10 Tips to get hired as a Digital or Graphic Designer.

Do you want to become a professional graphic designer or digital designer?

If so you might be finding it hard to get your foot in the door and start your career as a designer. First off let me say that you’re probably not the only one.

The lack of education that’s given to aspiring designers about working professionally is a real problem within the education system and the design industry.

I know because not only have I been there and done that but I run my own studio and get many a portfolio from budding designers.  To be honest 99% of them are rubbish but when I started out my own CV and portfolio was even worse.

The problem is that as an educated designer with no experience you may not actually realise what you’re getting yourself into when becoming a professional designer.

It’s not all about creativity and great artwork and neither is it about being an artist. Being a professional designer is about meeting briefs, creating solutions, incorporating best practice and implementing design principles to produce “work” that impacts, inspires and sells.

But you probably won’t know or realise any of that until you get hired and get some experience as a designer.

To fill in the gaps that school, college and university miss out and hopefully give you a head start I’ve created a 10 point mini-program to help you get hired and start working as a professional designer.

The mini-program is more like 10 top tips which come from me, an experienced designer to help you become a better designer and increase your chance of getting employed as a graphic designer or digital designer.

It covers general issues and mistakes which I commonly see from budding designers so the chances are that if you’re a design rookie starting a career in design then you’re probably making these mistakes too.

Read the 10 tips now.

1. Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal

A university or college course in design is based on a set curriculum and forces you to focus your ideas and maybe even the tutors’ ideas within the boundaries of that curriculum.  

The problem with this is that it closes you off from the real world.  In reality the industry of design changes at a tremendous pace so whilst you’re stuck in a box at university, the design industry has moved on tenfold.

The result is that you may have some knowledge and skills to design but will be in experienced to work as a professional designer because universities just can’t keep up with the design world.

To solve this problem you need to start looking around at everything that’s graphically designed.

Look at your own work, other peoples work, products at the supermarket, the credits to a movie, the movie logo and the movie poster itself, look around everywhere to soak up as much real-world design as possible.

Look at it, analyse it and digest it to grow your own design skills.

hovis package design
Packaging Design
courvoisier logo design
Print Advertising
ITV identiy design
Bradn Identity & Logo Design
Inspirational Identity Design
Brand Identity Design Kit

From branding and identity design to packaging and artwork, all the design you see around you are the types of design that professional designers create and that’s the type of design that you’ll need to engage in, in order to work professionally as a designer.

A design education creates many misconceptions so remember:

  1. Professional design work is not about you, it’s about the brief
  2. Rarely is it about art
  3. It’s about communication
  4. It’s about connecting people

Not having enough real-world design industry experience is the reason why a lot of CVs and portfolios I receive are rubbish. Graduates or school leavers don’t look around at what a creative CV should be. Neither do they know what their portfolio should look like.

creative CV
A Creative CV

Admittedly it’s tough to do this when you’re straight out of University, College or School because you’re lacking professional experience and a body of work but that’s a problem that can be solved just by observing the CV’s, portfolios and the work of other designers.

Don’t be shy to look at someone else’s work or inspired by it. This is one of the basic skills that will make you a better designer because you need to realise that there’s no such thing as an original idea.

“Good designers copy; great designers steal.”

Pablo Picasso

Every great idea was built off of the back of another one and hence why you need to look around and become a sponge to soak in everything you’ve missed out on in School or University so far.

This is basically your introduction into becoming a real designer so do what most professional designers do and start collecting pieces of work that you see (adverts, flyers, magazines, documents) and put them in a box. If it’s a billboard poster then take a photo. If it’s online, bookmark it or add into a favourites list.

When you start designing professionally you’ll find that it will come in handy but automatically as you start to observe and collect, your design knowledge will start to grow.

Whilst this first tip may seem simple or maybe even obvious, it’s actually a huge problem that I see all the time and why most portfolios from rookie designers are rubbish.

Trust me, take my advice, open your eyes, observe, collate and start stealing design.

2. Choosing a field to work in as a graphic or digital designer.

The term graphic design is actually a pretty general and broad term covering many industries and disciplines with a cross-over of many roles. Graphic designers are not found just in design studios, you’ll find them at media companies, print houses, advertising agencies and publishing companies amongst other workplaces as well.

