7 Tips for New Designers from a Salesforce Visual Designer

Amanda Cheung, Senior Designer of Trailhead, shares her tips for new designers just starting their careers.

Amanda Cheung is the Senior Designer of Trailhead at Salesforce. She works on Trailhead, the fun way to learn Salesforce. Trailblazers have earned over 1.2 million Trailhead badges and completed nearly 4.7 million interactive challenges. Amanda has designed every badge on Trailhead to date. In this interview, Amanda shares how she’s worked with her visionary leader, Domenique Sillett Buxton, Senior Creative Director, and fellow designer Lily Glass, to create a world of characters and designs that has inspired our company and community.

Find Your Mentors

In 4th grade, I had a teacher who was really into art. He took a few of my projects and sent them to a local museum here in San Francisco and they got displayed. I started taking classes in middle school for art. Then I majored in art at UC Davis. But it all started because that teacher believed in me.

Don’t forget you need business mentors too, especially if you plan to go into corporate design roles. Find people who will help coach you on how to navigate your career.

Don’t Stress if You’re Not the Top of Your Class

In college, I wasn’t the top student in my art classes. Art is subjective, and I used to be shy when speaking about my work.

The way you present yourself and showcase what you do is a big part of how you’re perceived. Successful designers know how to talk about their work. Practice describing how and why you created your design, what informed your decisions, and what inspired you.

For example, one of my projects at Salesforce was the Trailhead logo, which I worked on with my leader, Senior Creative Director, Domenique Sillett Buxton. Trailhead is our learning platform with free online courses. When we worked on the Trailhead logo, Dom and I were inspired by US national park signs and iconography.

Trailhead logo, designed by Domenique Sillett Buxton and Amanda Cheung

Because the product name was Trailhead, we used a trail design as a central motif, with the mountains as the place the trail was headed. And we made sure to include the Salesforce cloud logo in the design, right at the top. We had another subtle nod to Salesforce with the shape of the trail; if you take a closer look, you might see an “S” in the shape. The colors were meant to be playful. The dark blue we used is our developer marketing color, and we played with the other colors until we found a good balance. We went through a lot of revisions until we arrived at a final version.

See? That’s what I mean about being able to talk about your designs. Practice writing out or saying something like that about the next thing you design. Describe what you did, and why you did it. Being able to talk the talk will elevate you as a designer.

Try New Stuff

Whether you’re in school or already in the workforce, don’t limit yourself to a specific type of design. You might think you really want to do user interface or user experience, but you could end up loving illustration or event design. My current role as Visual Designer for Trailhead helped me discover how much I like illustration. There are so many more types for me to keep exploring, too.

You can also use your free time to explore other mediums. For example, I still do collage and crafts on weekends and evenings. Even if you don’t currently work as a designer, there’s nothing stopping you from using your art skills in your hobbies and at home. And any projects you work on can help you build your portfolio.

Always. Be. Building. (Your Portfolio)

If your current job isn’t a design job, look for opportunities to use your design skills at work. I love food, so one of my first jobs was an executive assistant for a few restaurants in the city. They knew I had a graphic design degree, so I got to help with their menus, logos, brochures. All this stuff helped build my experience and added to my portfolio.

Amanda’s portfolio

If you don’t have a job currently, do projects for yourself. Not only is it a good way to practice, but it also adds to your portfolio. I love the Golden State Warriors, so I entered their fan t-shirt design contest. Not only did I get to add that design to my portfolio, but I was a semi-finalist in the contest!

Be Flexible in Your First Job

As I mentioned, some of my first jobs were as executive assistants for restaurants, where I got to use my graphic design skills to help with marketing materials. The work I did there helped me get my job as a junior designer here at Salesforce. I had no expectations other than I was joining a corporate team, so I thought things would be very structured.

But I found quickly that I had a lot of creative freedom. And once I started working on Trailhead, I had even more room for expression. In addition to working on the Trailhead logo, I’ve also worked on a number of versions of our mascot, Astro. Rochelle Truong designed the original Astro in an astronaut suit, and then I was able to work on Trailhead Astro, Einstein, and a number of other Astros, all in collaboration with Dom and another designer, Lily Glass.

Trailblazer Astro, designed by Amanda Cheung, Domenique Sillett Buxton, and Lily Glass

I’ve also designed every badge on Trailhead to date. I definitely want to keep making all of the badges!

A selection of Trailhead badges designed by Amanda Cheung

Enjoy Your Success

Trailhead designs were used as the theme at Dreamforce, our annual user conference. Seeing the streets of San Francisco decorated with the designs I worked on was surreal. There were thousands of plush versions of the designs — even a live mascot version of the Trailhead Astro design!

Trailhead Astro as a mascot at Dreamforce ’16 (photo credit: Diane and Bob Sangster)

I had a hard time absorbing it all at once. Day by day, it was crazy. People came up to me for autographs and pictures with me. It was pretty crazy. I felt like a celebrity for a few days. I’m still absorbing it today. It’s really cool. I love the team, I love the company.

Trailhead has changed my life!

Amanda with the plush version of the Trailhead Astro design

Don’t Wait to Start!

Wherever you are, right now, get started. Build your portfolio, try out new mediums, and start designing projects for yourself. You’ll never know how far you can go.

Learn More About Amanda

You can see Amanda’s portfolio at: http://www.amandacheung.net/

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