June 7, 2017

Tips for young designers

I have been getting a few emails recently from young designers who are either looking for work or looking for tips on getting ahead in the design industry. So, I thought I would write a short list of things that have been useful for me, this list is by no means definitive.

Above: Tamarama Beach – photo by Will Langenberg – Unsplash.com

Be Hungry

I’m a big believer of ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’. Being motivated and hard working will improve your design skills. It’s easy to be a harsh critic of your own portfolio, even to think you are not qualified to work at your favourite studio (Look up Dunning Kruger effect for more on this). Even if your work isn’t the best on offer there are other factors that employers look for. Are you hungry? Do you have a unique perspective? Do you like challenges? Could they spend 8-12 hours a day with this person? All these factors and more come in to play. Many designers have side projects, this is a good way to show you are hungry.

Stay in the loop

Design is a very dynamic industry, new work is coming out every day from top design firms, new fonts are being released, new articles come out and debates are taking place. If you want to communicate with designers who love their job you should keep up to date with what’s going on. One easy way is to follow designers you look up to on Twitter and Instagram. They will usually lead you to more designers that you might not have heard of and sometimes job opportunities. I would also recommend attending AGDA events as they are a great chance to meet people and hear from industry professionals. There’s one coming up called Shot Down – I highly recommended it – it’s on every year, it’s a great night with designers talking about rejection and how it all went wrong. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. I will list a couple of blogs that are worth following in the bottom also.

Don’t over do it

When you are not doing the above, live a balanced life. Inspiration usually comes when you are not looking for it, so go to the movies, visit museums, go to concerts, the beach, Vivid, what ever makes you happy. You don’t want to burn out. If you can get a decent work life balance you will enjoy your work and be more productive. Also don’t forget to take holidays, bonus if it’s somewhere new – a great chance to see things from a different angle.


It’s often said that typography makes the difference between good and great design. Typography will be a key part of most design work you will do so learn as much as you can. Typography is a very broad topic also so make sure you read up on anything type related such as micro and macro typography, grids, font pairing, foundry releases etc . There is a flood of free fonts available these days, partly due to Google fonts. Most of these are worth avoiding, although not all. Typography is an investment so it’s worth having a few go to type foundries where you know the quality is good. Also, if you have an Adobe CC subscription you automatically get access to Typekit, which is a fantastic resource for type. Again, there are a few resources linked at the bottom.

Find a mentor

If you can land a job at a great studio – one that really cares about their work – then you can learn so much from other designers. Be prepared to work hard though, long days. When you are young and don’t have kids this is easier. I never worked anywhere famous, instead I have been doing the other things mentioned here. I did however work somewhere that allowed me lots of great opportunities to work on a wide range of projects. Try to connect with other designers who you admire, they are human after all and will usually reply, if you approach them the right way. I would recommend contacting a designer like this; address them using their name, if you know it, use a little flattery – who doesn’t like that! Don’t over do it though – mentioning projects of theirs that you like or find interesting – shows it’s not just a generic email sent to three studios at once – and be honest about what you are looking for. Mentors can help guide you, they have been there and know what you are going through. I found a mentor via Twitter, kind of accidentally, he announced there was desk space in the co-working space he was. I ended up moving in and meeting him as well as other amazing designers and others who are now clients. I can’t give you a good strategy for finding a mentor but always remember to treat people as you would want to be treated.

Above: Two emails I received recently, the first was sent to me and another design studio, had a very short message and 31MB attachment. The second took the approach I described above.

Learn to write

I’m not a great writer, but watching my mentor has really instilled in me the power of words in design. Any design project starts with words. Words can really shape a brand and help communicate in ways visuals cannot. Writing can also help to distill an idea and communicate that idea to a client. Copywriting may not be part of your job, but learning a bit will make your job easier.

Stay strong

Design is filled with rejection, it’s the nature of the beast unfortunately. You will learn to take this in your stride. As cliched as this sounds you need to believe in yourself. Getting ahead ultimately is up to you. Even if you don’t land your dream job if you believe you can be a successful designer you will. Make the most of every opportunity and don’t settle for average.


Below is a short list of some resources I find useful.


Branding blogs

Website design

Typography references


Local awards

Favourite books
The art of looking sideways – Alan Fletcher
A smile in the mind – Beryl McAlhone, David Staurt, Greg Quinton, Nick Asbury
Sorry Trees – Vince Frost

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