I’m reluctant to advices. It usually takes me a while to accept and process one. I’m naturally inclined to do the exact opposite of what I’m told, just because I feel that way, I do not have a reason. Everybody is inclined to defy a certain level of “authority”.
It usually goes this way:
Refuse the advice -> Do my own thing -> Failing -> Applying the advice without telling the adviser.
That’s my process, for good or bad.
After all, “who are you to tell me what to do ?”
Two weeks ago, I published my article “How I joined Google”.
I was expecting a few comments here and there, nothing crazy.
I was also anticipating the feedback a bit as it was quite personal.
Needless to say I was extremely pleased by the warm welcome it received and really surprised by how numerous you were. It reached thousands of you. Some in ways that I didn't expect, more profound than what I thought it could be. I received messages from all around the world. I love that. Hearing from people’s different challenges, dreams and expectations helps you put yours in perspective. I feel humbled and now I’ll be anticipating the reactions event more when publishing something. I’ll try to make future publications as useful.
Back to the subject. During these two weeks, I also received a significant amount of messages asking for advices. Significant enough that I thought it would be useful to condense the answers into different sections to make the most out of it, and for everyone to see.
Hopefully it won’t be too patronizing. Take these advices lightly. Look around for other opinions and shape your own based on your experience.
The tools I am using.
I use Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketch. I’m slowly trying to switch to Sketch for the most part of my work process, from wireframing to high fidelity mocks, assets and specs. I wrote an article a week ago about my first impressions. Feel free to check it out, especially the end where I gathered a bunch of useful links to resources and people to follow if you want to learn. I also share a lot of sketch related links on my g+ page.
There are a lot of tools out there and a lot a opinions on the matter. Ultimately it comes down to one thing.
There is a best tool for the job. It’s the one you are the most comfortable using. Try everything if you have to but time and work will be the factors that will define what YOU need as a designer/coder/prototyper or unicorn rider. Do not let hype or people decide for you.
Personal projects and freebies
I was asked multiple times if creating freebies was important to get where I am and if it was mandatory. To be short, yes it was important for me and of course: no, it is absolutely not mandatory. It comes down to what you want to do in your spare time, as a personal project.
Mine was this, yours can be anything else.
Some may say that creating freebies is a waste of time because it is not a “real” project. It is true in some ways. Like redesigning big name websites or applications, sometimes it doesn't bring anything really valuable to the table and they can be just shiny things without any kind of thinking behind it. It depends on how much thought you put into it.
Consider creating freebies and making up your own design project as a way to work on things you want and enhance your technical skills. To get the most out of it, work on subjects that troubles you in real situations or things you want to improve by doing over and over.
For me, it was also a good way to give back to the community. Just keep in mind that it can’t replace the experience of a real-life design project.
Creating freebies is a great way to train your skills and get exposure, but it requires a lot of commitment.
During the 5 years I did this, I created a total a 63 freebies, big and small, totaling around 400 000 downloads. I did them at the right time where the number of freebies websites was fairly small and I was featured on a lot of them.
As time went by, I published a bit less and by the time I joined Google, I was publishing something like once every 6 months. I couldn't keep up anymore. The amount of downloads are nowhere near what it was when I was doing it once every one or two weeks.
It is a lot of commitment and it pays in the long run if the quality is there.
It is a great way to practice your skills both in visual design, obviously and in UX design if you want to tackle something a bit more complex, like information hierarchy and interaction.
In the end, here’s what I think is important:
Do not force it. If you do not enjoy what you are doing on your personal time, go do something else. Having fun is what you need to look for. Do not listen to others when it comes to finding what you want to do and don’t think there is an easy way into getting exposure. It takes time.
When you found what you want to do and once you are satisfied and happy with what you did, share. Give back to the community. Your personal projects and portfolio will be the testimony of your involvement and passion for the field you chose.
Probably the most asked question. How to get more exposure ? How to get people and recruiter to notice you ?
