Advice for a fresh designer

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.

photo
Designed by Sherif Samy, from Flickr

The Advice

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:

Computer Love
Quipsologies
Blog of Francesco Mugani
Design You Trust
The Dieline
Brand New
ffffound
Smashing Magazine
Note and Point
I Love Typography
Design Sponge
Brandflakes for Breakfast
Web Designer Depot
Brand Freak

 

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:

Fast Company
Slate
Wired
Inc
Dooce
Kottke
Boing Boing
Lifehacker

photoDesigned 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.

photo

 

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.

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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.

 

I hope this post manages to help some younger designers, as I was helped by people in my life like Ahmad, Lina, Tarik and Assaf.

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.

 

 






21 Comments »

  1. Mr. Tea

    September 21, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    Great article Roba, and thanks for the nod :)

    I’m very impressed by and proud of the Roba of this article, especially as I recall the carefree cynical designer-in-the-making student Roba! You’ve now tasted both sides of the design cupcake and I’m glad that you’re passing on your knowledge to a new breed of fresh designers!

  2. tcherryn

    September 21, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

    Those past three days and specially today, i was feeling down because of work and how uninspired i am and how i just cant focus on work. And just like that i receive a link to this post, which truly expresses how i have felt as a designer for the passed three years.

    This post has just made my day and made me want to work even more and force myself, and inspired me as well. Thank you ROBEE

  3. YBaggili

    September 21, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    Nicely put, from beginning to end!
    I appreciate true advice from analyzed experiences…
    I’m totally going to share this post around!
    Thx

  4. YBaggili

    September 21, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

    By the way, I forgot to mention where I get my dose of daily inspiration:
    Behance Network
    http://www.behance.net/

    And you can also check out some awesome industry-leading galleries featuring top Behance Network projects by category, offering more opportunities to be featured and giving your work even more of the exposure it deserves.

    http://trigger.behance.net/view/jbi.1c2/895ed894

  5. Ahmad Humeid

    September 21, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

    It’s great that your sharing your experience like this. I think this is great advice. Will make sure new SYNTAXers read this :-)

    Thanks for the kind words about SYNTAX. We loved having you as part of the team.
    .-= The latest from Ahmad Humeid´s blog ..Is Nokia trying to attract app developers or scare them away =-.

  6. SYNTAX:CONTEXT » Blog Archive » Advice for brand new designers, from an ex-SYNTAXer

    September 21, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    [...] Read the full post on andfaraway [...]

  7. Mona

    September 22, 2010 @ 2:07 am

    nice article :) and can be applied to any profession.

    I just want to add that, for beginners (esp fresh grads) to not expect a nice chair on their first day of work, i’ve noticed this with younger generation when they apply for a job and expect to “apply” what they’ve learn in college from the first day they go to office (yes talking about business grads hehe).

    it doesn’t work that way at all, sometimes you gotta start filing and sorting papers before someone take notice and see your potential, just be consistent and love your job :)

  8. Faten

    September 22, 2010 @ 9:39 am

    Thanks a lot Roba!
    your article is very informative and helpful for someone like me who’s just gonna start out in design school very soon, i will keep your words close to me so i can read them anytime i feel the need to
    if you have more links, please type them down ^^

  9. Chris

    September 23, 2010 @ 5:09 am

    For me at least, I think “less is more” looks best most of the time. And it’s best early on to be completely honest with yourself. Sometimes your whole “genius” concept doesn’t look so genius after a bit: so stop digging yourself in a hole, spend your time on something new (or try to use the good parts from that one or a previous failure) before it’s too late. (If you’re allowed to, of course. :P) Well…. maybe some of that stuff is just “Design 101″ talk, but I think you know what I’m trying to say! :D I haven’t seen some of those design sites, I shall check ‘em out, thanks.

  10. Mazen

    September 24, 2010 @ 2:06 am

    How much do designers make?
    Fresh,2 years experience , 3 years , 5 years?

