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August 21, 2019

Advice for designers just starting school

Photo by Krisztian Tabori on Unsplash

This article was originally posted on Medium

A letter to my friend, Robbie, that I thought other people embarking on a design career could use.

Dear Designer,

You are about to embark on one hell of a career. You are drawn to graphic design for the same reasons I was — I wanted to live a creative life and have an artistic career.

Let me tell you, Graphic Design is a fantastic career choice. My design career has afforded me freedom, flexibility, adventure, and security. I once got to live in the Canary Islands for free for a whole month to do design support for a non-profit. Design has brought me opportunities to learn lots of interesting things about different industries. It’s also afforded nice cars and properties.

Now is the part where I tell you it’s not easy. It’s not guaranteed. It’s a crowded marketplace with lots of levels to it. You can be a production artist, and that might be just fine for you, or you can be a highly paid consultant. You have some choices to make and some work to put in.

As you embark upon your first design classes I want to offer you some advice:

  • Read all the time. There are so many great design blogs and sites. Stay current, be all over it, and learn from people that take the time to write what they’ve learned.
  • Take business classes. Being a designer is half a career — the other half is to be able to sell your services and run a business or department.
  • Understand the theory. Understand why things work and read classical design theory. Understand why a green button works better than a red one in certain places.
  • Combine talent and grit. Raw talent gets you pointed in the right direction. Grit and determination turn that talent into a career.
  • Don’t dick around. You can be a low paid designer pushing pixels with someone breathing down your neck or you can design your life. Put in the time, the effort, work harder than the people around you, hone your skills, learn your tools (and all the key commands). Be an expert and enjoy all that it can bring.

Good luck and enjoy the journey. Choosing design as a lifelong love and career was one of my best choices and you are about to enter a world with a lot of really interesting people solving real problems.

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

About the author

Amber Sawaya

Amber Sawaya is a UX consultant, best-selling author, and business owner. She writes about UX everywhere, leadership, efficiency, product design, and how to run design departments and small agencies.