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Tips To Quick Start Your Career in Design

Brady Patterson
Jan 30, 2018 · 7 min read

Starting a career in design can seem like a daunting task, but there’s no better way than to jump in head first! I began my career as a designer essentially the moment I downloaded the programs, and successfully freelanced my way through college, and into a coveted role directly out of school. The process wasn’t without it’s fair share of growing pains, but learning on the fly allowed me to try my hand in a number of different fields, learn to deal with clients, and master my creative process. This is less a step by step guide, but more of a list of actionable tips you can use to grow your expertise in any field of design and set yourself up for the future!

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- Master Your Tools

The first thing you want to do is master the programs you’ll be using! Although most programs have endless capabilities, you’ll likely only be using the basics when you’re first getting your feet on the ground so start with some quick and easy tutorials to get familiar with the interface and basic functions. Adobe has a great deal of tutorials on their website, but, and YouTube are great assets to learn the basics of any program. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so find some tutorials that you enjoy and actually follow through with them regardless of how boring they may seem! Once you have a basic understanding of the tools, it’s pretty easy to figure out whatever your looking to do with a simple google search. I’ve been using Photoshop since CS3 and still find myself learning about new tools and ways of doing things within the program!

- Set Actionable Goals

The easiest way to accomplish anything you want in life is to set actionable goals and make them a habit! Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to learn everything at once, take it step by step and find a way to learn something new everyday. Create a vision for yourself and where you want to be. Design is a world of endless possibilities so make sure you’re not cutting yourself short. If your willing to put the work in you can accomplish anything you set your mind too.

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- Start A Journal

Creating a habit of writing everyday has changed my life. It allows me to clear my mind, organize tasks, and reflect on the big picture of what I’m out to accomplish. Try to set aside 10 minutes every morning to sit and write and the changes in your thought patterns will amaze you!

- Create Your Mood board

Finding and tracking your inspirations is essential for your design process! There’s a number of tools and features that allow you to save images, create collections, and set mood boards. I break mine down in a number of broad categories, and will often create specific collections for each project I work on. This gives you a reference base to always look back on and you’ll start to discover amazing artists and designers who do the same. My favorite sites for creating mood boards are:






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- Curate Your Stimulus

Who and what you choose to follow can have a profound impact on your growth as a designer. Be cognizant of the time your spending on things that don’t have a positive impact on your thought patterns. Search for blogs and fellow designers who do inspiring work and connect with them through Social Media. Instagram’s new follow hashtags feature allows you to easily follow the best work and slides them into your feed on a regular basis. Instead of scrolling through meaningless posts on Twitter or Facebook, try to start your day by opening up Medium or Flipboard and read an article in your field.

- Addition by Subtraction

We a have a habit of following people and accounts who bring little value into our lives. I regularly do a sweep and remove any followers who have a negative impact on my creative process. As much as I love watching Worldstar videos and double tapping IG models pictures, I realize seeing 40 fit tea ads a day does very little for my process so keep it to a minimum!

- Follow Industry Leaders

Following industry leaders is a great tool to see how the top designers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists are engaging with their followers. You’ll notice that the most popular Social Media accounts are ones that bring consistent daily value to peoples lives. Keeping up with the people at the top will allow you to see into their daily lives and inspire you to create that reality for yourself. A few of my favorite accounts are:

Gary Vaynerchuck @garyvee

Lewis Howes @lewishowes

Jessica Walsh @jessicavwalsh

Stefan Sagmeister @stefansagmeister

Simon Sinek @simonsinek

James Victore @jamesvictore

Virgil Abloh @virgilabloh

Heron Preston @heronpreston

Bjarke Ingels @bjarkeingels

- Watch More Documentaries

Documentaries are a great resource for visualizing possibilities and getting a glimpse into the minds of industry leaders. The Abstract series on Netflix is a great place to start, as they highlight influencers in a number of different fields. One of my favorite resources is as it gives a brief look into the lives of famous designers from all over the world.

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- Read as Much as Possible

This is a major key if you want to be successful regardless of what field your in! Medium is a great place to start, but I prefer to put my phone down and get away from the world for at least 30 minutes a day. Find a time and place that works for you! I prefer to read on my morning Metro ride to work, but sometimes heading to a park and getting away from the world is just the medicine I need. Some of my favorite books about design, success, and life are:

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Change By Design by Tim Brown

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson

Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuck

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris

The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes

This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn & Jakob Schneider

A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Simple & Usable by Giles Colborne

- Find Passion Projects

Don’t expect for all of your work to come from class projects or you’re setting yourself up for failure! Find a subject your passionate about and want to explore on your own terms and create a brief. Think about the companies you would love to work for and create projects they would love to see. You’ll set yourself up to work in an industry that inspires you and will offer a diverse portfolio that will set you apart from others.

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- Start Freelancing Now

I can’t stress this enough- as intimidating as it might seem when you’re first starting out, go and find projects you can do in your free time to make some cash! Everyone needs help with design in some form or fashion so whether your helping a friend with a resume, creating a logo for a small business, or helping someone out as an intern, go get that experience. You’ll learn valuable lessons on how to deal with clients, diversify your portfolio, and earn some extra cash that will help you grow confident with your own process!

- Start Your Portfolio

It’s never to early to start thinking about your portfolio! One of the biggest advantages I had in school was the fact that I went to a Community College and got my Associates Degree before transferring into the Savannah College of Art & Design to pursue my Bachelors. This forced me to create a portfolio right away and got me working as a freelance designer immediately. Not saying you need to jump right into a finished portfolio, but start thinking about how you want to brand yourself, and post your work on Dribbble and Behance before you think your ready. This will give you a major jump start on the process once it comes time to apply for jobs and internships and you can always refine your work as you go.

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- Find A Mentor

Finding a mentor is a great tool that many artists are too afraid to pursue. Put yourself out there and search for local designers and artists who can give you insight on how to get started in the field and guide you along the way. More often than not, they are more than happy to show you the way!

- Trust The Process

Although starting out as a designer can come with it’s fair share of ups and downs, trust the process and stick with it! Embrace your failures as learning moments and keep your mind open to new experiences. Design is one of the few professions that allow you to truly leave a positive impact on the world so stick with it and don’t get down on yourself. Set actionable goals and act on them every day, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in a short amount of time!

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