    For engineers, Fresh:No jobs,if lucky 300jd/month
    2 years 450jd , 3-5: 500-700jd/month

    If you are Tawjihi and reading this,please don’t go into engineering,got to graphic design. Engnieering is overrated,you will work endless hours for some small company,earn very little, then end up looking for jobs in the gulf, you work in desert areas, earn very little in comparison to what people make in the gulf

    I am an electrical engineer , 7 years of experience,making 1000jd …

    It is very important to know your engineering and be a good student,but in real life, you are limited to a very low salary…if you decide to sell your soul and start receiving bribes and stealing from sites,you are making evil money, but you will end up rich.

    Avoid engineering, go into something useful

  11. Tweets that mention Advice for a fresh designer | And Far Away -- Topsy.com

    September 24, 2010 @ 3:42 am

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Razan Khatib, Roba Al-Assi, ArabObserver, Yazan Baggili, Jordan Blogs and others. Jordan Blogs said: RT @QwaiderPlanet: Advice for a fresh designer #Design #Roba (@RobaAssi) And Far Away → http://bit.ly/blk4PR [...]

  12. Naser

    September 24, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

    great post! why don’t u have this “Email this post” option!
    .-= The latest from Naser´s blog ..How do foreigners go around Amman! =-.

  13. Mazen

    September 26, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

    How much designers make?
    No one willing to answer?

    Roba,you didn’t touch the financial aspect in your advice,this could lead to a very talented designer,to quit early,because they are fed up and seeing no point in working hard since in 10 years their salary will be almost the same.

    Engineers work their asses off,yet receive horrible salaries.

    Are you any better or you are suffering too?I know as freelancer you could make decent income

  14. Ohoud K.

    September 26, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    I had a cultural shock when I started working as an architect. So much new stuff to learn and technical specifications that we were not really trained to follow.

    A major set back in the universities of this region is that you dont take a year off for a good internship, you just spend 2 months that usually end with you just beginging to know what you are doing.

    In the UK you spend 7 years studying architecture (instead of 5) which includes 2 years work experience.

  15. Mejo

    September 26, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

    What you mentioned in #2 is very crucial, and I find it a reason to success with your clients.. Though it’s not easy nor a quick task, but you need to know deep details about almost everything.. Sounds impossible, but this’ll help not to fall into “unforgivable cultural mistakes” or whatever you’d like to call it.

    Once, I’ve designed a logo for some client, I come up with a horse derived from that company name, turns out that horse is widely used as a liquor brand..

    Knowledge is power as they say, and this has a special application in design..

    One more thing about #1, for many times, I’ve fallen in the subconscious mind trick that you “orbit” a design you’ve seen.

    Extra usefull information, and really happy to read this..

    Thanks for sharing.

  16. Tarakiyee

    September 27, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

    I loved this article. I’m a developer first and foremost, but I’d like to think that I do it with a designer’s mentality. I always try to consistent and detailed, even if it’s a small lab at uni, that earned me lots of cred with my docs, and grades as well. =D

    But regarding typography, you neglected to mention that good fonts are EXPENSIVE. I often find myself limited to a choice between Quicksand, Museo and Rockwell, and the occasional use of (ew) Sogoe.

  17. morgoth27

    September 28, 2010 @ 2:17 am

    You know you’re a graphic designer when you were meant to type “Indian” but you mindlessly typed “Indesign” instead…

  18. kiloo

    September 29, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    Mazen , don’t worry we are all poor

    You spend your day out in the sun, getting dusty and all dirty , and recieve little money, yet I’m a banker,I spend much less hours than yours,work with clean people,mostly pretty girls :p and earn more than you…but we are still as poor as you…better working conditions. Actually we make more,you just picked the wrong profession,girls will not marry you,you can’t afford them to start with

    Hahahahaha

  19. Mazen

    October 1, 2010 @ 3:05 am

    you are rude

  20. Sergio

    February 29, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    Though it not new opening, but everything, it is necessary to take the given advice in attention.

  21. i am very intrested but i less devices and chances because of our poor family life

    April 28, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    i am very intrested but i less devices and chances because of our poor family life

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