Lessons for Designers

Lessons for Designers

I recently realized that I’m coming up on an anniversary of sorts. February 18, 2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of my first day working as a graphic designer. I was officially a grown-up and working a big-boy 9-to-5 job. Little did I know then, that 9-to-5 in the marketing world is really more of an expression than actual work hours. But even though it’s crazy and chaotic, I’m incredibly luck to love what I do.

When I think about my professional life over the last decade, I can’t help but think of the amazing teachers and mentors whose voices I still hear in the back of my head every day. I thought it might be meaningful to make a “Top 5” list of some of the most important things I’ve learned over the years and put it out into the universe. A Cliff’s Notes version of my design education. Maybe it’ll help someone else as much as it’s helped me, especially as new designers embark on their own careers.

1. Being uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

This was a lesson I learned in school, and it’s stuck with me. You’re going to have moments throughout your career that are uncomfortable. People are going to push you out of your comfort zone. And to be honest, you should be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s the only way you really reach your true potential. (I did NOT have this positive of a view of discomfort when I was a design student. It mostly just made me, well, uncomfortable.)

2. Ask smart questions.

One of my first bosses shared this with me. During my first annual review, she mentioned that I was good at asking smart questions. I had previously worried that asking too many questions telegraphed the fact that I was a newbie, but she explained to me that it was actually the opposite. 

“It shows you know what you’re doing,” she said, “even if you don’t have all the answers.”  It also leads to much better work.

3. Say “yes” as much as possible.

I’ve had a lot of great things — from projects to job opportunities — happen just because I said “yes.” You could say it’s the foundation of my whole career. My first year as a designer was during a major economic downturn. I joked that I was the black widow at work, because every project I worked on died, slowly and painfully. Until I started working with the experiential team at my first agency. Saying yes to that first project was partially out of fear that I might lose my job if I had nothing to work on. But it helped me find what I was meant to do. If I hadn’t said yes, I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today, so always stay open to what comes your way.      

4. The best person for the job doesn’t always get the job.

It’s hard to hear, but important to know.

“People don’t hire the best person for the job,” my boss told me on the last day of my internship. “They hire the person they like best for the job.”

All sorts of things factor into hiring decisions, and I was lucky early on to learn not to dwell or doubt myself if things didn’t go my way. This job might not be the right fit for you, but the next one might be your dream job. 

5. Build a book with work you love.

While a student at The Creative Circus, I was freaking out about the future and my portfolio and if anyone would ever want to hire me. I kept changing the work that I was going to include in my final book. The head of the advertising department saw the angst in my eye. (Heck, it was probably noticeable from outer space.) But he advised me to build a book of work that I loved, and it’s a tip that’s served me well ever since. I’ve built a book of work that I love, and also, I’ve never accepted a job where I didn’t like both the work and the culture. As a result, I have always felt at home at the agencies I’ve worked in — and that to me is far more important than being at the hot shop where you don’t quite fit.

Some of these tips might seem like common sense. But sometimes the most helpful of insights can be right in front of you, and you just don’t see them. Consider this my one small effort to change that.


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