Preparing for your Design Career: 5 Important Lessons

Expert Advice from Go Media Designer Aaron Roberts

Having just graduated from college in the past few years, I am able to put into perspective exactly what I learned, and wish I learned, before I headed out into the real world. There are plenty of articles floating around the internet talking about what to put in your portfolio and how to send out resumes, so I won’t go too much into that. What I want to talk about are the things that surprised me about working on real projects here at our small Cleveland-based creative agency, Go Media, and how I wish I had been a little more prepared.

1. Know how to communicate in multiple media.

When it came to explaining my ideas, I was used to standing up in front of my classmates and professors, going through my conclusions and why I made the decisions I did. I felt like I had a great handle on my presentation skills. The only problem; my audience was other designers.

What I needed was practice in presenting to people who are not designers. There will be times that you can’t meet in person so being able to respond to client feedback over the phone and through email is crucial. Be prepared to speak clearly no matter the format.

2. Understand that client budgets and timelines will play a major role in the process.

Since almost all of my projects were hypothetical, there weren’t any restraints other than deadlines to have sketches or rough mockups and so on. I was able to indulge in all sorts of choices even ones that weren’t very practical. The possibilities were endless. It was fun, but it led to the assumption that all projects would be like this.

The client’s needs, opinions, and overall message will always have to be taken into consideration. Sometimes you and the client may not see eye to eye on aesthetic choices or they will ask for changes. Do your best to stick to your guns, but remember, you’re working with the client.

The real challenge is to meet the client’s needs within the restraints while producing great work.

3. Be conscious about how you work.

I’ve known some people that couldn’t work in class and feel productive. It’s easy to get used to working solely on your own – without distraction. Unless you’re completely set on freelancing out of your humble abode, chances are you’ll need to work with people.

Work environments come in many shapes and sizes; open concepts, one long desk, cubicle farms, etc. Each one comes with its own set of distractions. Be prepared to be able to be productive in any scenario.

Try to visit as many studios as you can to get a sense of how the day-to-day really looks. Some may be more collaborative and strategic, while others more production oriented. Not only is this a great way to get introduced to potential employers, you can really find what kind of work environment suits you.

4. Recognize that your attitude is just as important as your work.

If you think about it, you’re around the people you work with more than most. The relationship you have with your co-workers will have profound effect on the way your days are.

Confidence is great. It especially helps when you’re standing up your ideas. But no one will want to work with someone with too much ego.

5. Do great work no matter where you are.

Early in your career, there will be times that you’ll need to make ends meet by supplementing your normal work with freelance pay that isn’t ideal.

The key is to work hard, even if you’re not at your dream job. Get familiar with the subject matter, and find what gets you interested or excited about the project. Looking at every project as an opportunity to learn something will make it that much more rewarding.


What are some things that would have helped you prepare for your career?

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