Within each industry you might find that the graphic designer carries out specific tasks such as artworking, illustrating, layout or photo editing and whilst you might be a multitasking genius you need to try and focus your work on a particular field in order to get a job.

When I started out I could do video editing, 3D animation, graphic design, illustration and DVD authoring (that’s how old I am) and I was good at all of them. My problem was that my skillset was too broad and not specific enough for an employer or role.

It’s great to have the knowledge and ability to do everything but when you’re selling yourself to a client or employer you need to make it easy for them to choose you. You do this by focusing your work on niche areas and by all means, you can express your talents for other disciplines but focus yourself on one as a speciality whatever the job role may be.

Cheat a little and be flexible. Change your niche to suit the available position if employment is your priority.

The question now though is which field to focus on?

If you’re lucky enough to have studied a specific field of design or already know what field you want to go into then that’s great. If your design education was broad then you might not know what field to specialise in, in which case do the research and find a field that you’d like to work in.

Go beyond just picking a field, research a field, look into it and practice it to see if you would really like doing those tasks every day. Look at what types of companies are likely to hire a designer with a particular skill set.

The following is a list of roles, labels and industries that graphic designers work in. Check them out and see which one if any suits you.

  • Art worker
  • Illustrator
  • Traditional illustrator
  • Concept character illustrator
  • Publishing
  • Layout
  • Typographer
  • Typesetting
  • Photo editing
  • Digital design
  • Web Design
  • Photo re-touching
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Printing
  • Media
  • Magazines
  • Signage
  • Retail Signage
  • Packaging
  • Display
  • Exhibition
  • Branding
  • Identity Design
  • Motion Graphics
  • Interface Designer
  • User Experience Designer
  • Fashion Illustrator
  • Book Cover Designer

The more you narrow down on a specific field or industry with your skillset, the better chance you have of getting a job.  BUT WAIT!

We don’t want to narrow your options down too much as you are a budding designer with limited experience so pick 2-3 different roles to give yourself some flexibility and creative freedom with your career and remember that your discipline won’t be set in stone forever.

Many a successful designer change disciplines or find that they are more successful in another role than the one they started out in so don’t worry about limiting yourself.  This is purely your stepping stones to getting your first job.

3. Create a Job Winning Portfolio as a Designer

I receive some terrible portfolios from new designers but it’s not actually their fault as a budding designer. Remember when I mentioned that universities keep you stuck in a box and you have to start using your eyes to absorb good design? Well this is why your portfolio is pretty terrible.

Universities tend to molly cuddle designers whilst their studying, concentrating more so on ideas as oppose to execution. The principles of design are forgotten and it shows through in your portfolio.

Obviously, having ideas is part and parcel of the job but what good is it if you can’t execute that idea professionally?

I see portfolio pieces with terrible margins, padding, alignment and layout. The structure and purpose of the portfolio itself is cluttered with odds and sods.

To solve, go back and make sure you’ve read, understand and are doing point one (using your eyes and observing design).

If you do this you’ll see what good design is and how to build a better portfolio which is essential to getting hired as a designer because your portfolio is your most important asset as a designer. It’s effectively your visual CV to showcase your experience, talent and what you can bring to the job. Creating a portfolio can seem like a tedious task but you can turn your portfolio into a mini project in itself.   Think of it as a creative and personal branding project revolving around your identity.

  1. Create a logo and brand identity, and use it to create a:
  2. Website portfolio
  3. CV
  4. PDF portfolio
  5. Physical portfolio

Treat it as one project with a synergy between each document. As for your actual portfolio, there are four keys to creating a great portfolio:

Context and problem solving

Your portfolio needs to showcase real-world work designed to solve a problem for someone else.

This gives your portfolio context, demonstrating experience and the fact that you can ascertain, communicate and solve problems with design.

Now, you might be saying that you’re just starting out and don’t have any real-world work in which case you need to make some up.

You can find exercise design briefs online at Breifbox or you can create a brief yourself.  Like-wise you can look at charity work, concept work or free work but in any case, build up a body of work with context.

Imagine the shop down the road wanted to re-brand? How would you do it?

Your best work

I had a large portfolio and I wasn’t exactly sure what to put in it so I pretty much put it all in and that was a mistake.

What you need to do is pick out your best work as opposed to all your work.

