The Best Rejection Letter I Ever Received

How to become a Web Designer

In the fall of 2009 I applied for a web design internship at Grooveshark.

I was a sophomore in college, green behind the ears and still doing graffiti on the weekends. I didn’t get the job, but John Ashenden loved my enthusiasm and took the time to write me a note. My 20-year-old self didn’t know it at the time, but it was the best rejection letter I ever received.

Here it is, emphasis added:

“I’m not sure what direction you are hoping to drive your career, but if you are looking into web design, I have a few suggestions.

Web design is fueled by creativity, but is built using a very scientific approach.

You are not just conveying an emotion, but also information. Realize that, before anything else, the information flow and layout is primary. If you can refine that skill, everything else will start to fall into place. Exhaust your energy understanding content presentation. You have a blank canvas, there are a million ways you can take it, and typically only a couple ways to do it right.

Learn to love pixels.

From your portfolio I can see you have an attraction towards brushes and vector based art. While this is useful in graphic design, it is not so desirable in web design. Every pixel matters. You want your designs to convey unity, clarity and feel solid overall. Graphic art should be used as an accent more than the main attraction (there are exceptions). Showcase your content in a clean environment created using the layout principles you’ve mastered early on.

There is a wealth of resources out there, available for free, and if you are really driven you will be capable of incremental progress. Everyone starts at ground zero. It has taken me 10+ years of doing this to get where I’m at. I wish you the best in your endeavors, and would love to see your application in my inbox later this year. Good luck.”

John’s words gave me the encouragement to get up and keep pushing forward, despite my rejection. Four years and two startups later, I’m thankful that I listened. Here’s how I applied John’s advice:

Learn to Take Websites Apart:

Being able to write front-end code is an essential part of being a web designer. Learn to code HTML and CSS for free at Codecademy. Remember that learning to code isn’t the same thing as learning to build. Learn the basics and get hacking. Practice makes a good web designer.

Learn to Design Information:

Fantastic websites can be found (for the more creative) and (for the more product-oriented). You use websites every day, so start paying attention to the details when you’re having a good (or a bad) experience.

Learn to Love Pixels:

For design inspiration, check out and Sharpen your mind by buying a book or reading up on what some of your favorite pros are doing.

Got any tips I should add? Let me know on Twitter.

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