If I had a time machine I would go back and teach my younger self a few bits that would have saved so much hassle

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

So the title isn’t that great. I’ll admit that, it needs a bit of work. But the sentiment is there. I have been working in the world of for the last now, right after finishing a degree in Graphic Design. If I had a time machine I would go back and teach my younger self a few bits that would have saved so much hassle and would (looking back on it) have made my early design work much better.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and there is bound to be things that I will have missed but its a start and I hope it helps someone else.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

So here we go…

1. Write down everything!

Sounds simple enough right? Make notes, take sketches blah blah, but I never was very good at this. But learning early how to write quickly and to be able to pick out key points from conversations is such a very useful skill.

2. Get a dotted sketch book

Not the most obvious choice I know, but when you are drawing out a layout or logo using a dotted book can help get the positions and sizes roughed out more than plain paper. It also helps to give you something to work from and to present when asked. Even if you haven’t started on the digital versions having something on paper is very useful.

3. Learn Sketch, InVision and more

Honestly I thought I would be using photoshop, illustrator and indesign for life. But things change, adobe doesn’t hold such a grip over me now, I’ve learnt to use some more intuitive programs in the last year than in my entire time at university. Sketch is basically illustrator, photoshop and XD rolled into one and given a nice little bow. If you do one thing from this list, let it be this! Not every designer or company uses the same programs as you did in university!

4. Post-it Notes

When you get a project break it down in to as many parts as you can; mind maps, sketches, research, first iteration, logos, layout etc… Doing so will give you a lot of parts, yes its going to look evil but it will help in the long run. Write it all down on post it notes and put them up. As you work your way through them you can move them to a done pile. As that pile grows so does your project. Don’t think you can’t add or remove bits but if you do make sure you know why.

Breaking down a project this way is a very basic version of some of the working practices that are used by companies.

5. Read blogs

Honestly read some design blogs. These people have probably been doing this a lot longer than you so use them to learn!

6. Don’t focus on just being in a studio

There are plenty of other places to be a great designer. I started off as a in-house for a furniture company designing print magazines and now work in-house for a technology company surrounded by developers. In-house is just as good as a studio, sometimes it’s even better. You get to really know the brand, you often get more time on projects and can see the whole scope.

We get sold on the idea of studios being the best place for us, but often that isn’t the case. I wouldn’t have survived in a studio when I first started out, I was not very good or focused, now though, I still probably wouldn’t either, but I’ve improved my skills massively and bring more to the table.

7. Learn to speak with others

Sounds easy right? But more often than not I still freeze when it comes to talking to new people. I panic, clam up and stutter. Now this is common for a lot of people, but overcoming it can help you to communicate your work, make people see what you are thinking! And more often than not save you from some headaches.

8. Stand up for your designs but know to accept criticism

This feeds off from the last one. Stand up for your work. You have spent your time and energy in building this beautiful creation only to have someone knock it down. Fight your corner and make your voice heard. But listen to what they are saying! Are they saying they just don’t like it? Or are they actually saying the aren’t sure on the colours or maybe the image isn’t right. You have to be able to tell the difference and know when someone is actually trying to improve your work!

9. Make friends

Generally us designers are introverted, we like to keep to our selves and hide our work from others. I know I do, I still struggle to present my designs to people even if they’ve already seen it. But make friends with people, they could be the other designs (if you have them) or developers, or even someone else. But trust me, making some friends will mean you have people around you to help when you feel low, or to just go get lunch with.

10. Don’t over stress

Ah yes, the classic, don’t over stress. Everyone tells you this and you tell your self this too… But don’t OVER stress. Yes I capitalised over, and for good reason. Stress in small doses can be good! It can help to keep you on track, make you refocus and as I’ve found do your best work. But too much and you’ll topple. Learn to manage your stress levels. I’ve still not managed this yet.

Well that’s all I got for now. I hope you’ve learnt something from this, you might not have, it is pretty basic stuff to be honest and does kind look like a rerun of a shit blog, but I honestly wish I had known all of this when I was in my first year of university. Hind sight is wonderful but there is so much to look forward to so I try not to dwell on it.

Thank you for reading!

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