Picking work is a tricky task, especially for new designers. Over time it’s become easier and for me personally, I now have a better opinion of my own work. When I finish a project I pretty much know by the end of it whether it’s something I’m proud of and whether it’s something I would put in my portfolio or not.

To solve this problem for yourself keep your work specific and niche according to the job role you’re trying to obtain and try to keep it fresh with the latest work as opposed to old work but again a classic piece of work will supersede a dull new piece.

Creating your best work

A very important point is to keep your work and portfolio sharp by using design principles. Use negative space, padding and alignments to make every piece of work look professional and use those principles again to present your work in your portfolio.

Be Strict

When producing your portfolio be strict with yourself. Pick no more than 5 projects to showcase or 5-10 individual pieces of work.

Try and tell a story

If possible, try and tell a story with each project in your portfolio. Think of it as a visual case study. This helps to add context not only to your work but your work process and rationale. It will show how you approached a problem and solved it.

Feel free to tailor your portfolio for specific jobs by looking at what the company themselves may want from you.

To give you an idea, check out my design portfolio.

4. Build a body of work to sell yourself as a designer

How can you build a body of design work as an unemployed or inexperienced designer?

Quite possibly with free work.

Doing free work in the world of graphic design is frowned upon because later on if you ever go freelance you will find that most people will approach you to work for free in which case you need to tell them to piss off!

But as a starting point, working for free can be used to your advantage. Like any job, it will help you get experience and give you something to put in your CV/portfolio but be picky in your choice of free work. Some people are still there to take advantage of you.

In saying that giving your time and work away for free is harder than it might look. People in general love and want freebies but they’re also weary of people who offer them, they’ll ask “What’s the catch?”

When I was job hunting after leaving University I was approached by a guy who wanted me to come and work for him in a new start-up media company, essentially doing a full-time job like any other job but all for free. The guy himself seemed to have little experience in design or media and seemed to be a bit of a dreamer but more so just a guy trying his luck.

Could it have got me the experience I needed?

On paper, yes it could but with regards to a reputable portfolio, no probably not so I rejected the role.

I was offered another role by a photographer who wanted me to be his in house designer and whilst he would get paid off of his work, I of course would work for free under his name.

That again was a no-no for me.

A few months later I got a job in post-production, in London, Soho but declined the role to start my own studio instead but I had no body of professional work to show potential clients. This was a problem because a portfolio is one of the core aspects that clients will buy into. Your previous work is a buying decision for them. They want to see what you’ve done, what your capable of and why they should be paying you.

To solve their problem, I offered my services for free.

I gave myself a limit to do a maximum of 6 logos for 6 different companies for free. This was harder then it looked. I thought people would be knocking down my door for a freebie but how wrong I was. It took me a while to actually get 5 businesses who wanted my free logo service. I took their brief and delivered them great logos that they were happy with but more importantly, I got what I wanted out of it which was a beginning to a body of professional work to showcase my skills to new clients as well as a testimonial from each client.

This gave me my portfolio a boost of real world work experience from real businesses.

At the same time, I also came across my first encounter with an online time waster. Again it was from a media company who said

“You can redesign my logo if you like? I could do it myself but I don’t have the time. We already have one but if you can do anything better, we’ll use it.”

Those words showed valuable insight into dealing with clients in the future as a professional freelance designer. These types of people are just chancer’s who are not really bothered about design or your skillset, they just want to take advantage of you.

Don’t waste your time with them, only ever do a freebie if there’s something guaranteed out of it for you.

The offer of “I’ll bring you more work if you do this work for free” is always a solid sign that the person inquiring is a time-wasting chancer.

Subscribe to our newsletter to download our guide on how to deal with dodgy clients.

Creating Personal projects

Another way to build a body of work is with personal projects.

The type of projects I work on are of creative but they are very business orientated and usually of a conservative nature. Any given project has to align with the clients limit of creativity and sometimes they can be very limited. This can leave my creative side gasping to do something a little more daring or just something a little different.

tescos re-Brand
A personal project to redesign the Tescos Logo

The way to handle this is with personal projects.

Personal projects are not vanity projects or selfish projects. They can be strong marketing tools and as a budding designer, you may find that your personal project gets you a job as opposed to anything else.

Personal projects are also more common then you might think. Ever heard of the term “cold case?” It’s a phrase predominantly used in America by detectives who re-open old unsolved cases which were abandoned for lack of evidence. These cold cases turn into personal projects for detectives and they do it not only to solve a problem, or for the community but for their career.

