May 8, 2015 Noroutine

So You Want to Become a Better Designer

It’’s awesome to become a successful creative. You work with what you love and get paid for it. That’’s what made design job popular among many people in the last years, but let’’s admit that, we are plenty of fish swimming in the sea and unlike doctors or engineers we are least needed.

Before the Art Faculty, I used to study economy. Since my childhood I was very fond of illustrations and advertisement, I had a big collection of magazine ads and I would try to copy what I saw. The more I became good at drawing and selling my art pieces the more I got in trouble at school. I was a very respectful student except my primary school teachers would complain to my parents about me making the school a trading center where everybody takes their second hand stuff to sell or they would complain about me drawing comics entire day. I was also good at selling my art pieces to neighbors for some chocolate and candy. This followed up until the last year of faculty  where I got kicked out nicely from the macro economy class for drawing comics (surprise). That moment I gave my decision: I was going to be an artist, a designer! Hell, I was not going to spend my life with calculating money that I don’t own for sure. So my adventure as a designer started. When I graduated with the high honors from the art faculty, I was thinking that I was going to be the best designer in the world. I was going to pick the agencies I wish to work with, instead I got something like this:


At that moment you start learning customer relationships. Being patient, explaining things from different aspects become a part of your job. Either you are freelance or employed at an agency, remember that part very well, it’s the most important one!

There are other things you need to do in order to become a big fish:

Learn to manage your business

This one is especially important if you work as a freelancer. There are plenty of online lessons about business management, business relationships and negotiations. They might look boring first, but if you are going to run it for yourself, you will need a mind of an entrepreneur, besides you will need to be a bit more extrovert! It’s not so easy for some creatives, but it becomes easier after a while and I guarantee that you will learn plenty of useful things as a freelance designer.

Do one thing very good and have an idea about others

I had many great ideas for my personal projects, but I did not have the technical ability to make them come true, nor I could afford to hire operators with technical ability. I tried to learn and do everything myself, at the end I became a multi-disciplinary designer without noticing that. You don’’t need to be crazy focused. You just need to know some key points to make your coworkers’’ life easier. After I got programming classes, I didn’’t become a developer, but I gained an insight to programming which helped me to communicate better with my team and It saved so much time.

Your surroundings are important

Do you think you are what you eat? I can’t say much about that, but if you are a designer you become what you see! While I was at the university, we had a lecturer who kept saying “”live aesthetically””. I was not sure what she meant by that. “Shall we buy tickets to opera and ballet more often?”, “Come to school with a formal dress code?”, “Take courses to be elegant and classy?”. I found out the answer later.

Your life style, friends, things that often stimulate your eyes and feelings, your surroundings can effect your skills in a positive or negative way. When I first started to work at an agency, I was usually frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t paint the picture in my head as I wanted, but I had a wonderful mentor. He told me to be patient, he found me very creative and said I already had that sense in me and someday it would all come up suddenly and I would have that outcome I wanted. I’’ve always thought he says that to be nice. However it happened exactly as he said. I worked for months without noticing my improvement, I would always share my works with him and ask about his opinion, see his alternatives. Someday he said ““Wow you really became something, soon you will be better than me!”” and I was like ““It’’s impossible! I can never be better than you.”” But I could hear my inner voice saying ““hell, my work looks very pleasing this time!””

When he heard I was moving to Norway he became very happy and said “ “Now you have a chance to absorb everything around you! Use it to your advantage. I am looking forward to see your change”” Last time I met him and showed some of my works he said “you got a different mindset now, I can see this is going through industrial design. This is the result of living in Scandinavia.”” Again, I haven’’t noticed that until he says and this takes us to another important thing: asking opinion.

Ask people’s’ opinion and appreciate criticism

To be a good designer sometimes you need to be harsh to yourself. First you might find yourself in very defensive positions: sure you have education, you have experience, but if you stop listening you won’t be able to develop yourself any more. Show your portfolio to other designers, ask their opinion.

There was a case where I managed to get attention of my dream company and arrange a meeting with the lead designer. He was giving me tips about my portfolio. My mistake was treating all my works like my children and including all of them in my portfolio starting from the early years of faculty. He showed me one of my designs, said 1-2 positive things about that and asked my thoughts about the design. Suddenly I found myself saying ““No, this is definitely not a work of the league I want to play! I can’t say I am 100% satisfied with that one.”” That moment my design looked like a garbage heap in a sacred design temple and I felt a big shame. He replied ““then remove it from your portfolio, instead try to show three great works that 100% tells you”.” His wisdom filled me with inspiration and I left his room with fresh ideas. If he didn’’t open my eyes, I couldn’’t make any progress.

You should embrace customer criticism also, sometimes I see some sarcastic posts of designers about the customer requirements during the revisions. If their requirements sound funny, it’’s our job to take their requirements to a pleasant form. Instead of reminding them about your experience and mocking the situation, try to understand their perception. We all know art is relative. They might also bring a new perspective to your work. Too bad I can’t find the owner of that handshaking logo now, I would approach it in a different way.

Have a checklist

This is my screet that got me all the way up and I am so going to share with you.

When you finished your design, ask yourself these questions and have a checklist.

  • Is my layout okay?
  • Is my visuals okay?
  • Did I use typography effective or could there be better options?
  • Did I use mood lines effective, am I giving the correct feelings with that design?
  • Is there any element in my design that takes place without a reason?
  • Is there a single group that would be offended by my content? (If you are the one setting the content)

Be honest with the answers, when you do things you need to do, you will have a design that 100% shows your skills.

Trust yourself

If you can’’t get it done at the first time, no matter. Listen to Samuel Beckett: Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. The truth is, I am not the most positive person in the world, but when things don’’t go smooth, I just keep on walking further with the new lessons I learned.

Keep walking, the road will train you! If you sit hopeless and wait you might not survive it. Remember there is plenty of big fish in the sea!