It is tough joining the workplace as a brand spanking new designer.
Designers have such a solid frame of mind:
1. We are hard-wired to need “creativity”, that’s why we choose to become designers in the first place.
2. We want to work on innovative projects that challenge us.
3. We always have a feeling of vain ownership over our work.
Design education, especially in Jordan, feeds these three things, instead of teaching us the more worldly aspects of working as a designer.
Challenges of the Real Job Market
Our first few months (or years) on the job are always a little shocking. We discover how the client is always right, even if he or she has no idea what the hell they’re talking about. We come to terms with the fact that design is almost never creative; in fact, creativity is practically frowned upon. We realize that the bulk of what we our jobs entail is detailing and finalization.
I am very lucky that I started out my career in Syntax, the best design environment in Jordan. Lina — an amazing designer and one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known — practically adopted me.
Let me share with you what I learned in my first few years as a design professional, in hopes that it will help you in your first few years as one too.
Designed by Sherif Samy, from Flickr
1. Get a dose of daily inspiration.
Inspiration is vital to the design process. Think of your eyes as something you need to feed daily with carefully control portions of the best kind of herbs available.
Bookmark as many design websites as you can. Read them every day. Try to mimic the artworks you like. Eventually, your own style will evolve and you will also learn more about what people think is beautiful, as opposed to what you think is beautiful. It is very important for a designer to be able to understand what people want.
Don’t confine your reading to your field of design. Read about all the disciplines; interior design, graphic design, web design, typography design, product design, textile design, and so on. Everything you know will come in handy.
Here are my own daily reads, maybe you’ll find something that will inspire you:
Blog of Francesco Mugani
Design You Trust
Note and Point
I Love Typography
Brandflakes for Breakfast
Web Designer Depot
2. Learn about the world.
Read a LOT. Design is one of the most inter-disciplinary fields. As a designer, you will work on many products that can range from the packaging of soil fertilizers to the branding of a bank. Staying updated with different industry news is vital to your understanding of your own design work. If you don’t develop the ability to want to understand, then you’ll never be a good designer.
I get a lot of my readings through Twitter, but here are my favorite magazines and blogs:
Designed by Gray!, from Flickr
3. Appreciate the details.
Developing the ability to be attentive to detail is one of the hardest things I still have to go through daily, because I am not a detail-oriented person.
Here’s what I learned about typography:
Typography is a great example of a “detail” that really makes or breaks a design. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most under-appreciated aspects of design. In Jordan, no one teaches students to appreciate good typography from bad typography.
a) Stay away from amateur fonts like the ones you would find on Da Font and other free websites. They are not well made. Type foundries spend years on a single font; it’s like you love Led Zeppelin and then you get an urge to beat up a guy singing a really crappy remake of Stairway to Heaven on YouTube, if you know what I mean.
Here’s a list of classical fonts: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/08/08/80-beautiful-fonts-typefaces-for-professional-design/
Here’s a flowchart to help you decide on what to use: http://julianhansen.com/files/infographiclarge_v2.png
b) Read a lot about typography. It is a science of its own. There are tons of great typography blogs out there, start with the bookmarks you find on We Love Typography.
Here’s what I learned about alignment and grids:
a) Grids are the single most important element of a design work. Without grid, work is “floating”. Practice laying guidelines over all your designs and stick to them. If you choose to break the grid, break it on purpose.
b) Make sure that everything is always aligned to something. I wouldn’t say that design is about symmetry (actually, symmetry is often boring), but it is about making the eye feel comfortable, and if things aren’t aligned, then elements constantly feel like they’re about to fall off the page.
Here’s what I learned about consistency:
Consistency is the Holy Grail of design. It is the one word that constantly has to be in the back of your head at ALL TIMES. Are the colors consistent? Is the image consistent with the brand image you want to portray? Is the element consistent with the rest of the page? Is your brand being used consistently by others?
The reason we are designers rather than artists is because we do work that serves a long-lasting purpose. Without consistency, it will never be long lasting.
4. Understand Beyond Colors and Shapes
Designers often shy away from the aspects of our profession that go beyond colors, typefaces, and shapes. That is the wrong thing to do, as we are left with a terrible collection of local websites designed by IT developers who think they can design just because they know how to use the tools (no offense to developers). You don’t need to know how to code to design solid user interfaces and beautiful websites.
All it takes is setting your mind on understanding the experience behind what you do in your daily life, whether it’s driving through an urban city or browsing the web. There’s something to learn in everything.
One of my friends in university, Noor, has a gift for seeing design in everything. She would look at the most random every day objects and come up with brilliant and unrelated ideas. Not everyone is born with that gift, but it’s certainly something that can be developed.
Keep an open mind.
5. Never Take Offense
My final advice is to never take offense in feedback. It is brutal being a designer, because even the world’s stupidest people think they know about design just because they have an opinion, “Oh, I don’t like those colors together.”
We know it’s not about personal opinions. As designers, we know that design has many, many rules. As is the case with rules most of time, the general population of the world is absolutely clueless about their existense. So we must never take offense to feedback, but attempt to educate. It’s much harder than it sounds, I know.
One of my classmates at university was an awful designer, but she kept arguing and taking things personally when our tutors told her her work was crap. But it was crap, and she decided to not accept that. To this day, her work is crap. Moral of the story: never take it personally. You can always learn from people, regardless of how dumb what they say is.
Finally, one of the most beautiful things about being a designer is that design is a mentality. As my friend and ex-colleague Assaf always told me, once your design muscle is developed, you will never stop being a designer, even if you decide to ditch design and become a dentist.
It’s true. Design education and experience reorganizes your brain to work better, be more open, and see things that most people can only see when they’re on LSD.
That’s the most rewarding thing about design.
Please do share your own experiences. If you have some advice to give in your own profession (it dosn’t have to be this long), I would love to post it.