Likewise it’s the same for designers.

You as a designer can pick a personal project to work on based on any of the following:

  • A new discipline that you want to try
  • A discipline that you already an expert in
  • A project that does some greater good
  • A project for business
  • A project that’s captured your inspiration
  • A project just for fun.

Pick one or pick all but practising a personal project is a great way of finding work, building skills and alleviating your creative will.

Now, just because you have an idea for a project it doesn’t mean you have to carry it out. Work on it a little and see if it still has the knack that you originally intended it to. If it doesn’t then feel free to just drop it and work on something else.

Most businesses start up as personal projects but let me be the first to say that not all personal projects are successful. You may find that your end piece is no good or just not relevant but that’s not a reason to be put down by because it’s all a learning experience and what’s most important about a personal project is just that….. it’s personal so make sure you’re happy with the end result and it will be worth it for you.

Feel free to place personal projects in your portfolio.

5. Get creative with your C.V?

I started working from about the age of 13 and held jobs down throughout my education. The only time I was unemployed was after leaving university (LOL) so it’s safe to say that I’m familiar with the C.V. having used the formal black on white clean cut version for most of my life.

The same goes for when I left university, I was using the stereotypical C.V to try and find a creative job. None of my family or extended family work in the creative industry and all of their CV’s were also the typical mundane style so I had no idea that a designers CV could be a creative one.

As a designer your CV can be creative.

Some will say that there’s a line of creativity that you might not want to cross but some of the best CVs I’ve come across happen to be the most outlandish.

Treat your CV like the discipline you want to work in. If you’re into designing identities then make an identity out of your CV. If the post you’re applying for is web related then make your CV web related in design. This is your chance to create something professional and personal and make it a teaser for your portfolio.

Use the skills you’ve learned as a designer so far to create something great, something that will get your foot through the door and if you’re unsure of what to do just google it for inspiration.

If you’re having trouble creating one then there are a ton of creative CVs available for you buy from stock sites like GraphicRiver.

Much like graphic design a creative CV needs to be simply informative and easy to read so the employer can digest all the info quickly and easily. It’s pretty much a marketing tool like designing a flyer or brochure so think of it in that retrospect.

You may be wary of what to put on there with the likes of social media but don’t be too shy. Give the employer whatever they need to make an informed decision about you. Obviously, stay away from drunken photos on facebook but anything that showcases you, your work or your thoughts on design is a good idea.

The key here is to again use your eyes but also to keep it professional in design, despite how original, wild or wacky your CV may be. It has to show professional practice.

Some of the best graphic design CVs I’ve seen manage to substitute words for graphics with rating style systems to demonstrate skills. You are a graphic designer so keep it graphic (or typographic).

Need help?  Heres a few great examples.

creative-cv by Samuel Profeta
creative-cv by Samuel Profeta
creative-cv by Amber Van Meigham
creative-cv by Amber Van Meigham
creative-cv by Anton Yermalov
creative-cv by Anton Yermalov
creative-cv by Lenka Kubisova
creative-cv by Lenka Kubisova
Creative CV by Tibor Brink
Creative CV by Tibor Brink

After looking at all of the above you’re either thinking :

1. “Woah! I’m competing against these people, I can’t do that” or
2. “Woah! These are good but I can do better”

The truth is that you need to take both mindsets into consideration.  The first statement is a good realisation of what you’re up against in the design world as a beginner designer and the fact that you have to step your game up to compete.

To do this you need to go back to point 1 and observe.  Look at the above C.V’s, see what techniques and ideas they’ve used and more importantly the design principles where margins and alignment are used to make a trimmed and stunning piece of work.

The second mindset of “I can do better” is now what you’re going to have to do! If you think you can do better, then great, go ahead and do better but remember that the CV is a functional tool and it doesn’t need to be better, it needs to work and it needs to represent you.

6. Getting Savvy with your online Graphic Design Portfolio

Graphic design and web design are practically step brothers so having a website is a must when it comes to finding work as a graphic designer or digital designer but you may not have any tech, web or coding skills. If so, getting online may be a problem but it doesn’t have to be.

If you can’t design a good website, develop one with code or have any idea how to get online then read on.