Let me start by saying that some of the best designers I know are not active on Dribbble, nor Twitter. Some do not even go to design conferences.
How social you are, the numbers of followers you have is not a testimony of how good of a designer you are.
The time spent on something else than work is time not spent working.
The only thing you should be worried about when you start is the quality of your work. Do beautiful things, people will come. The quality of your work is ultimately what will speak for you and what will get you where you want to be. Do not settle for “ok”, do the best you can. Your work doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be honest.
So does it mean that the greatest designers are not social ? Of course not.
I can see why you could think I am being hypocrite here since I basically built my career thanks to Dribbble.
It was a definitely a great way to get noticed but my work is what got me here… At least I hope… Or maybe it was the beret…
Getting involved on social networks and communities is very time consuming and it will be even more if you have nothing to bring. Prioritize and once you are ready to get out there and show off your work, go for it.
Related to “Getting exposure”, building relationships is a thing to think about as you progress in your career and this doesn't apply only to designers.
Before looking for the approval of others on the web, do your best to get it from the people around you and who trust you as a young designer. It could be a teacher or you manager/boss during your internship or even your current job.
Do not jump the gun, do not go too fast and do your best, even for the smallest project.
These relationships are what will define you as a young designer. As I mentioned in “How I joined Google”, I was lucky enough to meet people that were eager to help me grow. I was also doing my best in the work I was doing for them.
Do not be afraid of getting in touch with a person you respect, want to meet, or simply want an advice from. This is one mistake I made over and over. Out of shyness, it was hard for me to contact others. Maybe I didn’t feel legitimate enough or maybe I was too proud. Maybe a bit of both. It comes down to how you are wired I guess . But sending a simple email of appreciation can get you far.
Simply be respectful and I’m pretty sure most of the people you will contact will answer you.
Setting your goals
Setting goals can be both good and bad depending on how you approach it. It can help you prioritize things and set you on the right track when you sometimes forget why you are doing what you are doing. But goals can also be a great way to be disappointed if things do not go your way fast enough, or not at all.
A goal is a beacon. Something you head towards that keeps you going. Whether you reach it or not depends on a lot of factors. You may never get to it if it’s out of reach.
Set realistic goals, identify the small steps towards it and be patient.
If you have a big goal in mind, let’s say work for company X, write it down (metaphorically or not) and then put it somewhere where you can forget about it (again metaphorically or not). Use it as a reminder but in the meantime, focus on the journey you need to take. Focus on the quality of your work and do not try to jump the gun.
If you go too fast, you might miss out on important experiences that would have been crucial for you and your career without even knowing it.
Let things go and if something doesn't happen, it means it probably wasn't meant to be.
By the time you goal is in reach, you might realize that it wasn't really what you wanted.
It may sound super cheesy (in fact I’m pretty sure that it is), but the best things do happen when you expect it the less. Simply be consistent in whatever you are doing.
Use the time you spend at school to work as much as you can on as much projects as you can. Do crazy things and make a lot of mistakes. School will be a tremendous opportunity for you to find yourself, and what you love. It will be harder to do so later.
Working and learning on your own in parallel is a great way to get ahead of the game. It will be the best time for you to be curious and learn things.
Finally and this is an important point:
Finding a good school is hard and you might be tempted to think that the school you are in is not the best for you. But if you are lucky enough to be able to be in school, persist and get the diploma. Diplomas are the one thing that self-teaching can’t give you and they will be essential if you ever want to work in another country. They will make every process easier.
The last thing I would say about advice is summed up in this tweet from Wouter De Bres.
You will learn best by doing and making mistakes. Being able to listen and put an advice to good use is a huge plus in your skillset but it can’t replace practice. Experience will be your best advisor and you may even end up disagreeing with a lot of the things that I wrote here, which is all the best I wish you.
Related to the subject, here’s a few links to articles that are worth reading: