20 pieces of random advice for designers new and old

#design  #advice  #business  #opinion  #tips 

A long time ago I started a side project that died on the vine, called WIKN (What I know Now). The intention was to share warts-n-all advice to new designers, helping them navigate their careers, their projects and this industry we call home.

As a fun experiment and in the spirit of WIKN (now defunct) I've compiled 20 mini-tips.

This content was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Be constantly curious.

We’re lucky to call one of the fastest-moving industries our home. Staying curious will help you navigate the rollercoaster that is Design.

From finding new tools to exploring new frontiers like AI, keeping your finger on the pulse will always keep you interested.


Overindex on empathy.


Being empathetic to your users, customers, colleagues and stakeholders will get you further than hard skills alone.

That means speaking to them, engaging with them and remembering that you are one. Real empathy goes a long way.


Realise Imposter Syndrome is healthy.


If you’re nervous that you’re just winging it, good. We all are.

Some just hide it better than others.


Ignore gatekeepers.


There will always be territorialists; people who feel a topic, sector, discipline or similar is all theirs. They’re wrong.

If you’re interested in something, just go for it and don’t look back.


Get business-savvy.


A designer not knowing their business objectives is like riding a bike with no wheels 🚲.

Knowing how your business, industry or sector operates (and how design might improve it) will make you a better designer.


Remember a tool is a tool, not the job.


Figma. Sketch. Adobe XD. Invision Studio. Dreamweaver. They’ll always be replaced by something new.

Tools will come and go. Focus on your soft skills instead. You can (and will) learn new software.

Develop your soft skills.


Focus on being able to communicate well, articulate ideas clearly, share complex concepts with stakeholders and peers, and build empathy with customers.

Hard skills – like learning software – will come and go. Soft skills are paramount.


Learn how to code.


One for the Designers. An old chestnut, and for a reason. Learn HTML & CSS at least. If you’re feeling adventurous, level up to Javascript.

You would expect an architect to know what materials they’re using for a building, or a carpenter to understand the type of wood they’re working with.


Learn the design basics.


Developers, learn the basics of design.

Knowing the fundamentals like typography, layout, colour and basic UX patterns will make your life infinitely easier. And make talking to your design colleagues far easier.


Understand the importance of narratives.


Whether you’re agency or product side, learn how to put together a good story.

Whether it’s in a deck, written, verbal or otherwise. You’ll get better outcomes and better retention.


Improve your deck skills.


The closer to ‘the business’ you get, presentations (and spreadsheets) become the dominant currency.

Being able to wrestle disparate concepts and ideas into a coherent story – for an audience that lacks your knowledge and understanding – is priceless.


Work on your T-shape.


It’s better than no shape. Try to focus on the stem of your own ‘T’ before focusing on that wider cross bar.

That being said, sometimes a ‘jack of all trades’ is a superpower onto and of itself, but be sure you’re in the right role first.


Be self-aware.


Don’t be a brilliant jerk. And definitely don’t be an asshole.

Be a radiator, helping and supporting those around you, not a drain who brings everybody down.


Appreciate that people don’t know what you know.


We’re lucky to be in an industry that happily shares and learns.

You definitely know something that others would love to know. Share it with them.


Define a hard line between job and not job.


Keep them separate. Your job doesn’t define you. If that line gets blurry, you’re venturing into burnout territory. Beware.


Critique the work, not the people.


Keep them as separate as oil and water.


Expect a career framework .


They should be table stakes.

Although we love what we do, we’re exchanging our time spent with loved ones for time working. Make sure it’s worth it by progressing in your chosen field... and getting rightly rewarded for it.

Accept that the grass will always be greener.


Only lived experience will help you truly decide where you should go.

Don’t rush it.


Recognise there’s no get rich quick.


Boot camps will never be the substitute for lived experience.

You can’t become a senior designer within a year of graduating from a boot camp.

That’s not gatekeeping, just the cold hard truth.

Beware the Designer Domino Effect.


Your innocuous design decisions can have profound impacts on people and their lives.

Design can be used for great things, but it can also be used to trick and deceive. Be careful with your steps.


Colophon

For the nerds, the slides are set in two of my favourite fonts, Adelle Sans + Adelle, designed by Veronika Burian & José Scaglione, released in 2009 by TypeTogether.



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