10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned As A Designer

Before I start, I want to point out that I am a work in progress and hope I always will be. These life lessons are still being learned and are more like my daily affirmations at this point. So, take them for what you will but here are 10 lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the very hard way, in the past 10 years.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

I have to remind myself of this frequently. Yes, whatever you are working on IS important. But it’s not the MOST important thing. It seems like a simple concept, right? When I was just out of school, I thought everything I did was so serious and important that it really sucked a lot of happiness out of my work. That’s a quick ride to burn out town. Relax!

2. There’s always someone better. And that’s ok.

Comparison is the thief of joy. I have to remind myself this daily when perusing Pinterest, design blogs, even Facebook (which might be the worst). There is no point in comparing yourself to someone else’s experiences. Just do you. And do it well.

3. Build bridges, don’t burn them. 

Oh, what to say about my first job out of design school? It wasn’t what I saw myself doing, I didn’t feel good about myself there and I constantly felt like I was on the verge of getting fired. Sounds fun, huh? But it was my first design job. I stayed over a year, learned as much as I could about the niche industry we were in, built relationships with the senior designers there, respected the art (and I am not being sarcastic) of production work and left on my own accord when I was ready to move on. My point is that no matter what the situation, don’t leave a job on bad terms if you can help it. You never know whose door you might be knocking on later. The people I worked with there and the experience I gained is the foundation of my career.

4. Designers: Sketch first, computer second! Creatives: Idea first, then create!

A tight deadline can be not only super stressful, but can cause you to put blinders on creatively. I find that the best designs I do start on paper first, computer second. These beautiful machines we rely on, no matter how smart, are still just a tool. There’s no substitution for a rough idea. 

5. Grow a thicker skin, but don’t become calloused.

Critiques and reviews don’t end at school. Be confident in your work and accept criticism openly. Stand up for yourself if you think you are being unfairly judged, but learn to not be to precious about your work. It’s hard to hear someone tell you your sweet logo isn’t there yet, but it (and you) will benefit from a fresh perspective. Still working on this one, people!

6. Walk away from your work.

I find that if I’m hitting a creative wall, I need to stop. Overthinking is one of my worst qualities as a designer and I need to give myself a break sometimes. Some fresh air or playing with my son does wonders for my head. There is no point in hitting your head against the wall on idea for hours, when a 30 minute walk will give you a new idea.

7. Check your ego at the door.

This was a hard one to learn. When I was just starting out, I thought I had to have all the answers. That only exposed my “newbie-ness”. Talent is one thing, experience is another. Learn from everyone around you no matter what their function is. The pressman, the project manager, the intern that brings a totally fresh style. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or look dumb. 

8. Get used to the timelines. Then love them.

Deadlines are awesome. I love them and embrace them. I have learned that I do better work when up against a deadline by making quicker, more intuitive decisions on my work. Also, I am able to create a better schedule and give each of my clients the right amount of time. 

9. Find the people you admire, then. work with them or for them.

There are so many creatives I drool over. Whether it’s their work or how they run their business, there’s an abundance of inspiration out there. My advice would be to find the ones that are doing what you want to do and reach out to them. Collaborate! You might be surprised at the response. Personally, I love working with another designer on a project. Also, the client benefits greatly from two design perspectives. 

10. No matter what they taught you in school, you’ll learn more on the job. Just get out there and do it.

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