for it”, “I don’t have time to do my best work”, “These brand guidelines are stopping me being creative”… All perfect examples of what can only be described as bullshit in my eyes.

6: Have a strategy…

Look for the agencies that you want to work for, who produce the work you would like to work on, that have a culture that you would fit in and target them specifically. Nobody likes receiving emails with literally every other Creative Director in the surrounding county in the CC field…

7: …and be personal

When approaching an agency, please do your research. All of us CDs are on Twitter, there are bios about us and interviews with us all somewhere on the internet. You might not necessarily be able to find out each of our mother’s maiden names, but the least you can do is talk to us – address correspondence with the correct name and at least show you haven’t just plucked us out of the phone book with a “gis’ a job” attitude.

8: Love where you are

Once in industry, whether you choose to work at a big design house or a small boutique agency, surround yourself with people you respect, admire and are inspired by – with a bit of luck they will respect, admire and be inspired by you in return. We spend most of our waking hours in our place of work, so try to ensure it is somewhere you like being. If it isn’t, or is toxic for whatever reason, then walk away – it’s very important to respect the creative output of the people you work with, particularly in the early stages of your career.

9: Talk the talk…

The second most important thing you can learn is how to talk – about yourself, your ideas, your work, talking to colleagues, potential employees, clients… As much as your creativity will be judged by most of these people I just mentioned, the ability to talk well will make a huge difference to how you are perceived by all of them. Communication is what we do after all, and if you can’t talk well, you are going to struggle.

10: …but know when to STFU

Even more importantly than talking is your ability to listen… Nobody likes the guy in meetings who refuses to shut up and talks over everyone else, whose self importance drowns out everything in their vicinity. By the same token, the only way to fully understand a client’s problem is not by talking about yourself, but by listening. Listening to what problems they are having as a business and then applying it to how you can help solve them. This applies to every part of the creative process. When presenting work, you will need to be able to talk about your concepts and also listen to what the client is saying, which parts of your proposal are being well received, which tell-tale signs your audience is giving off that shows they are happy or displeased and all the rest.