It’s that time of year again. A fresh batch of new designers will be graduating and venturing out to make the world a better looking and more functional place.
If you’re one of these new graphic designers, congratulations! Welcome to what has been referred to as “the best/worst career in the world.” This is a really exciting time, and while you should absolutely revel in it, don’t forget you’ve got your work cut out for you. There’s a whole lot of talented competition out there and you need to find a way to stand out.
Working with design students recently had me thinking about my own adventures after graduation. It takes time and experience to become a true professional, but I think it’s important to share our stories and give advice to people trying to break into the industry. Here are a few quick tips for new designers and recent graduates looking for jobs in any creative industry.
Learn outside school:
Sorry, kids, but your school didn’t teach you everything. This realization is way more shocking to students than it should be. There is no possible way to come out of four years of school with all the information you need to be a professional designer. It’s simply not enough time, and some of the skills you’re going to need aren’t taught in school at all.
This certainly doesn’t mean your degree is useless, and I’m a firm believer in higher education for creatives. Unfortunately, you aren’t done learning the second you receive your diploma. Think of design as one of those “use it or lose it” skills. You should be constantly practicing and polishing your skills. Take online classes, watch tutorials, attend seminars and keep up on design news and current technology and trends.
Find experts you trust:
Find people who are doing what you want to do and learn everything you can from them. Having a mentor is a great way to extend your network and get your foot in the door. Share your work, your resume and your cover letters with these people. Most importantly, when they give you feedback or criticism, learn from it!
Surround yourself with design role models you admire. The people you meet will end up being great resources as your career progresses. You never know when you’ll need a professional introduction or even just a friend in the industry.
Don’t work for free:
Yes, you heard me. If you are taking on projects for clients, there absolutely needs to be a value placed on your work. Sure, you can’t charge the big bucks as a new designer fresh out of school, but that doesn’t mean your time isn’t valuable.
There are many people and companies out there trying to take advantage of inexperienced designers. If someone asks you to work for free because it’s “good experience,” that’s a red flag and you should stop and assess the situation carefully. Every time a designer does for free what they should be compensated for, it teaches another person that design isn’t important enough to pay for.
This doesn’t mean you should turn down all pro-bono work. I once designed the branding for a good friend’s charity organization instead of giving a monetary donation. I was able to justify this because my friend understood the value she was receiving, and clear boundaries were set. I had creative control, and I was able to help out a new organization I was proud to support. Use your best judgment and know that it’s ok to say no.
These are my most valuable tips for new designers. Keep working hard, never stop learning and immerse yourself in the design world. Oh and don’t forget to pass along your own tips someday when you’ve got a few years under your belt!