Breaking into the design field can be a trying process. There are many talented designers on the scene these days who are eager to further their careers. Fortunately, qualified designers are in high-demand so there are plenty of roles to go around. However, landing your dream role won’t come without beating some stiff competition.
Although talent is the number one qualifier for designers, there are several additional qualities that established design firms and major corporations look for in potential creative hires that go beyond innate ability and skills. A lot of your success will rely on your ability to grow and adapt, how you network for solid connections, and how you represent yourself in the design community prior to your job search.
Here are five essential things aspiring designers should do to increase their likelihood of building a career that will eventually land them in their dream role.
1. Choose a school with solid internship resources
Sure, most schools will have a school guidance counselor who can help you identify a few internship opportunities, but the best schools for creatives offer complete programs to help their students earn quality industry experience during their studies.
As you go through the process of selecting your design program, ask about the internship resources at each school. Ask around to see if other students are satisfied with the help they’ve received in finding internships. Check out post grad job placement rates and try to understand how certain programs yield higher results than others.
If you’re not quite sure where to begin your search, reports show several of the schools that put significant focus on their internship programs and post grad success include Parsons, Fashion Institute of Technology, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Rochester Institute of Technology, Texas Christian University, and Creighton University.
2. Find mentors outside of school
There is so much more to explore outside of the bounds of your school’s set curriculum. Future employees will appreciate your tenacity and drive if you’re able to express specific efforts you’ve made to work with others and become inspired by their processes and capabilities. Although your coursework and internship should provide you with opportunities to work in teams and view the work of others, taking the initiative to step outside of the comfort of your classroom and into new design cultures will help you grow your talents and abilities to work well with others and create innovative work.
If you’re not sure where to find design communities, I recommend checking out Meetup. This app is commonly used by professionals in creative fields to link up at coffee shops or cafes to discuss their craft with others.
3. Avoid analysis paralysis
Attention to detail is an excellent quality for a designer to have, however, the pursuit of perfection can also lead to wasted time and frustration if you can’t stop when a project already looks great. Building an impressive portfolio will require you to not only complete several projects, but also be able to explain how you did so in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Lauren Hooker, a creative career coach and seasoned designer says on her company blog, “It’s great to pay attention to details and do your best work for your clients, but it’s also important to realize that a project could always be better. You could always make adjustments and the revisions could go on for months.”
In other words, don’t let a need for constant improvement keep you from hitting important deadlines at school or prevent you from moving forward on a passion project you’ll add to your portfolio.
Analysis paralysis is the real deal, especially in a field that is often subjective in nature.
When you’ve hit a stopping point where you can be proud of your work, release it for review! Sometimes all you need is a second set of eyes to realize that additional improvement on a given project would be unnecessary.
4. Ask for feedback soon and often
As mentioned, design is often a subjective field. This means that designers will get A TON of feedback from their managers, peers, coworkers, and especially their clients before a project is ready to go live. This is why it is important to ask for feedback on your work early and often.
Finding outlets to work outside of school will be important, but even if you don’t have an internship or a freelance gig where you can get feedback from different perspectives, look for ways to find feedback. This is another instance where a Meetup group would come in handy. Asking other designers to review your work as often as possible will help you become more receptive to feedback from a variety of perspectives.
If you haven’t established a group of designers with whom you can share your work, try seeking input from designers in online feedback platforms. Mashable provides an excellent guide to some of these resources.
5. Review the work of others online
Getting feedback is key to learning to become a team player. Giving feedback is also important as you develop your ability to think about design critically from a designer’s perspective as well as from a potential user’s perspective.
Start a blog where you review the site redesigns of well-known brands that interest you. Get active on the web design sub-Reddit. Be cordial and provide constructive feedback in these reviews like you would provide if you were consulting a client.
Your experience with looking at design with a critical eye and coming up with potential solutions quickly will serve you well in an interview. Not to mention, building a web presence for yourself as a designer early on will help you boost your appeal to potential employers.
Although you have some pretty stiff competition from other talented designers in your field, your chances of building an amazing career out of your design work is absolutely possible if you work hard both in and outside of your studies. Hopefully these tips will prove useful as you build your skills and work toward a career in design.