Tips for young designers?

over 2 years ago from , Digital Designer at Bigger Picture Digital Agency

I'm a young designer, wanting to become the best I can be. My dream is to open my own design studio. What tips could you guys give me to achieve my goals?


  • Account deleted over 2 years ago

    This is super open-ended and we could chat for hours about this. So, I'll toss a couple quick ones at you now and add more later if I can:

    1) Look for full-time opportunities that will benefit you in the long-game. I'd recommend that you set timeframe from now until you open your own studio.That's your goalpost. Let's say it's 10 years. Now aim to land full-time jobs that will help you towards that goal.

    Choose jobs and freelance with that always in mind... "how will this help me learn and progress to meet my goal?". At first, the kind of jobs may not seem glamorous, but teach you a ton. Maybe it's production design. Doing that for a year or 2 will jump-start your networking pool, teach you what it's really like to grind on something, and a little about politics. It will usually have you touching a lot of different things too. Move steadily up to roles with more face-time, more responsibility, etc.

    2) Networking. This is everything. The more people you know, that like the work you've done, etc will make life far easier in terms of freelance, full-time opportunities, AND your goal to have your own agency. I know more than a few guys that worked at a few agencies and finally went out on their own... their connection pool is amazing. They already had contracts lined up BEFORE quitting the day jobs. Build that rep, work on anything that may build new relationships, etc

    I've said it before on here... I have literally done Powerpoint designs for CEOs in the past. Every single one of them has then referred me to another company or another CEO. I've landed some cool work because of that willingness to help someone like that out. I've turned down opportunities too, but as I said above... think of your goalpost - your long game. Will doing a silly banner campaign put a cool company into your rolodex? Will a simple email design build a ton of long-term projects for that startup in a year or so when they get millions in funding? Not everything you do needs to be portfolio worthy - and sometimes you'll get work you can't show anyways because of NDAs - but the connections you build can sometimes be just as, if not more, valuable.

    Good luck and never quit!

    24 points
    • , over 2 years ago

      Thank you so much! This will help me a tonne!

      0 points
    • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 2 years ago

      This is good advice. Definitely a smart idea to keep your long term goals in mind, and be as helpful as you can to as many people as you can (yep, just paraphrasing).

      I’d also add that opening your own studio means running a business. That has its own challenges and things you’ll need to learn. The business and networking side might dictate your chance of success more than your actual design skills, so it’s worth paying some attention to that as well.

      2 points
      • Mike A.Mike A., over 2 years ago

        Gold!: "The business and networking side might dictate your chance of success more than your actual design skills"

        Many designers still believe it's the level of their craft what determines their success. This is so wrong.

        0 points
  • Pablo StanleyPablo Stanley, over 2 years ago

    Some time ago I asked some designers that work in the industry to give a nugget of wisdom to young designers and made a video about it. Peeps from Google, Twitch, UENO/InVision, Airbnb, Eventbrite, Asana give their take: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOaS9EFfjWg

    I hope that helps a bit :)

    10 points
    • Manny Larios, over 2 years ago

      Great video! Also: me encanta tu podcast. A sido muy bueno aprender cómo explicarle a mi familia lo que hago día a día. Al principio nomás sabían que era 'como un' diseñador grafico, pero en realidad diseño interfaces usuarias y experiencias para productos digitales. Intenta explicarle eso a tus padres :)

      2 points
    • Kate HsiaoKate Hsiao, over 2 years ago

      Great video! Thanks for sharing. :)

      1 point
  • Gage Salzano, over 2 years ago

    Work harder than everyone around you.

    Don't stress about finding a job just keep making stuff with every spare second you have and eventually you will land something.

    Go to events and art shows on a regular basis for inspiration.

    Don't listen to what the cool kids say and work for free for friends and non-profits or companies that are really doing a good thing and have no money. This is how so many designers got their start and built early skills and a lot still do it in order to get into new industries or to learn new techniques or software they can't charge for yet. (Don't offer to work for free for a project that has a budget to win it over another designer, thats not what I'm talking about.)

