101 Lessons in the Business of Design

One day in the middle of the aughts, I walked into a design firm for an interview… and emerged with my first job. Over the last decade, I’ve experienced untold dramas over everyday projects, and in an effort to document my insights, I’ve distilled them into a series of principles. Resonant themes touch on people and process, productivity and personal growth.

  1. Restarting fixes a lot of things.
  2. Failing that, there’s always trashing the preferences.
  3. Or a clean install.
  4. Email the support people.
  5. Being friendly doesn’t give a vendor a pass on getting the job done well.
  6. Does it reduce well?
  7. Does it work in grayscale?
  8. Is it logical?
  9. Nice people aren’t always good designers.
  10. Good designers aren’t always nice people.
  11. Student portfolios are a glimmer of potential, not a sure thing.
  12. Chart a path forward, then get it done.
  13. Never stop thinking critically.
  14. You have to ask, or it won’t be done.
  15. Don’t forget hover states.
  16. Or active states.
  17. Never underestimate the power of a wireframe.
  18. Track your time.
  19. Say thank you.
  20. Get things done ahead of time.
  21. When in doubt, ask, “what would be simplest?”
  22. End meeting with next steps.
  23. Listen to the little voice that advocates the alternative view.
  24. Present three options: the safe bet, the one just outside the comfort zone, and the no-holds-barred version.
  25. Even if you don’t show them, iterations and variations on a theme help you work through a problem and keep you from fixating on one element for too long.
  26. Start thinking about how your competitors solved a problem.
  27. Sign up for competitor accounts, emails, and other promotions.
  28. Build first, then refine.
  29. Plan prep time for meetings.
  30. Context, context, context. Mock it up to understand why.
  31. When confronted with a layout issue, think broadly. Take a step back and think about what hasn’t been tried. Then try it.
  32. Think about how it looks in four color, one color and on the office laser printer.
  33. Identify repeating problems.
  34. Ask, “what is it saying from a visual perspective?”
  35. Check it twice.
  36. Design is a commodity.
  37. Use your words: design thinking.
  38. The trend effect: design trickles down.
  39. Manage expectations.
  40. Convey time available vs. time needed to achieve request. Is there a middle ground?
  41. People respond best to requests when a deadline is mentioned.
  42. Every startup has a dream. But don’t lose sight of how competitive reality is.
  43. Top-notch equipment makes a difference.
  44. Feed your brain with a steady diet of creative experiences.
  45. Build in breaks.
  46. Build in incubation time.
  47. Keep a blank book handy at all times.
  48. Don’t stop learning.
  49. Every monitor is different.
  50. Have them write it down.
  51. Confirmation emails work too.
  52. Hard work does pay off.
  53. Take time to take care of yourself.
  54. Eat well.
  55. Learn to meditate.
  56. Build internal bridges.
  57. Make time to innovate or risk falling behind.
  58. Sometimes, the work isn’t the most important thing.
  59. Understand when to use an emoji.
  60. Timebox big projects.
  61. Project management tools are your friends. Learn how to customize them to your needs.
  62. Write down things you worry about and review later. Time lends perspective.
  63. If you’re not sleeping at night, ask yourself why.
  64. Lists are friends of productivity.
  65. Unless proven otherwise, assume the intentions of others are honorable.
  66. Look for patterns.
  67. Success = talent, 15%; relationships, 10%; sheer hard work, 75%.
  68. The 80/20 principle in creative work: allow time for the final polish.
  69. The more you can talk about your ideas, the better.
  70. Screenshots are the closest you can get to an augmented memory.
  71. Take notes to gain better focus.
  72. Low and medium fidelity sketches outweigh more elaborate digital renderings.
  73. Never delete any seemingly “old” digital files. Save and backup everything.
  74. Sleep is underrated.
  75. Find a form of exercise you genuinely love.
  76. “Thank you” is not a trite expression.
  77. Don’t worry about what agile is or isn’t. Just get things done.
  78. Learn to disconnect yourself from your work.
  79. Speak about your work. Insist that your voice be heard.
  80. Meeting agendas are golden.
  81. There is no shame in ending a meeting early.
  82. Combine the best of two ideas to get a radically improved idea.
  83. Design is problem solving.
  84. Understand who the final decision maker is.
  85. Be hyper-vigilant about managing your time. It’s the most precious resource that exists.
  86. Establish a work routine that works for you.
  87. Look for a way to learn something new each week.
  88. Banish time-wasting habits and replace them with enriching ones.
  89. Look for lightweight ways to record ideas every day.
  90. Make new industry friends by going to professional groups.
  91. Steadily investing thirty minutes a day in a goal will produce progress over time.
  92. Visualize the moment of achievement as you chip away on a passion project. Hold tight to the vision as you inch closer.
  93. Step out of your comfort zone and start a conversation with someone you normally wouldn’t engage.
  94. Master the art of asking questions.
  95. Curate a personal inspirational soundtrack and use it to drive your day.
  96. Realize that you don’t need your peers to validate your career choices.
  97. Plan a day to visit your alma mater and thank your favorite professor. They may not know how much of an inspiration they were to you.
  98. Investing in others always brings a reward.
  99. Explore new technologies. It is, after all, your business to know what’s next.
  100. Set mini goals.
  101. Always keep your goals in front of you.