Learnings from my fifteen years in design


This week marks the fifteenth year of my career as a designer. Over the years I’ve worked at four companies ranging in size from 4 to 40 people.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked within different disciplines of design (i.e. identity, print, digital) and for clients ranging from small independents to large international companies.


This has shaped me into a designer with a large skill set and a broad perspective. I would like to take this moment to share some of the things I remind myself of from time to time to keep me on the right path. I hope you find some value in them, I know I do.


Here we go:

Be confident, not stubborn

Show your work to your friends and colleagues often to get their critiques, but don’t blindly do what they say. Interpret what they say and make it your own. You don’t have all the answers, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Insights from people with other backgrounds will make you work better.

Travel and explore

Travel the world, taste different foods, see other cultures and you’ll gain new insights. It’ll make you understand people’s views better. Also, it’s a chance to look at the graphic design of other countries, from ads to signage to magazines, and you might get inspired from it, so take lots of pictures.

Read more books

Yes. I know, you read a lot of blogs. Yes, you read a lot of tweets. But that is not the same as reading books. The investment of time and the exploring of a writer’s thoughts will expand your mind. Need some suggestions? Take look at JSM’s list.

Sweat the details

That dumb-quote in the heading? Fix it. That typo in the content that nobody will notice? Fix it. Blurry pixel borders in Sketch? Fix it. No hover states for the buttons? Create them. All the details make the design.

Know your type

Most of the time a client has an identity with a typeface. Explore the ins and outs: does it have small-caps? Can I use ligatures? Is the italic complementary to the design? As soon as you’ve explored the possibilities your designs will work better. And try to keep up with new and old typefaces. Look at websites that have beautiful type and find out why it works. Here are some of my typesetting tips.

Know when to be trendy

Flat design, parallax effects, giant foto headers, full-screen video. You’ve seen them: trends come and go, but good design stays. Learn when to use these tricks and always be aware of the goals the project.

Present your work

An important design skill is presenting your work. It forces you to collect your thoughts and support the decisions you made. Mike Monteiro has some great tips.

Look for patterns

You might see an awesome design somewhere and you might think: “why is this so awesome?” Use that curiosity to analyse what it is that makes it work. Don’t copy things just because “they” do it. Use it because it’s the best thing to do to achieve the goal.

Always work on your portfolio

You might not think so now, but you might have to find another job at one point. You better have a decent portfolio ready with work that you’re proud of and want to be working on. That dream job might suddenly appear. And please keep your portfolio simple and show strong work. And show work you would want to do at the job you’re applying for. Don’t have any work that you’re proud of? Think of a side project to work on. Show your process as well, the end result might be good but the path to get there might be even better.

Learn some code

Learn it, so you’ll know how hard it is to create something. Your code won’t be good, and that’s okay. It will teach you about what is possible and might seem impossible. And it’ll teach you to talk to and respect engineers.

Go to conferences

One of the things that’s been really valuable to me has been my visits to Brooklyn Beta. First of all: it’s good to get away from your screen. And it’s nice to talk to people in the this industry — in real life — with different backgrounds. It might give you some insight you didn’t have before and that is worth a lot.

Stay healthy

A healthy body is a healthy mind. So try to work out more, bike to work, eat a good breakfast, eat less sugar, eat more veggies and drink more water.

Write

You might think you know how to convince someone of the choices you’ve made, but putting those thoughts to screen really helps develop your thoughts.

Thanks for reading this far! I hope this is of value to you, if so I’d love to hear from you.

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