Advice For Design Students

Advice For Design Students

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Advice For Design Students - Photo by foundphotoslj

Having an online presence in the design world has left me quite a position to fill, in fact, I get quite a few emails from design students (or alike) requesting advice or an interview.

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Most of the time I do try to reply however, many times I seem to be repeating myself so I thought writing a post with my answers (& others) would be a good idea… the question that comes up guaranteed, every time is:

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to a designer just starting out?

I usually respond with the same paragraph each time (it is saved in my Gmail drafts folder) and my advice goes something like this:

The biggest piece of advice that I would give an upcoming designer comes in a ‘package’ based from the little things that I have learned over my short career as a designer. These would be perfect for someone just starting out: Don’t undervalue your work. Seek criticism, not praise. Always keep learning & don’t be a static learner: do this by reading books, magazines, blogs and by practising. Collect & share things. Teach others. Never give up. Keep practising. Again, keep practising.

Advice From Other Professionals

Every week I interview a professional designer here on Just Creative Design (the section is called Designer In The Spotlight) and in every interview I have asked this exact same question – what is your biggest piece of advice for a designer just starting out?

Below are the responses from the designers who I have interviewed so far.

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Lady Omega – Never give up. Generate as much happiness as possible. The main thing is to start, not speculate, but just start doing.

Elliot Jay StocksWork for ‘the man’ before going freelance straight out of university or college.

Colin Wright – Stick to your guns. If you like your style, and other people like your style, who cares if other other people don’t like your style?

Be knowledgeable. About anything and everything. This will allow you to relate to more and make you a more effective communicator.

Don’t be above anything. Sometimes the small jobs can lead to big ones (though don’t take a job just because a larger one was dangled in front of you).

Kai Chan Vong – Don’t give up. But don’t expect it to be easy. If you want to be half decent, you should expect to work really hard and try to learn from others as much as possible. The Internet has made it so that if you want to be a great designer – you need to learn from others on a day to day basis. Whether that’s from friends, co-workers or other designers: you need to constantly have your mind open. Good luck! You can do it!

Mike Smith – Never quit. No matter what gets in your way, or what hurdle you have to jump over, just keep going. I don’t care if you read zero websites and network with no one, just keep going. Push yourself and never give up. People will run their mouth and sometimes you might hit a dry spell in clients, but keep going. Use that time to design your own work or build something useful for other people. Progress every day. If you don’t take a step, you never move forward. Why sit still if you’re not happy in your current situation?

Prescott Perez-Fox – Make friends with everyone. Make sure you have people, upon people, upon people who you can call to collaborate with to make a job referral, or even just to chat and blow off steam. Don’t be that mad-scientist type who stays locked up all day: get out and make friends.

Drew Dunlap – Work your butt off! If you don’t try your best and give it your all, the customer will know: not only because of the way that they’re treated but also just by looking at their artwork.

Treat everyone you work with with respect and be kind. Customers talk about good designers but  they talk way more about bad designers. Be respectful on blogs, contests and anything web related. Being distasteful not only reflects bad on you personally but also for your business. Don’t use slang or internet terms when talking with customers, be professional.

Think of grade-school: treat them as you’d like to be treated!

Chris Spooner – Strive to keep yourself updated with changes in the industry, this particularly relates to web design which seems to move at a pretty fast pace!

Jennifer Farley – Use a contract and get at least 25% upfront when doing design work.

Doug Cloud – Don’t give up. No matter how much you want to. No one is going to succeed if they give up. And besides, why would you want to?

Emily Lewis – Read, read, read what is out there, even if you don’t understand it all. Eventually, it will start to “click.”

And then, practice, practice, practice. Make your own site/portfolio/blog and implement the “cool” things you read about, even if it take hours to get it to work. You’ll never forget something you had to pull your hair out to get working.

Andi Creffield – If you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong business.

Kate McInnes – Don’t give up, don’t copy other peoples stuff and don’t forget to have fun!

Fabio Sasso – I think the most important thing is to love the whole design process, from the beginning to the end. That really helps when you have to start something from the scratch or review some steps. Also practice and share your experience with the others, it’s a nice way to recycle your thoughts and get more point of views.

Albert Lo – I’ve learned a lot by making mistakes along the way and to this day I’m still learning. My biggest piece of advice I would give someone starting out is to persevere trying to find your first design job, don’t get disheartened and be confident in what you design. Take your mind off things by coming up with personal projects or take a part time job, your first design job to get your foot through the door will come out of the blue when you least expect it.

Brian Yerkes – Never stop adding to your skill set, and always make sure that when you look back over your previous year, you have come a long way baby!

Further Advice For Design Students

What would is the best piece of advice you could give a design student?

59 thoughts on “Advice For Design Students”

  1. I would say the best piece of advice is to do one thing really well, whether it is PHP coding, database work or (X)HTML and CSS markup.

    Being an expert at one thing gives you an advantage to stand out, over the mass of people with a little bit of knowledge in everything.

  2. First advice I would give for designers is to learn XHTML and CSS. Second advice for designers with no clients yet is to create a product to sell. There are many marketplaces out there where you can earn passive income.

    Thank you for this post. This is really inspirational.