Your first step will be a domain name. Do a domain lookup or check on sites like 1and1.co.uk and find a domain name for yourself.

Domain extensions like .com or .co.uk do have an effect on search engines so try and get one associated with your country to help you get found by the right people but don’t worry too much if a particular extension or domain name that you want is already taken.

People will be visiting your site based on the direct link that you give/share with them so having an odd domain extension won’t have a detrimental effect on your SEO.

Secondly you need to host the site

Hosting is the place where your website will be stored online. Think of it as a computer (server) that’s connected to the net to hold and display your website. Unless you’re going to be getting 1000’s of hits a day you don’t need anything special so any hosting account will do.

Lastly is your web platform. There are many platforms designed to be quick and easy to use if you don’t mind using a standard template design so if you’re not a web designer/developer and want a quick fix for a website then options like Adobe BC or Squarespace are a good option but most systems still need a professional touch to help you get what you want out of a website.

If you’re familiar with programming and the whole web design process then you can go all out and use opensource software such as wordpress or joomla to create your independent site and design.

Lastly, if you want to start blogging or use a blog to showcase your work then hosted solutions like wordpress.com can be used for free. (more about blogs in later lessons).

At this stage your best bet would be something like Behances professional portfolio site. It’s a hosted solution for designers to showcase their portfolios without using any technical knowledge. It’s used by many designers as their main portfolio site and is a great tool to get you online with a cost-effective and time–saving solution.

www.conceptstore.co.uk is my main website but I also have a personal one on Behance here.

The core aspect on getting online will be to showcase your work so make sure it‘s your portfolio that takes precedence on your website in addition to your contact info.

You will need a website to showcase yourself and your work but building one alone won’t be good enough. The next step will be to promote it (more about that in the next lesson).

7. Creating your own personal brand and identity as a new designer

Back in the day, you had to pop into the capital city or your local town centre and visit every studio to hand out a CV and hopefully get selected for an interview but today up and coming designers have a valued tool which they can use to their advantage. The tool is of course social media and the internet.

With the use of social media and the internet, you can create your own identity online and if you’re lucky maybe even a following which can spread like wildfire. This can help you to build a name for yourself, bring in work or secure a job.

There are two keys to successfully pulling this off.

Be relentless

In order to pull this off, you have to dedicate a lot of time to building profiles online. When I say “a lot of time” that doesn’t mean spending the time to just open social media accounts, it means opening and actively using social media accounts on a daily basis. This in itself is a full-time job and can take hours out of your day but if your unemployed or looking to get started as a freelancer then it will play a vital role in marketing yourself. 

I myself do anywhere between 3 and 10 social media posts a day and to help you to cope with this demand there are some great social media tools available to use such as “buffer” and “hootsuite”.  If you want to find out more about how to utilse social media then check out my post, “Getting Started with social media”.

Back to topic, as a designer there are a handful of places where you want to be extremely active such as Behance.net, Coroflot, Dribbble, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. These are the places where designers thrive because they can showcase their work and network.

Sometimes specific fields of work also have their own niche portfolio and networking sites such as Deviantart for illustrators, dieline for package design and logo pond for logo designers.

Some people have had no or little industry experience and have managed to showcase one piece of work to win jobs with big name companies so if it‘s worke for them, it can work for you too.

By being relentless, putting in the time and utilising social media you can promote your work to friends, family and connections and hopefully build a name for yourself before starting professional work and if necessary give an insight into your professional thoughts as a budding designer.

The results from each platform may differ for you compared to the next designer so don’t worry if you pick up no momentum on any particular account.  Just being active counts for a lot.

Creating an amazing portfolio

You can’t become a design wonder just by promotion alone, you need something to back it up with which brings us back around to your portfolio. You need to produce some great work in order to get seen, especially when you’re showcasing it on design based sites which are full of design professionals.

Your work can be scrutinized or just plainly ignored if your portfolio is not up to scratch. Your portfolio is what will separate an amateur from a professional.

If you decide to go this route and find the work you produced is not going viral like you hoped then don’t worry, it’s all apart if the identity building process.

Learn adapt and do it again. Persistence and practice count for a lot.  As mentioned, be relentless.

