Categories / Inspiration

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started In Design

Kevin Whipps March 31, 2021 · 8 min read
My path into the design world wasn’t very linear. I designed a logo or two for my parents’ company, did some odd jobs here and there, and then used my skills sporadically for the next decade while I focused on my writing. Understandably, I became pretty rusty, and when we started our second company and had to rely on my design skills to create vectors on a regular basis, it did not go well. Things had changed a lot in those 10 years, and I needed some help. Man, did I wish I had a coach or two to help me out when I needed it. Although my approach may be more of an outlier model, the results are still the same. Beginning designers don’t know what they don’t know, and as a result, they look back years later wishing they could tell their past selves what they’d learned. Let’s stop that cycle. There are lots of designers out there that are just getting started in the field, and they need our help. Let’s teach them the things we wished we knew before we got into the biz so that we can make their ascent to the top a lot easier than ours. And to make it a little easier to swallow, I’ll do so using GIFs.

Working for Free Screws Us All

typing-fast I’m going to cut to the chase with this one: some people think that designers are creatives, and doing anything creative isn’t a job. Therefore, you don’t deserve to get paid. It’s a hobby. It’s something you do for fun. You know, so you should design that logo for free because you’ll enjoy it. i wanna punch you in the face Ever design a landing page for a sewage company’s website? Think that’s a ton of fun? Or how about a promo pamphlet for a political candidate that you don’t agree with. How’s that for a blast, right? Forget going to Disney Land, I want to work on inane work for clients all day. Yay! And who’s the worst at this? Family. Sure, cousin Bob, I’d love to help you out on that branding project for your new lawn care company. Yes, the one that sells lotion that you put on your grass — it’s a fantastic idea that I want to get behind. It’ll just cost — what’s that? You expect me to work for free? Well Bob, I don’t work for nothing because I’m worth more than that. Now go play with your Grass Balm and forget we’re related.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

fun and games star wars Yeah, life’s not always a barrel of monkeys, particularly when the barrel is Photoshop and the monkeys are low-res images that you need to turn into cover quality shots for the waste management company you’ve contracted with. You will do some things that aren’t fun. Yes, there will be moments when you’ll lose yourself pushing pixels and tweaking vectors. But being a designer is, you know, a job. So there will be work that you don’t want to do, and that’s just kind of the way it is.

You’re Gonna do Some Grunt Work

ditch digging And speaking of, you’re going to do a lot of that stuff right up front. When you’re starting off in this crazy world of ours, you’ll be matching colors, creating masks, and editing photos that may never see the light of day. You’re a rookie, so you’ll do rookie things that, plain and simple, aren’t fun and not very fulfilling. But that’s OK. Understand that it takes a long time to get good at your job, and that’s just fine. Take your time and do the things that seem to suck right now. Because the more you do them, the faster you’ll be able to accomplish those tasks, and then they’ll become second nature further on in your career.

You’re Gonna Suck for a Long Time

you suck This is something that’s been talked about to death, so let me explain it in two different ways. First off, your taste when you just start off is amazing, but your ability to execute sucks. David Ortiz couldn’t hit home runs the first day he held a bat, but today he’s knocking them out of the park for the Red Sox on a regular basis. You’re going to be the same (minus the “Big Papi” nickname, I assume), so don’t expect to blow people away with your first few designs. That’s not really how it works. Secondly, this video sums it up quite nicely, and integrates the famous Ira Glass quote about The Gap:

You’ll Want to be Flexible

flexible gilmore girls Want to get a job in print? Get ready to do some web work. Want to make cool websites? Prepare to design some T-shirts. Point is, prepare to be flexible. Point is, you won’t necessarily end your career at the same place you started. Heck, you might not do the same thing three months in, so prepare for that. Learn how to do everything you can, because even if you never actually put those skills to use in the field, it doesn’t hurt to keep learning. And who knows? Maybe you’ll pick up a cool tip that will help you out on your next project, or become more attractive to your next employer. Know what I’m learning now? Video editing. Why? Why not? And that’s the thing: you have no idea where you’ll be in five years, so learn anything and everything you can. It’ll just make you a better designer in the end.

Creative Block Doesn’t Exist. Except it Does.

creative block I’ve been writing for a long time, so writer’s block doesn’t exist in my life. There’s procrastination — that’s a totally different thing — but I never get blocked. That’s because not only have I been doing this long enough to understand my faults, but also because I don’t make money unless my fingers are hammering at a keyboard. But creative block for me is a whole other thing. I’m relatively new to the design world (from a “doing it every day” perspective), so I get stuck all the time. Which is something that you will likely experience. You may get stuck one day and chalk it up to creative block. Is it a thing? Well it may not be for you 10 years from now, but as a newbie, it will likely smack you in the face like a ton of bricks — or pixels, if you want to get metaphorical. Of course this rolls into the next problem …

Impostor Syndrome is a Real Thing

impostor syndrome What is Impostor Syndrome? Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: you feel like you don’t belong, like you’re a fraud working amongst seasoned professionals. And don’t think this is all some kind of new psychology nonsense, even Natalie Portman dealt with it while she went to Harvard. And it doesn’t matter if you have a fancy degree or not, there is a tendency to feel like you just don’t belong, and that someone will eventually figure out how inferior you actually are. When you’re starting out, you’ll wear this feeling like a noose around your neck, and it can be difficult to shake. If it makes you feel better, just know that all of us feel it at one point or another, so it will pass. Eventually.

You Need To Become a Software Expert

it guy I had this designer friend of mine a few years ago call me over to her desk because she couldn’t figure out why her machine wasn’t working. Turns out there was a whole mess of things causing problems, but since she was the only designer on staff, it was pretty much down to her to figure out what she needed to do. And guess what: it’s not any better if you’re a freelancer, it’s worse. Plumbers have wrenches, mechanics have sockets, and designers have computers. You need to learn how to use your tools just as well as they do, and that means becoming your own IT guy whenever problems occur. And it also helps to know those programs inside and out, because that way you’ll be able to become more productive by using your tool more effectively. Between automation and learning keyboard shortcuts, soon you’ll be a ninja wizard of skill.

It’s Not What You Want, It’s What The Client Wants

client You may have experience in the industry, whether it’s from going to school or just putzing around with software, and you obviously have some kind of sense of taste. But don’t fall in love with anything you design, because at the end of the day, it all comes down to what the client wants, not you. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve crafted the design. How it uses all of the skills you learned in school. How all of your design friends would think it was brilliant. How it gets so much praise on Dribbble and Behance. No, the only person whose opinion matters is your client, and if they don’t like it, you’re headed back to the drawing board.

Get Ready

Now you’re prepared. You can officially start off as a new designer knowing what’s about to smack you in the face before it does. That’s a satisfying feeling, right? all done Yup. We’re done here.
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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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