  3. I strongly suggest anyone to read some of the great design books out there, like:

    + Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design by Andy Clarke
    + Layout Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Building Pages in Graphic Design
    + Graphic Design: The New Basics
    and others. Also books about CSS, CSS recipes etc. are an absolutely great investment that will soon come back. Keep in mind that these are not only about theory and practice, they also cover great concepts, philosophies and mentalities of great designers and writers.

  4. I agree with all of these! Especially Elliots comment ‘Work for “The Man” Before going freelance’ Once you have worked for an agency and get a feel of how things work and how it should be, your confidence level is WAY up there and you can move on to do ANYTHING. once you get the base knowledge set up you are on a platform to grow! and yes, it gets tough, but never give up. Always keep learning!!

    Good stuff guys!!

  5. Great advice – although I always hope for another magic formula beside pratice 🙂

    Thanks for this post – Now I know what I’ve got to do

    PS: The Elliot’s “Work For The Man” link is a bit broken.

  6. Thanks for sharing the advice dude. Comes well timed too, hopefully going to start a course at college in the summer in Graphic Design after I leave secondary school.

    “Keep practising. Again, keep practising.” — This really hit a note, I can understand the importance of practising.

  7. It cannot be stated enough to find instructors who inspire passion in what you do. I have been blessed with having two such instructors who turn class into play time where we learn, design, and just plain have fun.

    Also, recognize you will see work of others that will make you jealous and/or depressed. Accept that this will happen and keep reminding yourself that you can do work of that caliber too.

  8. I completely agree with this advice, especially the practicing bit.

    I always tell designers that they mustn’t underestimate the sheer amount of practice required to get better. It’s quite a commitment and thus I think only those who really enjoy design will put in the required amount of hours.

    The most constructive thing you can do to improve your design skills, I feel, is to literally just get on with doing it – every day.

    The saying practice makes perfect is never truer.

    Didn’t I hear that to get ‘good’ at something you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice?

    Seems likely to me when I think about it.

  9. Never turn any work down.

    If you’re a design student there will definitely be other students on your course, or similar courses, who specialise in an area you’re not familiar with.

    Get to know them, you can always out-source projects to these people if you don’t feel comfortable doing them yourself.

  10. I am student of your blog ;). i agree 100% with most of the above arguments. even for a veteran in graphics design should follow.

    Jacob why you not to make vote between graphics application, likes adobe suit vs corel suite vs …, like what you’ve done with PC vs MAC. there is another battle =).

  11. Never give up!
    Knock backs will occur along your journey but always keep you eye on your goal and go for it! Hard work pays off!

  12. Thanks for all of your Designer in the Spotlight interviews. They are a big help to gain a view into the life of a web designer. There are so many styles and ways of doing things that practically everyone takes his of her own route to become successful. These interviews shed a lot of light into the many possible ways of succeeding.

  13. Hi Jacob,

    At first please consider me as one of your great fan…. thanks a lot for the knowledge that u have gave to me by your articles.

    I am working as a graphic designer and I am totally in love with this job. But I have a great problem…lack of Patience:Please help me:.. when ever I started a design I feel that I have lots of patience, but as soon as revision started I started to loose it. Finally the design stands but I became totally exhausted:please help me:pls suggest me how to get lot of patience during work.

    Thanking You


  14. very great ideas to be a good designer.The best thing is to believe in yourself,don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from mistakes.practising and practising will help a lot.
    i am a graphic designing student from india.i always try to experiment and keep listening and learning.

  15. Jacob,

    Just stumbled upon your page the other day as I a have been looking for inspiration for my personal identity as a designer. What a unique and cool job you have, you have so many useful articles! Your work is outstanding and has inspired me!

  16. I came across this site through, and I’m thoroughly impressed! For someone who got stuck in a dead end job in design, this is a treasure trove of information and inspiration! The advice posted here isn’t just for students, I assure you. Every designer should revisit sites where advice is posted, just in case some of it gets lost along the way.

  17. hey im trying to create a logo for my photography business but dont know where to start i dont take just one kind of photo and i try many different styles but when i look at other logos i see that they have specific styles what should i do?

  18. Hi
    I was wondering if you could give me some advice on a brief Im working on that has the possibility of leading to a place on Ian Anderson’s Workshop. The brief is ‘make me something i want to keep forever’ and Im really struggling on where to even start with it. Do you have any advice on where I might start my research?


  19. Hi Jacob,

    I’m currently writing a book specifically aimed at young designers looking to get into freelancing. It covers a lot of the basics but also talks about issues that are usually left on the shelf, like pricing, working with niche markets and how to find a mentor…

    If you get a minute drop by the site, be great to hear your feedback.

    Good luck

  20. I am very happy that i came across you as one of the best graphic designes in the world. As you are the i love to lean from you how i can establishe my selfe In Ghana to be the best. Thank you hope to hear from you soon. God bless you

  21. Great article!
    My advice, as a 15+ year creative director would be to explore all the different types of design until you find one you’re really passionate about. There are so many different routes you can take, like package design, print, web ofcourse, illustration, advertising, etc. At my company we do mostly package design and print, but it took me years of freelancing and trial and error before I figured out exactly what my niche passion was.
    Oh and drink lots of coffee..

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