8. Approaching the right companies to find work as a designer

I once received an incredible portfolio from an aspiring designer full of clay character sculptures. The work was stupendous and it was clear that he was super talented but the problem was that I run a brand design studio where there was no need for a clay character sculptor.  I advised him to try gaming companies instead or maybe even special effect studios who’ll appreciate this skillset.

It was shame to turn away someone like this but the problem was that he targeted the wrong company for a job.

A designer or creative comes in many forms such as an art worker, layout artist, typographer or identity designer and once you’ve defined your work discipline, think about what sort of place you would like to work at.  After that find out what sort of companies/industries actually use your skillset and then target those companies.

  • Games companies hire animators, programmers, character developers, 3D designers and illustrators.
  • Magazines hire art workers, typographers, layout designers and illustrators.
  • Brand agencies hire identity designers, graphic designers and illustrators.

If you’re not entirely sure on what type of job or discipline you’re looking for then it’s a good idea to do an active search and see what work out there is available.

There are tons of job sites that you can visit to find ordinary jobs like the job centre, monster and reed but the creative industry has little use for them because it’s a specialist field hiring people on very different principles. Dress codes, working hours, offices, skills and requirements are all a little different to your average job or even your executive job and to cater for this creative’s also have their ow line of recruitment.

Sites like Coroflot post up creative vacancies and places like Behance are there to show off your work and these types of sites are essential to finding creative work. You’ll find a whole host of creative job agencies looking for talent on every type of basis if you do little digging and if you dig further you’ll find hidden gems like http://formfiftyfive.com/ who always display new job postings. The creative field tends to have a lot of temp work as roles need to be filled for special occasions so freelancing for designers is a very popular option.

In addition, just keeping up with the industry tends to also reveal work opportunities with the likes of design magazine sites and blogs who post up notices for design agencies but despite our technological advances in lifestyle don’t forget the old fashion way.

99% of people find a job via a tip-off from a friend or member of the family and although the design world has its own hidden world you’ll be surprised how many people will have some kind of link to a designer or studio in some way. Ask your friends, family, friends of friends and friends of the family if they know any designers or studios or better yet ask if their workplace happens to have a design department.

This could be a long shot but it’s a worthy shot of getting your foot through the door.

In order to pull this off, you’re going to have to learn to do one more traditional method of getting a job which is selling yourself. As important as your CV and portfolio are it’s also going to be you in person which the employer will be interested in. They want to know if you’re investable as an employee and in reality, can make them money as a designer.

To sell yourself follow these rules:

  • Be an expert by keeping up with the latest industry changes and projects
  • Show enthusiasm
  • Show dedication and a hard work ethic
  • Show your ability to sell
  • Show your ability to communicate
  • Be likeable
  • Be you

9. Learn more skills & learn to sketch as a designer

I’m not ignorant! I’ve been there, I’ve done that and you could say that I’ve been in the exact same position as you are in now.

Looking for a full-time job in graphic design or any design sector is a full-time job but as a creative person don’t let any spare time go to waste.  Use whatever chance you can to learn new skills and technology whilst you’re job hunting because you are after all a creative and anything new that you can learn can be applied to your working process if and when a time calls for it.

I’ve seen logo designers who resort to actually making the logo physically out of paper as a testing process. This can’t be done unless you know your paper stock and maybe a bit of crafting.

I’ve seen some logo designers who’ll create an animated version of a final logo design just for fun. To do so youmay need to get familiar with the likes of Adobe AfterAffects and Adobe Edge.

The idea here is not to flood yourself with design skills but to embrace design. Take on the learning of new skills open-heartedly and you may find that by being a little unorthodox you can come up with a unique working process that makes you and your work just a little bit special.

From a business or employers point of view, any additional skills you have are always a bonus and you don’t necessarily have to be a genius at any new skills but a little experience can go a long way.

Learning new skills will open up new doors for your own career as a designer. If you’re a graphic designer, learn some CSS and you might find that you like it! In turn it could be the stepping stones to becoming a front-end developer.

There are many success stories in the design world were designers grew their additional skillset and became pioneers in other design fields. Saul Bass was known not just as a great identity designer but also great at poster design and title sequence designer.

Likewise Paul Rand is famous for creating some of the best logos of our time but his reputation as a designer grew from his page design work for magazines.

The bottom line is that the more you can learn, the better your ability to be creative or execute a task will be but it’s not all about technology.

