Here Are My Best 30 Tips For Designers

by Rafal Tomal

Imagine you can go back in time five or ten years and you have ten minutes to talk to yourself. What professional advice would you give to your younger you (except for “buy Apple stock”)?

Here are my 30 practical tips that I collected based on 10 years of freelancing and working for a couple of different companies around the world.

1. Value your work and yourself.

Design is an incredibly valuable service for businesses. Show it to your clients and expect respect. What you do really matters.

2. Charge based on the value, not time.

Estimate how much value your work brings to your client, not how much time you need to spend to complete it.

3. Keep your portfolio out of your website.

Use a 3rd party service to store your portfolio (like or It’ll make both your website redesigns and managing your portfolio much easier.

4. Stay focused.

Creative people have a tendency to have too many “in progress” projects. Successful creative people are those who can focus on the project they are working on and who ship often.

5. Design to solve problems.

Focus on identifying your client’s problems and how you can solve them with your design.

6. Do your best work every single time.

No matter what project you’re working on, make sure you always try to do your best design ever. Take only those projects that challenge you. If you can’t afford to spend that much time on the project, you shouldn’t be working on it.

7. Your design won’t sell itself. Present it.

Provide logical explanations to all of the major decisions you’ve made when showing a design mockup to your clients. Never send bare mockups or you’ll get unwanted feedback and a long list of changes.

8. Have a design process.

Try to systematize your work whenever it’s possible. List all of your steps and try to follow the same pattern from project to project. (see my ebook for more)

9. Under-promise and over-deliver.

Never promise your client something that you’re not sure if you can deliver. Surprise your client with something positive, like delivering the project three days before the deadline or adding something extra.

10 Make sure your client is prepared to work with you.

Check if your client has all the information, materials and content needed to start the project before booking it in your calendar. If not, offer a discovery process to help your client figure it out and write the content.

11. Don’t work without a contract.

A contract protects both you and your client. Always sign one. Just in case.

12. Don’t work on elance or 99designs.

You won’t make a great career taking projects from crowd-sourcing services. Maybe if you’re really desperate…but no, even then please don’t.

13. Start a blog and teach what you know.

Your blog can be your best marketing engine for your service.

14. Have a side project.

Work on something you’re passionate about on the side. Try to produce a different kind of work that you normally do.

15. Be nice and generous.

People want to work with people they like. Connect with your audience by being helpful, responsive and generous with your time.

16. Connect with other designers.

Attend conferences (check out Circles Conference) and join online discussion groups to make connections with other designers and web developers. You may get a lot of referrals from other freelancers who are too busy at the time.

17. Have a solid work ethic.

Work hard and be disciplined. Always deliver on time and keep your word. It might be worth more than your design skills.

18. Learn to say “no”.

Rejecting projects is nothing unusual in this business. Filter your potential clients and choose who you want to work with.

19. Create more than what you consume.

There are so many great blogs, books, courses, video tutorials, but it’s all consuming someone else’s content. Learning is important but choose what’s most valuable to you and focus on spending more time creating your own content instead.

20. Stop comparing yourself to other designers.

There will be always someone better than you. Stop comparing your skills to other designers. Focus on doing your own thing and pretty soon you’ll find people who admire you.

21. Never stop learning design theory.

Design theory is a foundation of modern web design. Learn the theory so you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. (read more: “5 Tips To Improve Your Design Skills”)

22. Browse other designs every day.

Spend a little time every day browsing inspiration galleries and deconstructing how the designs were made. Try to guess why designers made certain decisions.

23. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment with new things.

Try at least one new thing in every project.

24. Sketch your design ideas.

Sketching your ideas on the paper first will help you to release your creativity and train your brain to better visualize your thoughts. You can quickly try different concepts without wasting too much of your time. (read more: “Sketch Your Design Ideas”)

25. Provide style guides to your mockups.

A web style guide is like a source code of your design. Make sure it includes your typography, color scheme and UI elements. Web developers will love you. (read more: “Free Web Style Guide PSD Template”)

26. Learn about marketing.

You can be the best designer in the world, but the poorest one if you never learn about marketing. A good marketing strategy will help you to position yourself against other designers and bring you great clients.

27. You are better than you think.

Have you heard about Dunning–Kruger effect? Highly skilled people have a tendency to underestimate their abilities.

28. Take a break from the project you are working on.

If you work on one project for too long, take a break, work on something else and come back to the project two days later. You’ll see it from a different perspective.

29. Sell yourself, not your portfolio.

Tell your clients about yourself, who you are, what’s your story, your skills, experience and authority. Just pretty pictures in your portfolio won’t help you to get more clients. (read more: “What Really Sells Your Freelance Design Service?”)

30. It’s about your experience, not talent.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success” claims that you need around 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field.

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