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Everything I wish I had known as a design student before graduating

Updated September 13, 2014

Design Student Graduating Wish I knew

Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

Stuffed like a pork sausage into a class of other designers, I looked around with a suspecting eye. I had tricked myself into thinking everything was a competition. That when I graduated I had to be hired immediately, or I would die. Every kerning issue, every snippet of code I would absorb it into my body and brain or I would learn how to simulate the appearance of someone who understood it all. I was actually occasionally quite an asshole; partly because I was tired and scared.

I graduated, got a job and essentially started a week before I was totally done with school. I had been running on fumes, working freelance, and neglected what could have been a real priority to be a compassionate and empathetic human being. I had been taking everything way too seriously, and when I graduated it seemed as though 70% of the people I graduated with got great positions. Some entry-level, a couple more premium positions, and a couple more were internships. But everything seemed very appropriate, and all of the struggle that I made out of the situation may have been completely unnecessary.


  1. Most Importantly, relax


That means with homework and work you can’t work 60+ hours and expect to be a chill guy. At least I can’t. If I’m an ambitious person, great, but evenings sometimes have to be completely computer free , and a 3 day weekend has to mean no work at all occasionally if I want to preserve the bohemian chill vibe that drew to me the creativity in design in the first place. I wish I did a little more of this on my last couple semesters of design school, I would have been more pleasant to be around.


  1. Be OK with being one in a crowd


Being the king designer is so unnecessary. If I could just be in the top 30% percent and encourage the shit out of the people who are killing it, and truly be part of the whole experience, I’m winning. I just follow the most incredible designers on Dribbble, keep up with ridiculously good work on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and continually am feeding my designer brain. If you are working for 6+ hours a day on design problems for 4.5 years you will be an expert according to the 10,000 hour rule. It’s going to be incredible, you’ll be able to execute delicious visions that at the beginning of your schooling you struggled to even barely get off the ground. That’s just the magic of time passing, and diligently seeking to get better.


  1. Just because the people are doing good work around you doesn’t mean your work is bad.


I thought because they’re were such talented designers in my midst that meant my work would be devalued. Just look in a local magazine, at half the websites on the internet, or at your local shop and you’ll likely see many opportunities for improvement in peoples marketing and current design materials, and you will understand; supply doesn’t equal demand. The world needs better design, and if you make sure you’re pushing to be in the top tier of designers around you don’t be disappointed if there are 5 superstars ahead of your aesthetic. Your work is still good, relax, take a cue, and make it better. Just the fact that you are very conscious of what is good, and willing to improve and be aggressive about getting better is going to keep you in the front of the pack over time.


  1. Allow yourself to vet the possible opportunities, not everyone that would hire you is right for YOU.


If you are not into having a one-client design job, in house for one brand, by all means go to the interview, and make it clear it’s more of an informational thing. If they are down with that, then don’t fret if you have to turn down an extra 10 grand a year to pursue the actual career path you desire. Also, don’t wince at asking for the appropriate amount for a beginning designer. Research what other beginning designers in your field are making and ask. In the end though, it should really be about what type of role is best suited for you, and just that the compensation is in an appropriate range.  This is something I did actually take in strong consideration before I graduated and it makes me all the more confident today that I’m in the right place.


  1. You are not an imposter.


You’re a beginning designer! You don’t have to know everything. When you go in for an interview you don’t have to call out everything that you don’t feel like you are an expert in. The person who is interviewing you knows that you’re not a master yet. Focus on the things that you know you have a particular knack for, show them working examples… if you are a developer, show them what you’ve done in code. Show them your style, and the things that you’ve created so far.

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Partly Inspired by this post by Mike Monteiro


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Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, an SEO and Web Design company focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses, roofers and construction companies.

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