The good old fashion idea of sketching is still probably the best skill that you can hone as a designer. You don’t have to be good at drawing to be a good designer but I have to say that it bloody helps if you are.

The pencil and paper is much more fluid, quick and easy to use as a creative tool than computer software because there’s a certain sense of freedom that comes with moving a pencil across a paper. Sketching allows us as humans to do 3 important things and these 3 things are really helpful for designers so forget Photoshop, shut down the PC or Mac and grab a pencil and a piece of paper to start developing your ideas.

 Sketching helps to Develop ideas.

A pencil and paper allows us as designers to draft ideas and physically get them out from our brain a lot quicker, kind of like visual notes. At that point it’s also easier for us to review them and make immediate iterations to develop an idea but it’s also training our brains with a formidable working process to develop ideas in general.

Sketching makes Memory notes

Ever heard the phrase “draw what you see”. That’s pretty much the reward of sketching. We can only draw something well if we observe and take note of a subject visually. By reproducing it via a sketch we’re then processing what we saw in an attempt to replicate it.

These are basically visual knowledge notes on what things looks like and how we can draw/reproduce them at our own will. This will become extremely handy when designing because the more you can observe and draw, the easier it will become to produce a design based on your past experience and memory.

Sketching Develops Skills

The better you are at sketching then the better your draft work will be and you’ll find that digitising the draft will also be a quicker and easier process as most of the leg work has already been done on paper.

If you can, keep sketching, if possible on a daily or weekly basis and remember that the beauty of sketching is that it doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be anything in particular.

Keep it fun!

To build your sketching skills draw whatever you want whether it be a person, portrait, some type or a cartoon character and work it up as much or as little as you want.

You will become a better designer for doing so.

10. Learn to Communicate & Sell as a designer

As an aspiring designer you may think that most of your time will be spent in front of your computer or knee deep in your sketch book creating tremendous works of art but as a designer working in the real world you need to develop one valuable asset if you want your career to grow. That asset is the art of communication.

When looking for a job in design, an employer will look at your portfolio and experience but one other factor that they’ll be looking at is your ability to communicate effectively.  Employers will want to know that you can talk to and handle people whether they be colleagues, clients or complaints because being a great designer is great but if you can’t communicate then the chances of you following or questioning a brief will be a set back for you as a potential candidate. Communication is probably one of the tricks that will set you apart from other designers.

The art of communication

Without sounding too industrious, good communication is about your ability to sell. That doesn’t mean a hard sales pitch, it could mean a soft one. It might not mean a sales pitch at all, it could just be your ability to ask good questions.

At the end of the day though it is all about the sale. Working as a designer you’ll have to sell:

  • Yourself
  • Your ideas
  • Your vision
  • Your solution

Selling could mean the way you deal with a complaint or criticism which is important to an employer but what’s even better for an employer is your ability to sell to a client.

Selling is a big part in any profession.  Large corporate companies rely on sales assistants on the shop floor to make their millions whilst service providers use customer care as a core selling tool.  Solicitors who become partners have a responsibility to bring in new clients and likewise directors at corporate companies are also given the responsibility to woo clients and bring in new contracts.

Every industry focuses on employees selling in order to sustain business no matter what title they have.

How to sell today?

The hard sales pitch is a very 90’s approach. Today selling is more about listening, asking questions and responding with good, informative and intelligent answers. It’s about your confidence and knowledge on any given subject and your ability to come off as a trustworthy yet authoritative figure on the subject of design and one great way to do that is by writing.

In primary school, I remember that I use to like writing stories because it let me unleash my creative side but in school, we only write stories until we’re about 10-11 years old. Once we get into secondary school, creative stories go out of the window and all we end up writing is regurgitation. This carries on through college and university and I can say that I actually lost any love I had for writing until I became a professional designer.

As a designer I probably spend most of my time writing or editing copy and whilst it has its creative merits, it has a more functional purpose of promoting, communicating and selling an idea.

The skill of writing is one that you should develop as a designer in terms of copy writing, editing and article writing. Copy writing and editing for me has become a huge time-saving skill which makes my design work better and allows me to extend my services but better yet being able to edit copy allows me to make a better piece of design out of a project.

Clients will often over deliver with copy, giving me 2 pages of text for a single A4 page design.   This is way too much copy but instead of asking them to re-write it, I edit it myself so the end piece is a well-rounded and functional document in terms of selling, design and communication.

