70ish Life and Business Lessons for Designers

I teamed up with Joel Beukelman to give a talk at Creative South 2017 in Columbus, Georgia to share tips for designers on a wide variety of topics from craft and work-life balance to the business of design. Joel works with me on Design Inc. — a company dedicated to helping companies find and work with amazing creative talent.

You can find the formal presentation at the end of this article. For your convenience we wrote it all out in longform, cause reading is cool. We’d love to hear your feedback and your top tips in the comments!

  1. Sketch with big markers — focus on the big idea and concept. Don’t get bogged down in the details.
  2. Show more than images in your portfolio — explain your thinking and ideas behind your work by including copy with your images.
  3. Don’t worry about your title — let your work speak for itself and your job title will take care of itself.
  4. Its okay to design for free(we do it too) — donating your design skills is perfectly fine when you’re the one setting the terms.
  5. Curiosity > Tools — Photoshop vs. Sketch, Keynote vs. PowerPoint, Cintuq vs. IpadPro, the tools will always change and don’t matter, always be trying new software and techniques to do your best work.
  6. If your design isn’t what you imagined… it’s probably wrong — iterating and editing your work is how you get better, push your designs and always try one more sketch or concept.
  7. No 1 designs anything — it takes a village to bring any design to life. Get used to selling your work to stakeholders and team members.
  8. If you do something, something will happen — take the leap, make the cold email, try the new tutorial or technique. Nothing in you life will change if you do the same thing everyday.
  9. Enjoy the journey. Shipping is a marathon — every project will take twice as long and be twice as hard as you originally planned. Embrace what you learn along the way.
  10. Quality is your problem — create with exquisite craftsmanship because you care to do so, not because a client or stakeholder demanded the work to meet a certain quality. The aesthetic and perfection of the execution is always on us the creators to maintain and establish.
  11. Beautiful because you care — see point 10.
  12. Icons with text are easier to understand — new apps should use text labels to help users understand navigation and features. You can drop the text labels when you hit 10 million users ;)
  13. Save time, use patterns — if your building an iOS app use the Apple Interface Guidelines. If you’re creating an Android app then follow Google Material Design. Many patterns already exist for many design solutions, save yourself some time and learn to find and apply these patterns.
  14. Design in black and white and add color later — if the design doesn't work in black and white then adding color won’t help. Get the work right in black and white first.
  15. Pixel perfect design is dead — one glance at Screensizes should convince you the days of a carefully laid out design are long gone. Design should be flexible to account for the ridiculous array of screen sizes and resolutions.
  16. Use real content not lorum ipsum — designing with the actual words and images your app will be using will force you holistically solve your layout and heirarchy problems.
  17. Try it in German — too many times, when an app or design is internationalized the UI will break. Having more affordance and flexibility in your layouts will account for longer words when switching to other languages.
  18. You are not Aaron Draplin. find your own Futura Bold — Aaron is a legendary brand designer and has a distinct style. His brand and logo work has a common feel. Find your own voice and your own recognizable style if you’re trying to stand out in the brand and graphics game.
  19. Design is not Art — design has to solve a problem or communicate an idea. Art has no burden of solving a problem. Be sure your design is solving a problem and isn’t just beautiful art.
  20. Try it in Russian — see point 17.
  21. Use what you make — if you can actually use the designs your making to solve your own problem then you will identify many of the issues long before any user study.
  22. Say people, not users — “Users” sounds impersonal and clinical, try saying “People” or “Customers” instead, especially when sharing your design work with stakeholders.
  23. Punch above your weight class — try what scares you, write that article or share that video tutorial or take that speaking opportunity. Try the uncomfortable.
  24. Design one for the stakeholder and one for you — a good practice when building trust with a client, have the discipline to create one concept they asked for to gain trust that you know how to listen and follow directions, and then create another concept you love to push the idea even further.
  25. Done is better than perfect — as designers we can have a tendency to overwork a design. Most of the time the design work we do will be iterated against later.
  26. Cocoapotrace — Marc’s personal favorite live trace tool. Yes the site is a weird geocities site. But the software works great (and it’s free).
