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8 Tips for Young Designers

Author  / 8 Tips for Young Designers

8 Tips for Young Designers

I returned to my alma mater, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), to speak to graphic design students in an AIGA GVSU alumni panel. AIGA is a national design organization geared towards educating and connecting people in the design professions.

After serving on the AIGA GVSU board while in school (including a stint as President) and now as the AIGA West Michigan Communications Director, I believe it’s so important to get involved in career organizations early on. I was honored to be asked to speak on the panel and share advice on what I’ve learned in the field since graduating.

When young designers ask about success “in the real world”, I often reply with the following eight tips:

Get Involved


When young designers ask how I’ve gotten to where I am in my career, I share that it is because I showed up to AIGA, met somebody, developed a contact, who later offered me a job. You may be busy but getting involved is something you need to make time for.

Dive Into Networking

Networking is scary for anyone, introvert or not. Dive in with firm handshakes and direct eye contact, these are the necessary evils we must all learn. I always remind myself that networking is awkward for most people and not to overanalyze the situation.

Say Yes

In my career, saying yes allowed me to spend a few days in Indiana and a week in Tampa photographing food for a restaurant.

I had never photographed food in my life but had done other types of photography before. I used YouTube and Google and became an overnight expert on tricks to make the food look delicious! You never know the cool projects you might get to work on when you say yes.

Disclaimer: know your limits. It’s unfair to the client if you pitch yourself as a web developer and you’ve never coded in your life!

It’s Not You, It’s Them

It’s difficult to break into the graphic design industry. Some creative directors are hard on students and recent grads. While there is a difference between 0 and 20 years of experience, but young designers are talented, have fresh ideas, and are excited to get to work.

As a young designer, you will run into people who want to belittle you because of your limited resume. Those are not your people. If they don’t see your worth and the potential to build up a new designer, they can step aside while you wait for a creative director who does.

Keep your head held high, you will find the right gig with the right fit and right boss.

Get Up

Get up for work. Seriously. Some days you won’t want to, especially when your bed is warm and your dog is snuggly. However, you never know what will be waiting for you at the office, what projects you will work on, or what people you will talk to.

Another cheesy tidbit I tell people: “get up and stand, or watch your butt expand”. If you don’t have access to a standing desk, make sure to walk around frequently! It will get the blood flowing and you will hopefully offset the pizza you had for lunch.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Honest

People value honesty more than you realize. Being honest with your client, boss, whomever about what is working and not working is scary, but 9 times out of 10, they will respect you more for telling them the truth.

This also includes being honest with yourself. You must listen to what your brain is telling you. If you’re miserable, you need to change something up. I have held a few positions where I didn’t want to come in on the second day of work and with each day, it did not get better. However, those experiences taught me what I didn’t like and pushed me to chase after what I really wanted. 

Use Free Time Wisely

It can be really tempting to go home and zone out after your workday. While you should take a break when your mind and body need it, find a way to keep sharpening your practice in your off-hours.

I follow designers on Instagram so even my mindless scrolling can be productive! I also have taken online classes and work on personal projects totally unrelated to my day job. Check out how I use my love of lettering as a side hustle.

Be a LEADer

No, I’m not trying to subtly quote our name (ok, you caught me, I totally am). If you do what everyone else does, you will not stand out. If you email your resume to a creative director, 500 others have already done the same thing. Get their attention! LEAD the pack!

Don’t copy other people’s ideas. Come up with an idea so great, others will copy you. One time, I stalked a company’s Facebook photos and Photoshopped myself into their office space for a job. Ultimately, they didn’t have an opening, but it interested the boss enough that he wanted to meet with me.