10 things I wish every design student knew

This week I had the privilege of speaking to design students at two universities about my career. Here are some of the things I shared, most of which were answers to their questions.

Yours truly speaking to university students

1. The greatest output of your careers will be relationships. When you and I are sitting on a porch in rocking chairs some 50 years from now, I’ll care less about what we produced and much more about how we got there together. Was I a jerk to work with? Did I try my best to understand your viewpoint? Did we bring people along with us in our thinking? Did we mentor others along the way?

2. Have strong opinions! But hold on them loosely. Be willing to have your mind changed by your peers.

3. I’ve made a career out of pushing myself to do things I was totally unqualified for. Spend your careers putting yourself in difficult situations and you’ll never stop learning.

4. Become voracious problem-solvers. To borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln, if you have 6 hours to craft a design solution, spend the first 4 understanding the problem.

5. Visual hierarchy is hard. Even senior designers struggle to do it well. You’ll utilize it throughout your careers. Master it as early as possible and never stop learning how to do it better.

6. I know of only one way to successfully ship products and that is to ship imperfect products. Perfection never ships. It gets stuck in an endless loop of “I’ll just finesse this one last thing and then I’ll be happy with it.” Great designers are in a constant tussle between quality and shipping.

7. Be data informed, not just data driven. This is the wonderful thing about being a designer! Often you’ll be the only one at the table relying on your gut in addition to your head.

8. Tools are not as important as a foundation of thinking creatively. Tools will change throughout your career and industry software might even be replaced by the time you graduate. Learn the fundamentals of design that are be transferrable to any tool you’ll use.

9. Sometimes the straightest course to a successful career is the one with most twists and turns. Embrace the pivots your learning journey will put in front of you.

10. Creativity is storytelling. Tell beautiful stories with your work! If you don’t believe you can change the world through design and the stories you tell with it, you’re selling yourself short.

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