I recently heard from an old classmate of mine from my undergrad years. Thought I would post this up for any others out there…
I replied with…
I’m glad to hear your getting back into design! It’s definitely been a while since we last talked and what can I say, a lot has happened since school. I’m certainly not the best at what I do, I feel like I still have a long way to go – but there’s still a lot of things I think I can pre-empt you on.
First off, know that this is something that you really want to do. You will have to spend a lot of your time and invest yourself in all of this in order to be successful. A lot of what may prevent you from truly enjoying working in this field is simply not knowing or understanding how to do certain things as far as technical skill goes. Many times you may have the most creative idea known to man, but not know how to make it happen in CSS or PHP or Photoshop. Therefore, It will be very important for you to know, accept and work upon the things you need to improve upon.
It will all start with creating an amazing portfolio. I recommend to go to “creattica.com“, “patterntap.com“, “smashingmagazine.com” and “digitalthread.com“. These sites give amazing inspiration for portfolios and they’ll also give you a good idea of where you should be in order to compete in this verrrry competitive industry.
If you don’t have much work to show right off the bat, then I recommend spending some time and just create work for yourself. Create your business card, some collateral and site designs – even if they are for fake companies. But do it in a way that makes it seem you have done work for an actual client. Give yourself out there for people who need design work – but be prepared to do it for free (at least in the beginning). Make sure you seek people’s opinions about your work. Whether they’re in the industry or not, this will give you some practice at being able to take in constructive criticism from people. Also, keep in mind that in order to be successful in this industry, it will be very important that you make sure you create work that is marketable and useful to employers.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned down designers who were applying for a job because although they might be talented illustrators or whatever, if their portfolio is full of useless crap like anime or dragons, then the only thing that will go through my mind (and many other employers as well) is “How does this portfolio reflect the possibility that this individual has the skill and capacity to create the type of work that will make my company more money?” – wow! that’s a long sentence.
And lastly, I don’t know how comfortable you are with public speaking and/or social interactions but it will be incredibly important for you to master this art. You will be negotiating and speaking with many people that most of the time don’t know shit about what it is you do and how it all works. Therefore, make sure you spend time asking for constructive criticism and get yourself comfortable being able to discuss your design decisions in a well though-out manner that explains your reasoning and communicates the benefits in doing so. Otherwise, clients will become your worst nightmare! And it’s not their fault. Never forget that it’s not just about how pretty you have made something, this is also a business.
I hope this helps. At least it’s a start. Just know that this is an incredibly challenging career but it’s also rewarding to see your work live somewhere. Good luck to you and take care!