If you are the kind of individual that sees aesthetics as a problem to be solved through the creative use of modern technology, becoming a professional designer can be a fulfilling career choice. Anyone can learn how to do design work provided they study hard and practice often, but the difficulty lies in knowing where to start.
Design is a diverse field, and in many instances it converges with other areas of human endeavor such as art, business, marketing, psychology, software development, and others. In other words, there are multiple entrances to the labyrinth that is design, and your initial choice on how to approach the subject matter will determine whether you will reach the goal in a reasonable amount of time, or get sidetracked and delayed along the way.
In order to help you on your journey towards becoming a professional designer, we offer a curated list of tips that you ought to keep in the back of your head while working on your first designs.
1. Explore the Design Landscape
It might seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to get started with design is to begin at the end, and work backwards. In other words, you should first try to determine what would be your end-game as designer, and then connect that with where you are now.
There are numerous kinds of design work available, and not all of them necessarily involve visual aesthetics. Designers work on user interfaces for software applications, they create user experiences for websites, they research how color influences perception, and everything in between.
You should try to get acquainted with these kinds of work, and decide which involve problems you would enjoy solving. After you narrow down your choice a bit, move on to examining what kind of design services are being offered on the market.
For example, if you have an interest in web design, you can check out portfolios of professional design companies to see what will be expected of you when working for one.
2. Start Working on a Project
Once you get comfortable with things like design lingo, the big names in the field, and the technologies commonly used, you should try you hand at creating a design. Nothing builds skill faster than using it to solve problems, and the sooner you start, the more experience you will have under your belt down the line. However, creating something from scratch for the first time can be a daunting task – where do you even begin?
We feel that the best approach would be to come up with a specific challenge for yourself, such as creating a simple logo, editing a photo, or making a simple web page, and then browse online for articles and tutorials that will walk you through the process on the technical side. Alternatively, you can enroll in a course that includes practical projects which you can work on while you study.
3. Learn to Think Like a Designer
After you get comfortable with creating simple designs, you can start to reflect more on what makes a particular design effective. Ask yourself the following:
- Which of your designs do you like the best, and what are your least favorite ones?
- How would you improve a design you don’t like?
- What are the common elements you find in the designs you like?
- What is the first thing you notice when trying to evaluate a design?
By getting into the habit of asking questions such as these, you will slowly prime your mind to think in terms of design. Once you get comfortable with doing this, you can try to read up more on design theory.
Having a solid theoretical foundation on design won’t automatically make your designs better, but it will give you a wide perspective on the field as a whole, which is a valuable skill to have for finding work.
4. Understand Consumer Psychology
If you wish to pursue a career in design, you need to be aware that what you will be creating is ultimately a product meant to be sold to consumers. And since this is the case, it is essential to something about the psychology associated with both.
Getting into the mind of your intended audience will enable you to tailor your designs to their particular needs and desires, which is crucial if you wish to find and maintain employment in the design industry. There are two principal ways to approach design psychology:
- One is to start from the top and examine the demographic characteristics of your customers such as age, gender, cultural region, etc., and progressively narrow down your focus.
- The other is to start from specific customers, and then try to establish commonalities and patterns in their preferences and behaviors related to your designs.
5. Reach Out to Other Designers
As with any kind of work, design is a collective effort. Without there being a community of designers beforehand, it would be next to impossible to have any sort of progress in the field as a whole, and each individual designer would have to discover everything from scratch.
Fortunately, the networking potential of modern communication technologies, especially the internet, has enabled designers to connect with each other and share knowledge. As a prospective designer, you should leverage this fact to its full extent.
Whenever you have doubts, questions, suggestions, or criticisms related to design, try getting in touch with other designers and start a conversation. Not only will this help you solve design related problems, but it will also give you a fresh perspective on your own designs, which is invaluable for all creative endeavors.
6. Enroll in a Design Class
To take the previous tip a step further, you can enroll in a professional design school if your free time and budget allow for it.
High-profile design schools such as Aalto University, Politecnico di Milano, or the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will give you holistic design education which will enable you to confidently pursue your career goals.
Smaller local schools and colleges lack the prestige of these institutions, but don’t underestimate what they can offer either – being surrounded by knowledge-hungry students and an enthusiastic teaching staff is often all it takes to get one motivated to learn.
You can also apply for an internship at design company, if you prefer a more hands-on approach to learning design. Being an intern has other benefits as well, such as learning how to work within a team, a skill that is highly sought after no matter what kind of design work you plan on doing in the future.
7. Present Your Work
As with most jobs on today’s market, in order to succeed as a designer you will need to promote yourself and your work. After all, if no one is aware of your designs, why would they hire you for a project or approach you with a job offer?
Promotion can take on many forms, from explicit marketing, to simply having your portfolio hosted online, but the idea is always the same – show your work to as many people as possible. Presenting your designs to the public is also a great way to solicit criticism, which is crucial for becoming a better designer.
If you are shy about present people half-baked products, ask your family and friends for opinions. Even if they don’t match the profile of your intended audience, they can still give you valuable clues regarding which parts of your design work well, and which don’t.
Few areas of modern business are as exciting as that of design. The ability to earn a living from doing creative work is attractive to a lot of people, and for good reason. But in order to get there, you have put in the effort, and we hope that our tips will be of use to you on your journey.
About the author: Vanessa Davis is 32 years old, lives in New York and is currently a full-time technical writer at designrush.com. Her areas of expertise are content marketing and design and in her free time she enjoys yoga, skiing and having a day in the park with her kids.
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