After school special: advice for emerging designers

After School Special: Advice for Emerging Designers

Building a career is not something that happens overnight. It requires patience and tenacity, and it involves more than raw talent. A career demands an overarching curiosity about the world and how things work, topped off with well-honed people skills. To rise to the top in your profession, you have to have the guts to be self-aware, to know your own strengths while trying to improve upon your weaknesses. And, come to think of it, raw talent doesn’t hurt.

The great thing about a career in design is that you can define success in a number of ways. You can strive to be a renowned creative director at a big firm, to create a small boutique studio, or to savor both your profession and parenthood by working out of your home while raising children. This industry isn’t just about savvy insight and fresh aesthetic perspectives; it’s also largely built from flexibility and potential.

In the beginning of a career, the transition from school to work is difficult, to put it mildly. The first thing you learn is that there is more to learn. A lot more.

1. Theory AND practice
Respect the difference between theoretical and practical.

Don’t get me wrong, school is great, and by all means revel in your trek through academia, because nothing will ever be the same. Appreciate the time you have been given to learn about yourself, and get an education that you can apply to your whole life, not only your job.

In school, your instructors push you to express yourself, they insist on your developing the essence of your design perspective. They want you to be able to articulate why you believe in your work. Every day you try to find a unique way to express your ideas, so, in that way, school is creative nirvana. A teacher’s objective is to develop students’ skills and to nurture creativity before you set out on your own upon graduation.

Once you’re out in the real world, however, it’s a whole new game; in a professional environment everything changes, and there’s no room for being an isolationist, or demonstrating that you alone are terminally unique. You are now expected to understand your clients and their objectives. In order to do so, you may work in a team, and the emphasis is on how you — collectively, not singularly — are going to meet the aims of the client and the client’s business. Suddenly you are one of many, and no one might even care what you think.

Design firms are businesses. They are not created to teach and nurture, although both sometimes happen along the way if you find a great mentor. A design firm’s objective is to be a successful company. You walk into a firm and acquire the processes, culture and the various stylistic methods of the firm. You are a part of a group, and you begin to realize that you thought you knew a lot six months ago, but now you only know a fraction of what everyone else seems to know. The learning curve changes.
Develop great habits.

2. Develop really great habits.

A great deal of success is about fostering good habits early. This is the time to start; it’s harder to break a habit than it is to practice a new one. Also, as you get older, your daily obligations are greater, and you will have less time and energy to make new actions routine. Get those mental muscles toned now and it will become easy to maintain them.

3. Be positive.

Having a can-do attitude makes people want to work with you. There’s an old adage that says, “People work with people they like to work with.