Lessons learned from 10 years in design

February 25, 2014
4 min read
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Birthdays. A reminder that another year has gone by, and you are another year older. If you're like me, your birthday is a time for reflecting on the events of previous years and contemplating the things you hope to accomplish in the coming year. As I thought about my 32nd birthday, I realized it has been 10 years since I first set out on my career path as a graphic designer. Wow a decade in the design industry. It's been a very fun, and at times trying, ride. The lessons I've learned and the experiences I've had, have made it all worthwhile.

With 10 years under my belt, I thought I might share some of the insights I've learned along the way.

Critique is not criticism
As a designer, you learn that everyone has an opinion of your work. While this can at times be frustrating, one of the best lessons I learned was how to take critique. When you've spent hours crafting a design for a client, you can get a little too close to your work to be objective. Allowing feedback from others gives you a fresh perspective on your work, and possibly leads to design solutions you hadn't thought of. Listen without ego, and use critique to help better your work. I believe that the difference between critique and criticism, is that critique analyzes a project and offers solutions to any potential challenges, while criticism is personal opinion focused on a perceived negative element without offering solutions. As a designer, it is good to know the difference so that you can effectively give and receive good critique.

Don't get lost in translation
When dealing with clients, one of the hats you wear is that of interpreter. It's up to you to interpret their ideas and give them life. And let's be honest, there will be times when you feel like they are speaking another language. Knowing how to communicate is essential. A designer has to know how to interpret what the client is asking for and in turn communicate that back to the client. There will be times when they say they want green when they mean teal. Modern when they mean conservative. And it's up to you to decipher all of this and present a complete and compelling design solution.

Play well with others
A graphic designer is never an island. Throughout your career you will work with others. This includes developers, printers, clients, creative directors, and production artists to name a few. Even as a freelance designer, you will find yourself engaging with people. It is in your best interest to know how to work well with others. No one enjoys working with a diva. All it takes is a bad review from a client or vendor, and your reputation is in danger. Do yourself a favor, and keep your mouth (and ego) in check. Think first before a sarcastic remark or aggressive tone comes out of your mouth or through an email. People do business with people they know and get along with. Even though you may be the most talented designer in the city, no one will work with you if there's a perception of being a difficult designer.

Stay relevant
Technology, styles and trends are constantly changing. In order to have a long career in the design industry, you need to be aware of the things impacting your field. Stay up-to-date on current design events and trends. Engage with other creatives in your field. Go to seminars or enroll in a class. Get out of your comfort zone and learn a new technique. You want to be relevant in order to be competitive. Because that 20-something your company just hired is gunning for your job (I know because I was that 20 something lol). While experience is always important, if you can't speak to what's happening now, you'll find yourself left behind.

Always be ready for inspiration
Every designer has their own unique style of design. As you continue to gain experience, it's easy to rely on the same bag of tricks over and over again. While I encourage every designer to develop their own aesthetic, keep your eyes open and allow new inspiration to challenge you. Don't fall into a pattern of complacency. Pick up that square peg and find a new way of fitting it into that round hole. After all, at our core we are artists. And one of the best parts of being an artist is seeing the world in a different way than it is presented.

Now that my first 10 years in design are behind me, I'm excited to see what the next 10 has in store. After all, I plan to still be in my 30's by then.

What lessons have you learned from years of experience in your field? Are you still inspired?


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