  27. Get a hobby kids — get away from your computer, turn off design and let different parts of your brain and body work.
  28. Saying NO is a strength — too many times we say yes when we really should say no. People respect no.
  29. Distraction is the enemy — turn off social media, block out large chunks of time to get work done, create an environment where you can get work done in 3–4 hour blocks of time.
  30. I R L — In. Real. Life. reach out and spend time with folks in person. You will be a better person and have richer networks if you do.
  31. Spend time like money — guard your time, it’s your most precious resource.
  32. Comparison kills — if you want to feel crappy about yourself then start comparing yourself to other people. You’re on your own journey and path.
  33. Don’t be defined by your work — the work you do will be good and bad succeed and fail, don’t ascribe your personal self worth to the work you create (even though creative work tends to be deeply personal).
  34. Always talk to the person next to you — You never know what sort of interesting connection you can make with another stranger.
  35. 8 Work — 8 Rest — 8 You — each day has 24 hours. Splitting your day in thirds is a nice hack to help you focus on each area of your life.
  36. Sharing is caring — give back through producing and sharing design resources, writing your insights and learning for others and generally helping others in the design industry.
  37. Sidework leads to your next job — what you do at night and in your side hustle tends to open doors to your next opportunity.
  38. Share your contact info — be liberal with your number and email on your website and various
  39. Effort trumps talent — there are no shortcuts in the world of design. you have to create a lot of work to be good.
  40. Resentment causes burnout — people don’t quit from working too hard, they leave because they resent a bad boss or have some other resentment building up.
  41. Be impeccable with your word — keeping your word, more than any other tip on this list will have the greatest impact on your career.
  42. Give Props
  43. Show up — most folks who put in the time day after day, month after month, year after year are the ones who reap the benefits.
  44. Stop saying “sorry” — apologizing is important and a wonderful opportunity to show vulnerability, but the quick, reactionary “I’m sorry” in text or on slack is lazy and typically is not what the other party wants to hear.
  45. Stop using this, it, that in your writing — next time you write, try to remove the words “this”, “it” and “that” your writing will be easier to understand and read.
  46. Stop saying “you know” (HT Mackey Saturday)
  47. Stop saying “Um”, “I think”, “I feel” and “So” — all of these phrases weaken your statement and make you sound less confident. Removing these words from your speech is difficult but very rewarding.
  48. Contribute more, take less — whatever setting you find yourself in try to be the person giving the most to others, share your insights, your connections and your heart. You receive far more when you give.
  49. Yes & — the classic tool of improv comedy. Saying “Yes and” will help you keep ideas flowing.
  50. Do what you say — the same as no. 41.
  51. Stop saying IMO — don’t rely on your opinion, seek outside knowledge and information to make informed decisions.
  52. Design like a Scientist — designing with a hypothesis and then validate against your hypothesis.
  53. Embrace constraints
  54. Success = 80% Sell, 20% Design — talking and selling your design work is just as valuable and important as the actual design work.
  55. Empathy > Apathy — understand the people you are designing for. Really dig in and understand as much about their lives as you can.
  56. Your Bias is Bullsh!t — design from a place of education and research and recognize you’re own confirmation bias and other cultural biases you bring to a problem.
  57. If it’s not a “Hell Yes”, its a no. — speaks for itself.
  58. 15 minute meetings — try them out next time you have to set a meeting. set an agenda, share the work and information beforehand and use the 15 min. meeting for decision making.
  59. Everyone’s job is hard — universally, everyone believes their job is hard, treat others with respect and kindness.
  60. Market rate = the average of your 3 friends — use this formula if you have no idea what to charge on your hourly rate or what kind of salary to ask for.
  61. Ideas are cheap — execution is everything.
  62. Write your story — or someone else will. Everyone has a story to share.
  63. Invoice every two weeks — you will be paid faster, the invoice numbers will be smaller and your clients will be grateful for the predictability and timeliness.
  64. Say thank you, how else can I help?
  65. Follow up — relentlessly via email, text and phone calls. Most folks who don’t get back to you are simply just busy. Don’t give up on folks.
  66. One big thing each day — focus on one task per day and get this task done. In fact, our friend Daniel Burka and his brother created an app to help with this called One Big Thing
  67. Drink water — you will feel more alert, kind and patient.

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