Tips from a Graphic Designer:
Recently I participated in a portfolio review as a mentor. That’s kind of wild to me as I feel like I just went to a portfolio review as a mentee. It was interesting to see where everyone came from, and how they built their portfolios, and to listen to their dreams, aspirations, and fears.
Some people approach design as a job, and nothing more. Some people it’s their whole life, and true passion, others just fell into it and are trying to find their way. No matter what people’s motives are to be a designer there is one thing green designers overlook. Why they’re actually pursuing design as a career in the first place.
Because art and design is so subjective it’s easy to get caught up in the ego, validation, and need for confidence in making anything at all. I think the way to exist in an office setting where creative is supporting business and, what that really means, is overlooked. There are always graphics jobs out there that just have you be a worker bee. You plug in the fonts, and objects into the templates and move along. Then there are other graphic jobs that are in house and require a ton of imagination - but in the scope of a marketing strategy - and those are the problems to understand and solve for. Then there are the competitive cut throat agency jobs that require you to constantly up the ante. Because of these types of graphic jobs I think it’s important to consider why you want to participate. What problems do you want to solve as a designer? What enriches your creative spirit? How involved in your work do you need to be to have ‘success’? What does it mean to be successful and grow to you?
In the beginning of our design careers we focus so much on getting any work it’s hard to set goals for ourselves and gain perspective to how we lead or support with our design. We feel we need to constantly prove ourselves, we second guess everything, and we have to constantly balance our ego with our learnedness. Being in the design field since 2013 and having every kind of team and boss you could think of, I have some general things to consider as you grow into a successful designer in your field, however specialized it may be.
Understand Your Value, and Set Boundaries:
I couldn’t tell you how many Junior Designers I see pull long hours at their job. Sometimes the job warrants staying later to hit a deadline, but if this is becoming common practice for you, to stay so late, or not take breaks, consider that your support system at work may be failing you. Often times most in house agencies or small businesses have more work than designers. You are one person. You should not be forgoing meals, breaks, or sleep for a system that actually needs more people to help support it, not an overly dedicated individual. That being said the opposite could be happening too. You’re just sitting around with a bunch of ideas and no one is listening. If you’re being underutilized, look for someone who wants to use you and ask where you can be most helpful. This may result in a department change, a team change, or a job change, but, you have ideas! Someone somewhere will see the value you have and want it on their team.
Curate Your Learning and Find ‘Your People’:
Often times in this world you’ll start out on your own. You will constantly introduce yourself to new people, teams or colleagues - especially if you’re a freelancer. Sometimes you may even end up at a place that has no creative director. Do yourself a huge favor and try to find people to always be learning from and who will challenge you to do better. Or find someone who has a great understanding of what you need to be supporting with your design so you can learn ‘the business’ from them. It will inform your design so much more and help you solve for the problem a lot better. Often times we’re thrown into the trial by fire, for a lot of designers this is fun, but it takes a lot of discipline to curate how you learn all the time. I’ve seen a lot of people have such big ego’s they stop learning and think they are only teachers. I don’t necessarily agree that’s what makes a well rounded designer. Talk to people around you if you’re in an office. Learn what they do in the bigger scheme of the business, or how they design stuff. If you don’t work in an office find online resources, mentorship programs, or design workshops. Always be standing outside your comfort zone a little bit. You’re only as good as your tool box. Make sure you’re always looking for new tools to stay sharp.
Own What You May Think Your Weakness Is:
I think working for a business can be intimidating to creatives. “How am I supposed to understand what marketing is doing, or how to read these statistics, or feel good about suggesting something?” No matter what is happening in business creatives are all good at one thing no matter what - telling a story. Artists, creatives, designers, are all telling a story with visuals. We set tones in the way things look and feel, and we refine the messaging to the goal it was created for. We are tapping into an emotional response to draw other people to the story we are telling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a room not knowing what people are talking about because of the jargon they use - if I don’t know what they’re saying to me, how will the consumer? I have to tell the customer through the packaging or ad I am making the messaging to support the marketing goals. There is nothing wrong with raising your hand in a meeting and asking what words mean, what acronyms mean, and trying to figure out the over all goal to what what everyone is saying. It’s not amateurish to do that, and it’s not weak to do that. If anything other department heads will be impressed that you, the designer, are trying to understand them. Instead of sheepishly shrinking in meetings, or pretending you know what everyone is saying, just own you don’t know and ask. I also promise you’re not the only one in the room who is lost. You are the authority on something, own that first, and what you don’t know second. It all leads to being well rounded and supporting the team through your specialty.
Over all, the biggest help to your confidence will be in defining why you design. As well as why you design for the clients you design for.
Me personally, I love the 9-5. Love going to an office with a company who has a lot of resources and interest in trying new things, and an interest in being design lead. They give me freedom to explore, consider new ideas, and let me bring my passions to work. I love solving a problem for a consumer. I love setting a product up for success in it’s launch by telling the consumer the products story and engaging them in it. I enjoy helping a company take a stand in a social issue they are passionate about, like global sustainability and recycling. I can help them tell that story, consistently and with integrity.
It’s ok if these points take time for you to refine for yourself. These took me 5 almost 6 years to develop for myself. I had to try a lot of design styles to learn what I liked and what I wanted to pursue further. It was also super scary and taxing to try over and over and see where I felt I fit. But this is why I write all of this for you to read. It’s ok to not have everything define. It’s ok to be somewhere you may not like if it’s in effort to find what you do like. And it’s ok to just keep trying or change your mind. Success means something different for everyone. I encourage you to consider what it may mean to you and develop that further.