Writing will test your ability to sell so it’s important that you learn to write not just for your clients but for yourself so you can articulate your ideas not just visually but literally.

A good designer finds an elegant way to put everything you need on a page. A great designer convinces you half that shit is unnecessary.

Mike Monteiro

Bonus Tip : What you need to learn about as an aspiring designer

I’ll admit it.

My education in design was a little rough having self taught most things. In doing so the importance of type in design was something I overlooked for quite a while but today I can say that type is probably one of the most important visual aspects in design.

We take type for granted.

Likewise I could say the same thing for icon design. In the graphic design world, an icon may be the most powerful and popular design that we create. Think about it, we use and see icons day in and day out, on the road, in our house, on the tv and on our computers.

They are the definition of graphic design having the ability to use a single shape to psychologically define an action, image or function for a viewer. We use more icons today than ever before and they’ve become a definitive part of our universal language.

In addition colour is obviously one of the things you’ll be using most and it helps a great deal to learn everything you can about colour. I’m not talking about what colours go together but the technology and science behind colour.

Understanding how our eyes work and the reliance of colour in our world actually defines our way of life and in retrospect gives more substance to our chosen path as a designer. We may not be saving lives with our careers but we do deal with an important element in life being colour, language and communication.

The above are just three things you should start learning about as a designer if you don’t already know them because the knowledge required to be a designer is just not that simple.

To get you upto speed as a professional designer make sure you learn, understand and use the following points:

Learn the tools

Most designers will state that the ability to work as a professional doesn’t come from the computer or programs that you use. A PC, Mac or Photoshop are simply a means to an end and I can totally agree but as a budding designer looking for a job, your competency with software will be a selling factor.

You need to know how to use the tools that are practised in your industry and if possible you need to know how to use them professionally. There’s more than one way to do any given task in Photoshop but as you learn the tools and trade you’ll find that they may be a best practice way of doing something particularly so it’s not just a case of knowing a program, its ideal if you know how to use the program as a professional.

Learn design principles.

Design principles are like the bible of graphic design and any work that you produce should reflect design principles to show your expertise as a designer.


3. Learn about the Fibonacci sequence

The Fibonacci sequence is more than a design rule, it’s a rule of life which defines a theory and association with nature, science and us as human beings. It’s been used historically by designers to create everything from buildings and buttons to documents and drink bottles.

If there was ever a golden rule to good design then The Fibonacci sequence is it. Not knowing this rule would be like a brick layer not knowing bricks.

Learn to use grids

After learning about the Fibonacci sequence, you’ll learn about grids and the importance they play in design. Grids provide logic to an otherwise illogical discipline where gut instinct and personal preference may rule the roost.  Grids bring design back down to earth for a professional and universal finish.

Learn about Type

Typography might be the most tedious and long-winded design discipline there is but its greatness lies in its simpicity. To design a great document you don’t need bells, whistles and fancy effects. You could do this solely with good type. Learn about it and if you can, try designing your own.

Learn Icon design

Icons have their own little design trends with the likes of skeuomorphic and flat design but the great thing about icon design is that if you want to, you can keep adding detail to create a masterpiece which is only 128 x 128 px big. Their importance in communication is great so learn to create icons as it will only help you to become a better designer.

Design Tips

  • Rule of thumb Try not to use more than 3 types of fonts on any given document
  • Use half a page or less of copy for every page design.
  • Use Illustrator to design logos, not photoshop
  • Create colour themes for your designs (try adobe kuler)
  • Learn about resolution
  • Learn about CMYK, RGB and other colour systems
  • Learn about Print Design
  • Buy and use a graphics tablet
  • Learn to code, at least a little
  • Keep learning
  • Read design blog magazines

The above are rules of thumb to create professionally designed documents but one thing to remember is that they are guidelines. As a budding designer its wise to learn, understand and incorporate these guidelines into your design work to produce applicable work.

On another note, you are a budding designer so once you’ve incorporated the above guidelines also look at how you might break these rules to produce something that’s different but still works. They are after all just guidelines so use them but then use your instinct to stay creative.


These are the top 10 tips that I can give any designer if they want a chance of working as a professional designer.

And if your job hunt gets you down, don’t worry.

Just stay acive, stay creative and keep learning.

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