As a Visual Designer who is willing to learn and evolve everyday, the guys at UXswitch.com asked me to think about how to improve and therefore progress in your career. I thought it would be a valuable opportunity, so here are some of my thoughts, challenges and lessons learned over the past years.
Keeping in mind that this field is constantly changing, especially technically, I believe that it is important to build a sustainable career path where creativity, knowledge and work ethic combine and complement each other.
There are several technical skills that make a good Visual Designer such as software proficiency, an eye for detail, typography, composition and color knowledge, the ability to create and translate brand guidelines across platforms. However there are also other characteristics common to other areas within the design sphere that Visual Designers should take note of. They are as important and I will discuss them today.
Design to communicate
Good design is less about decoration and more about telling a story to communicate an idea. There must be meaning to a certain style or aesthetic approach and each graphic element should support that ultimate goal. Grid, typography and color choices should reflect the rational behind it.
Keep an eye on the end goal
As visual designers we tend to over-work some things and get obsessed with little details. There’s nothing wrong with being detail-oriented but sometimes it is important not to get stuck and remember ourselves of the big picture. Once a concept is solid enough there’s always margin for refinements. Manage your time wisely, establishing priorities and defining an execution strategy once you get into production mode.
This is especially true when developing an idea. Many designers jump straight to the computer (I still do it myself) but be careful because it can constrain your creativity. Design programs are brilliant for rigorous execution, while pen and paper serve a more organic process. The kind of process that generates ideas. The last thing you need is to get distracted by pixels, weights and swatches.
Develop your own style
Observe other people’s designs and learn from it. Look at good examples and what’s being done, but be careful with trends. Trends are dangerous, they can go out of date quickly and in the end it will all look “the same”. Try to inject your individual personality on your designs. Apart from your daily work, take time to create your personal projects when you are free. It helps you explore and rehearse different styles, it gives you space to safely fail and play.
Surround yourself by inspiration
Become a curator. Creating your virtual library is very useful. You can have digital materials organized by different folders (i.e. logos, color palettes, illustration, patterns, editorial, packaging) as well as a physical one (books, magazines, postcards, posters). Use Pinterest for example. It is also important to have a stimulating environment. You can, for example, pin quotes, images, color combinations near your desk. Surround yourself by anything that has meaning to you and that will serve you as a future reference.
Seek critiques and advice
There’s this line from James Victore that I particularly like that says: “You have no friends. You have no enemies. You only have teachers”. Be open-minded and flexible. Ask opinions. Seek your peer group feedback. Find a mentor. Network.
Invest on your personal development
Personality is a key skill when it comes to hiring someone. Companies hire people because of outlook, attitude and energy. Develop them and see them as a competitive advantage.
Practice and learn new skills
Look for online tutorials. There are plenty of them that can teach you new things and techniques. Attend to exhibitions and workshops. Research. Read, not only design-related material but also about other topics. This will add depth to your perspective when creating your next design. Hang out with non-designers. Write about your passions and stay active in the design community. Buy books. Travel. Try new food. Be curious and embrace the learning curve. Education should never stop in your career and the most rewarding experiences are the ones that made us leave our comfort zone. Work hard and don’t be afraid to “learn on the fly”. Challenges are what keep us running.