Countless blogs, self-help guides, professional marketing materials and a variety of online gurus purport to know and provide the expert advice you need to be truly successful in web design and online graphic arts. In reality, most of it is a bunch of fluff that offers little to no insight into actual working conditions that will not help you elevate yourself in the industry. Great designers know otherwise.
It stands to reason that if you really want to get somewhere and learn some of the best practices of the industry, you need to talk to people who are actually working. In light of that fact, here’s a list of some of the best and most helpful advice from great designers.
If you aspire to be something special in the industry — or just want to succeed — this is a great place to start.
1. Never Assume People Understand Design
Many of us take for granted the fact that the average person uses and relies on modern technology on a daily basis. Because of this, it’s incredibly easy to forget there are many out there unfamiliar with working operations and processes. In the case of design, it’s easy to get caught up in our daily work and overlook the fact that people don’t truly understand how the industry works.
Alexander Isley said it best: “Don’t assume people are familiar and comfortable with (or even aware of) the design process. What we do is often a mystery to people[…]”
You should always remember that as you work with new clients and potential customers.
“[I]t’s worth taking the extra time in input sessions and (especially) presentations to explain, in normal and human and non-jargony terms, how you went about approaching the solving of a problem. You’ll be surprised how well this approach will serve you.”
2. Great Designers Say Success Is Defined ‘Over Time’
Don’t go into every single project or gig you take on thinking it will be the one and only time you have to showcase your talents and succeed. That’s not the case at all. This thought process isn’t so much of a problem if you can complete each project within the scope of your primary goal. But when you have multiple failures or setbacks, it can really define your career in a negative light.
As Sean Adams so eloquently puts it, “Success is defined by a series of successful projects over an extended period of time.”
“Saul Bass told me [this]. I was convinced that every project was my last chance to succeed. Alternatively, each failure signaled the end of my career. Saul was right. Some projects were as ugly as something the cat coughed up, but the next one was better. And some projects were incredibly successful, and then the next one came along and it was left behind. The world isn’t black and white.”
Great designers would advise you not to look at the sum of your work on a case-by-case basis but instead as your entire portfolio. Yes, that means someday long from now will be the appropriate time to look back on your career — not in the thick of duties.
3. Be ‘Eccentric and Memorable’ to Stand Out
There are so many professionals operating in the design and development industries these days that it can be extremely difficult to stand out. That makes it even tougher to find or claim work when your talents are considered the same as the designer next to you. Prove this is far from true by being ‘eccentric and memorable,’ as Margo Chase describes.
“There are far too many cookie-cutter design portfolios. I am always impressed when a young designer includes personal work that they’re passionate about — even if it isn’t graphic design. Illustration, photography, painting, embroidery, jewelry…it’s all design and requires skill and dedication to do well. Shows that you’re a multidimensional person.”
She compels designers to “find way[s] to present your work that highlight your particular skills.”
4. Great Designers Want You to Expand Your Horizons
Barry Deck’s advice for aspiring designers is to expand their limits and continue to learn and grow beyond regular design. “Get a second degree in something totally different — neuroscience, medicine, linguistics or whatever feels right.”
His explanation is that design experience, skills and talents are at their “most powerful when applied where they intersect with another discipline or two, or three.” You don’t need to be a “specialist in design,” but instead can divide your talents and experiences among a variety of disciplines.
In other words, learn to expand your horizons and grow, as it will truly help your design talents bloom. After all, great designers know innovation never comes from a stagnant source.
5. Give Your Own Work Devotion
Finally, one of the best insights you could ever gain comes from Gail Swanlund and details the idea of really offering meaning to your work.
“Work for things, and with people, you believe are good. Good work and good people attract more good. Work outdoors. If you’re stuck, go outside and watch squirrels or take a walk. Take paper and a pen.”
Don’t just allow yourself to follow a set path for the rest of your life. Learn to step outside yourself and your normal processes, and explore. As Swanlund says, “give your own work devotion.”
You can do that by striving to work for and with elements in the industry that you adore. It’s okay to turn down work sometimes, especially duties that don’t match your skills or preferences. Learn to accept what you’re good at and honor your primary talents.
Design, like it or not, is about art and style. You need to strive to follow and create throughout your entire career, and you must push for new boundaries always. Take the advice from these great designers and keep pushing the design boundaries.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.