February 9, 2020 - No Comments!

9 things I wish I knew fresh out of design school

Since graduating from design school in 2015, I've held a handful of design positions, from marketing to digital products to research to branding. I even gave freelancing full-time, working for myself and hustling for every job, a try. Entering 2020 marks 5 years since university. It both seems like a very long time ago, and not a long time at all. Either way, I have definitely grown a ton as a designer (and as an individual). Looking back, being a fresh new grad was terrible. This is what I would tell my new-shiny-eyed-grad-self.

1. You still suck, this is the beginning, not the end.

The worst new grads are the ones that think they already know everything and that they have nothing else to learn. If you think people who are older than you are outdated and only you, as the fresh young designer, has the clear perspective that will fix the world, you're in for a big rude awakening.

I'd tell myself to seek out opportunities to continue learning (and get your ego in check). Ask questions, not offer advice. You don't know what you don't know. Follow your curiosity.

2. The choices you make today will not last forever.

There was a lot of pressure in my uni program to land a 6-figure job before graduation and move to the valley. And if you weren't in that 3%, then might as well throw out your new degree.

It's fantastic to have ambitious career goals. And, fortunately, a career isn't a one-shot, one-opportunity, kind of game. If you work hard and continue to network in the right circles, opportunities will come, and you'll probably be way more prepared.

Your first design job is most likely not permanent. I'm in a privileged position to work in a booming industry where there is always work. I learned, after working (and quitting) a handful of jobs that I didn't love, that nothing is forever, and you (more or less) are in control of that.

3. You'll have to do things that you don't love. Learn from your experiences.

The hardest interview question as a new grad is "What area of design are you most interested in?"

The true answer was: "whatever you need me to do, because I desperately need a job."

I truly didn't know how to answer that question. I had a strong interest in digital products and experiences but also loved graphic design and branding. So I truly would have been up for any kind of work 🤷🏻‍♀️. And that's what ended up happening. And often things I was good at did not align with what I enjoyed doing.

Things I was pretty good at but did not bring joy to my life:

  • Working on products I don't believe in (like payday loans or natural health treatments)
  • Juggling the needs of rude clients, even if the work/project is cool
  • Playing the job title hierarchy game (actually, I wasn't good at this)

Even though I didn't enjoy some of my work experiences, I learned some very valuable things about the type of work I do want to be doing. From those experiences, I learned my new requirement for work:

  • Does it make the world a better place?
  • Do I enjoy working with these people?
  • Does this project give me positive energy?

4. Don't be afraid to make bad work.

It's better to make something, than not make something at all.

You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket (is that the saying?).

The point is that it's impossible to get better without practice. And practice inevitably yields some shitty designs. But it's okay.

5. If you don't cringe at your old work, that means you're not getting better.

Once you've been practicing a craft for a while, you'll have built yourself a collection of old work, which is often a public portfolio.

Honestly, I curate and edit my personal website every few months, not because I'm job hunting, but because I can't stand to look at my old work. Like what was I thinking? It's like looking back at every haircut you've had since you were 13.

On the bright side, if you think your old work is bad, it means you're growing and becoming a better designer. If you look back at your work and think it's the same level of quality as the work that you currently produce - probably not a very good (de)sign.

6. Don't fall in love with your designs.

Be proud of what you create, but don't fall in love with your designs.

Your work is not a personal reflection of yourself. Feedback on designs that you've worked so long and hard on is not a personal jab at your skills. Design is a collaborative process. Taking feedback, listening to your users, gathering data, iterating are all parts of design.

7. Practice public speaking and presenting work.

A valuable and underrated skill that all designers would benefit from is presenting and public speaking skills. So much of design work is talking about design work. And I was terrible at presentations. It's uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and a completely crucial part of design.

My belief when I first started designing was that "if the work is good, then it will speak for itself". Only after some years of experience, I realize that is not the case, unfortunately. (Wouldn't that be easy?)

With any creative work, there is no one right answer. So communicating the process, thinking, and rationale behind a piece of work is the majority of the battle in a successful design.

Successful designers bring the client or audience along for the journey in answering: "Why is this final design the best solution?".

Frame the problem. Show your work. What solutions did you explore? Why did they work or not? How will this meet the goals? Speak with confidence. Practice constantly.

8. Tell people that you're unemployed or looking for a job.

There is something shameful or embarrassing about being unemployed or looking for a job. Frame it as that you're available and interested in new opportunities and positions. It was a critical part for me in getting freelance projects and new clients.

When a job opening or project comes up, the first thing that the hiring team thinks is: "who do I know that is currently available and looking for a new job?".

For people to know that you're actively seeking a new job is very helpful for them to keep you top of mind.

9. Move at your own timeline.

University can be a stressful time. There a lot of pressure to land a secure job, make money, pay off student debt, not let your parents down...

The truth is that you have the rest of your life to work.

After uni, I worked for about 8 months. Then I travelled for 6 months. Then I came back and started two businesses, worked at a design studio, became a freelance designer, which then brings me to where I am now.

It takes time and experience to build new skills, meet new people, experience life in general, which all is part of the process and your own journey.

I searched "design" on unsplash and eventually came to this photograph by Austin Chan

Published by: Sara in Articles

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