    Life is not fair, accept that as the designer on a team you'll end up doing tons of non-design related tasks that people on your team don't want to do in order to make your work successful or just get it out the door. Data entry, photo retouching, deck proofreading, etc, all of this stuff will fall on your shoulders from time-to-time. It's part of the job sometimes, if you don't do it nobody will and your work will suffer.

    If they haven't assigned a copywriter to a project don't look at that as a negative but as an opportunity to brush up on your writing skills. That will be one of the most important skills you can improve outside of design. Never use lorem ipsum, just stop..think and write what you think the design should communicate. You already do that visually. Overtime you will get better which will make you a 10x better designer.

    Collect really amazing design and copy it in your off time to understand what those designers were doing.

    Your first 2-3 jobs will most likely be crazy shit-shows. Embrace it and soak up as much as you can. It's bootcamp for later opportunities.

    All of it will pay off because if you work hard enough you'll never have to goto lame networking events and can work from your apartment in mesh shorts. Oh, and get paid to design things...Isn't that crazy? :)

    3 points
  • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, over 2 years ago

    I'm going to piggy back on a lot of what Benjamin Rogers has said. There is an incredible amount of advice that DN can give you on this topic. Here is what I have shared with a young designers before.

    1) Plan for the long game. Ben put this very eloquently. If you have a goal to start your own agency or be an in-demand digital nomad, choose opportunities that will help you achieve those goals. Giving yourself timeframes to work with can help motivate you to hustle.

    2) Networking really is everything. Reputation is everything too. People want to work with great people who produce results. Every freelance gig I've taken on I have asked them to introduce me to someone in their network or who could benefit from my services. I did a website for a guy in the collections industry who introduced me to his neighbor in home improvements, who introduced me to a friend of his who was the CFO at a local trucking association and so on. My goal, at the time, was to always work for myself...and for a while, I did just that. Once I changed my goal, then I started working towards that by taking on jobs and opportunities that were in line with my new goal...which brings me to the next point...

    3) Expand your Knowledge. I love design and started out as a pure print graphic designer doing ads for a magazine. 10 years later, I now run a CX team at a large company focused on user experience design strategy, and what has helped me get here is planning for the long game, networking, and learning as much as I can. I don't mean that you have to go super deep with other disciplines to learn, but having a solid understanding of the overlapping disciplines with design will make you more marketable and skilled. I got into UX because of a desire to learn what made my designs fail or succeed, and starting to learn about user-centered design. Designing UI was fun, but I wanted to know how to actually make it...so I learned how to write HTML/CSS, which informed me on a lot of disciplines. It's not necessary to be a master of everything (and frankly, you can't be a master of everything...nor would you want to?) but have enough knowledge to contribute and be part of larger discussions. Especially if you want to run your own studio, learning business skills is a must...and by freelancing, you'll gradually learn the basics.

    4) Don't chase fame. The people we truly respect in the design industry built their reputation. I was really guilty of this and it was poison for me personally and professionally. If you want to be well-known and respected; do good work, be humble, and treat people with respect.

    5) Have a life outside of design. You don't want to have design and industry consume your entire life. Have some hobbies, get outside, do whatever that gives your mind a mental break from design. I love to brew beer and play drums (super stress reliever). Burnout is real and can easily creep into your life. Stay centered and you'll enjoy the long haul.

    6) Don't burn bridges. There have been people I have worked with/for in the past whom I would no cares if they dropped off the face of the world today, but don't sour your chances with talking about how shitty a client was or how bad a contractor was your worked with. Frankly, people don't want to hear it and it doesn't do you any good to dwell on them. As hard as it is, don't let them get to you. I've worked with some people at an agency that wasn't helping me in my long game, I was chasing fame because I was too insecure in myself at the time, and I worked with some colleagues that espoused some of the worst traits in humanity. I left that company, learned my lessons for being an idiot, and moved on to a startup. 3 months later, a colleague from the last place hit me up on LinkedIn and he left the company and wanted to know if I would be interested working on a project with him. It was a neat project from the sound of it but they guy was kind of an ass from my experience. I met with him, had a totally different experience and learned he was so burnt out and tired that he needed a change. We worked on the project together and had a great professional relationship. This scenario had a happy ending, but it could have gone a lot different if I started spouting off my dislike. In the end, praise the folks who do good work, everyone else isn't worth the air.

