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Some Tips For Young Designers

Of course I feel funny posting this since I’m only 23 (lifetime achievement!!) but my friend Jason Santa Maria had a great entry that got me thinking. Basically a design class in a college somewhere was asked to evaluate Jason’s site and the responses were really interesting. Interesting in that I remember being the type of person who would critique just for the sake of critique, without really thinking about the overall goals for the design, what type of communicative process they’re trying to illicit, and all that fun stuff.

Over at Jason’s I posted some quick tips to new(er) designers and I thought I’d repost them here with some additional thoughts as well.

1: The goal in life is not to please all potential clients. Yes, they pay you, but there are other ways you can make money without resorting to demeaning and insulting work courtesy a shitty client. Some designers have to take all clients that come across their path, but good designers get enough inquiries that they can pick and choose based on whatever criteria they want. A cryptic About page and lack of portfolio works to scare away people who (for some odd reason) don’t already know who Jason is or what Happy Cog is, etc. etc.

2: Design is important but designers shouldn’t act self-important. Snooty, self-centric designers with one view of how a layout should look won’t get very far in the industry. Consulting projects are always a compromise, and the better you are at dealing with that, the further you’ll go and the more respected you’ll be.

3: Analyzing a designer’s work without an inside knowledge of the project’s goals is a near-fruitless effort. You can critique poor execution, but you can’t critique choices that were made just because you don’t know why they wre made. I don’t know why Jason’s work always reminds me of a beautiful printed book, but it doesn’t matter because he constantly executes it perfectly. If his faux book on the left side wasn’t executed properly (mis-aligned typography, odd weathering, wrong colors/shading, etc.) then pointing that out is fine, but don’t knock the concept just because you don’t “get it” even though it looks badass.

4: Regardless of what your professors teach you, people swear in the real world and in the business world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the f-bomb in emails or dropped in phone conferences with clients, investors, companies, executives, anybody. People tend to trust “real people” more than fake stuffy corporate talk anyway.

And some more that I just thought of

5: Design isn’t about clichés, it’s about communication. Designing small pieces of the site and then mashing them together isn’t what quality design is about — you have to design the entire piece/site as a whole for it to work. Slapping diagonal lines here and some drop shadows there isn’t quality design. Parts of the design have to influence others or else elements look as though they fell from the sky with no coherent plan.

6: From a business standpoint, don’t sell yourself short. Quality design is a lot more than simply the hours you put into a design comp or the CSS, quality design has a large impact on your client’s perception as a whole. A fantastic design might get a startup funded at DEMO or might attract more visitors, more praise, etc. On the flip side, an unattractive design that is cluttered and difficult to maneuver through could get them a lot of negative feedback and notoriety. Design work is important, make sure you always remember that.

Any other tips!! Leave ’em :)

About Mike Rundle


  1. Nate K says:

    I wouldn’t say I have any additions, but I do think you did a good job of covering different aspects in your tips.

    I think Jason handled it very well, and honestly – if I were to step out of my shoes TODAY and put myself back in college, I can completely understand where they are coming from. So, I can’t be too harsh in my thinking – because growth takes place at different points. And honestly, some NEVER grow or understand.

    Maybe it should have been more on the professor to force them to be more thorough in their evaluations? Maybe they were late on the assignment and threw something together quickly? Regardless – it is obvious they didn’t spend much time UNDERSTANDING the piece.

  2. J Phill says:

    I actually have a friend that took that class, and from what I understand, it was more of the class learning the tools for design/development, rather than the concepts. So it seems that they approach the critique from a completely different angle.

    Being in their shoes just over a year ago, I can kind of understand where they are coming from. I think the major growth comes once you hit the real world, and like Nate said, some never grow or understand.

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