Advice for new designers and artists

Whatever your background is starting out in a creative field is a daunting process. It opens us up to criticism and exposes our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Here I have put together some useful tips for those starting their journey, things I wish people had told me when I first started and some that people have told me along the way, all of which have helped me during my career.

1. Criticism is not personal

This is the most important thing a creative needs to remember, criticism is not personal. Or at least it shouldn’t be. When someone is giving you constructive feedback on your work you shouldn’t feel the need to defend every idea you had. Sit back, reflect and take it in.

If someone asks you to explain what you have done and why this is your moment to give your explanation. This is especially true with a paying client, at the end of the day you are there to produce their vision and they will continue to tell you to change it till you do. It’s nothing personal, and if you don’t like the work it’s not a problem, as long as your client is happy.

I have produced many works I wouldn’t put my name to over the years because clients want something that I didn’t feel works or show me at my best. It’s part of the job.

2. Everyone is (thinks they are) a designer

It’s amazing how many people I have met that are top-notch Art Directors and know everything there is to know about design and art. And all this without ever reading a single book on the subject. These people will never change and at the start of your career, you will, unfortunately, work with a lot of people like this.

Don’t worry though, over time you learn to do one of two things.

  • Get used to it, just do what they want without caring, take the paycheck and never show their work in your portfolio. (If you’re a client reading this, this is not where you want to be so you should change your behaviour)
  • Or choose not to work with these types of clients and you will be better off.

3. Not everyone is a designer

Contrary to the above, when working with clients we need to remember that not everyone is a designer. Most clients cannot articulate their vision in words. It’s our job as a designer to learn how to interpret this muddy wash of words spewing from our client’s mind.

The most difficult client I ever had gave this as a brief:

“Colour starting from Ultra Violet and ending in Infra-Red (or Red to Red) or something similar or something else”

This client sounds like they have no idea what they want, but I assure you they knew what they wanted. The client just had no idea how to tell me. It’s how we work with these clients that matter, getting more information and showing them visually how we interpret their ideas. Ultimately the client wanted a rainbow gradient from red to red that also had purple after the first red.

This means we need to stop, think and interact with the client before we start talking about how dumb they are behind their back (this happens in every studio, sorry, and it needs to stop).

We need to ask questions and speak to them in a language they understand. Don’t use technical terms and expect them to understand, this will just make your job harder. Speak to over the phone or in-person if possible. Email is great for the overview and having it in black and white, but sometimes a phone call is best.

4. Your boss won’t be a creative

I realise this is not always the case, but in most cases, your boss will not be a creative. Your boss will be an entrepreneur or manager who, most likely, dreams of the perfect report and pie-charts.

You’ll need to adapt to this is quick. They either won’t care and let you “get on with it” or they will be the worst type of point 2 you have ever met. Don’t let this dishearten you, there will be plenty of other creatives around you to bounce off. Just don’t expect your boss to be one of them.

5. Don’t be a freelancer

By all means, do freelance work and do it throughout your entire career. It’s a great source of secondary income for almost all creatives. Just don’t expect to be able to freelance only as a new graduate and produce amazing work.

At the start of your creative journey, even after 3 or 4 years at university, you will need and should want to engage with as many creatives as possible. See how other creatives work, how design happens in the real world and learn as much as you can from those who have been doing the job day in day out for most or all of their career.

You will learn more practical skills in 6 months working in an agency than you did in your entire course. Ultimately you will become a better designer.

6. Getting work can be hard

Lastly, getting a job will not be easy. There are a lot of creatives looking for work and often the number of people applying for that amazing position as a Concept Designer for that AAA games company will be massive.

Don’t let it dishearten you, stick with it, apply for as many jobs as you can and eventually you will get to where you want to be. Sometimes starting off in a small company in a position is better than nothing. Start small and work your way up. It really is easier to get a job once you already have one.

I hope that if you are still with me at this point this has given you some food for thought. Remember these points and you will find yourself in a better position to fight the real world of design.