    2 points
  • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, over 2 years ago

    Respect but fear electricity. Also, there are no straight lines to anything.

    2 points
  • Nicholas BurroughsNicholas Burroughs, over 2 years ago

    Stay hungry and tenacious.

    1 point
  • Adam Karpisz, over 2 years ago

    Do. A lot. For clients. For friends. For yourself. All the books, tutorials, webinars etc. won't be worth much if you'll be lacking practical experience. The more you do, the better your work will be and the more exposure you'll get.

    Also, in terms of your own design studio - there is sooooo much more to having a design studio than just being a good designer. Most studio owners and creative directors (real ones, with at least 3+ people under them and managing big projects) say the same - the more successful you are, the less design you will do. You'll need to understand how to manage people, how to handle clients, how to work on both small and giant projects. Otherwise, you'll break under your own weight. The only way to obtain that sort of knowledge is by experience. Safe way - work under a good manager/creative director/whatever. Risky - learn by doing. But from my experiences, I can say: it's better to learn from other peoples mistakes than to make the same mistakes on your own. Find people that have the skills you desire and learn from them.

    0 points
  • Mike Cordeiro, over 2 years ago

    Don't be afraid to ask for help. But before you ask, see if you can find a solution yourself.

    The junior designers that stand out to me are those that are able to show what they've tried to solve the problem, before asking for help.

    0 points
  • Account deleted over 2 years ago

    I come from the graphic design / branding side of design and notice young designers seem to be concerned with finding that cool style (I know I did). BUT as designers we must be able to take inspiration from everywhere. Never limit yourself to a particular look or trend of the moment. You can run the risk of pigeon holing yourself into work that doesn't have a long lifespan. So don't worry about it because you will eventually find your style.

    Instead, look at art, architecture, nature, music covers, magazines, photography, bad design, good design, furniture, toys, websites, apps, wayfnding systems, books...whatever! Everything applies. In general just learn to appreciate all forms of design and try everything. Become a cultural sponge that can tap many influences on command. You never know when a particular client or project calls for a certain vibe. With that, inject your own twist to make it fresh. It will ultimately make you stronger.

    Lastly, it's about who you know. I don't like networking but, just be kind and never stop meeting people!

    0 points
    • Account deleted over 2 years ago

      Yeah. I guess I should clarify. By networking I don't specifically mean meet-ups and stuff really. I meant it more broadly... building relationships with co-workers, clients, etc. Meet-ups have their place (as well as conferences), but the term networking is much broader than that. Like David mentioned, it's who you know.

      Fun fact about me: Before Lynda.com was online, she ran classes out of Ojai, CA for different things for a week at a time. I went twice (Flash AS)... and the second time I ran into some insanely talented people... got to chatting one day and they liked my stuff. Next thing I know they recruited me to Boston. Networking is huge.

      2 points
  • Helen . Helen . , over 2 years ago

    Benjamin Rogers have a ton of good points that I would suggest as well.

    To throw things out there that wasn't mentioned, I would highly encourage you to do side projects and give yourself design challenges. I'm a self-taught designer and been freelancing aside from working at an agency and startup full-time for the past 7 years. Throughout this whole time, I constantly worked on passion projects and did freelance so I am constantly tackling new design challenges with different business problems.

    Happy to critique any work you may need another pair of eyes on. Best of luck!

    0 points
  • Ollie BarkerOllie Barker, over 2 years ago

    Always be prepared to share your work for feedback. Nothing is better to help evolve your skills than feedback from others.

    0 points
  • Ismael Branco, over 2 years ago

    dont do it at first, get some networking first, then get some regular clients, and after that, do it! i just gave you this advice to make it sustainable, or after one year youll close it because you cant live from it ;)

    0 points