“Phases” I’ve gone through as a designer

I’ve found that I have gone through a few “phases” as a designer since getting my first full-time job. I thought I would reflect on some of them. Can you relate to these phases? What are your thoughts?

In the beginning

The first phase of my design career I call the “Blind” phase. I was fresh out of school at my first full time design job. The real world can be a shock to a recent graduate. My clients were not as exciting as I had dreamed about while in school. None of the cool designs I worked on in school or as personal projects could be applied to the projects I was getting. It seemed like every comp I worked on used the same blue color scheme. The only fonts I liked were Futura and Century Gothic. I was so slow using certain software, hardly any keyboard shortcuts were used. My previous internship at a small magazine taught me a lot of things, but most couldn’t be applied to my new job. I was closed off to the rest of the design world, I didn’t even know design blogs existed. Looking back at some of my beginning work I can’t believe I even kept my job!

The “Discovery” phase

As my experience grew I started discovering things that helped make me a better designer. The more I used the software, the quicker and more efficient I became using it. The faster you can move around the software the more time you can spend on the creative process.

I discovered some good magazines like Print and Communication Arts. I started finding websites and blogs with tutorials and started bookmarking them. Then I found blogs with a specific focus such as typography, design theory, the user experience, etc. The more I found and read, the more addicted I became to finding new information and soaking it all in. I subscribed to the RSS feeds of these sites and read every article that looked interesting. I’m subscribed to 100+ site feeds and add more every time I find a site that looks like it could provide me with some valuable information. I have also compiled a large list of bookmarks to sites that I categorize for future use. Everything from print to web to inspirational art. There are also a ton of good books out there. A few I recommend are The Smashing Book, The Elements of Typographic Style, and the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.

I feel this phase has been vital to my career and growth as a designer. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn more every day. I really wish I had gone through this phase while I was still in school. I often feel like I’m 3 to 4 years behind where I think I should be. While I did well in school, I think I could have definitely put more effort into projects and learning. If I would have, It’s possible I would have started this phase earlier and I might have been a greater designer today.

The “Self-Improvement” phase

With all of this new knowledge the natural progression is to put it to use. Recognizing and admitting to your weak points is the first step. Currently I’m trying to improve in a few areas such as typography, color, and the user experience. I no longer jump to my 3 favorite fonts for every project. I browse font foundries for new and classic typefaces that would work the best with the project at hand. I subscribe to and save e-newsletters that feature new typefaces for inspiration. I purchase quality fonts when necessary. Typography is an art that should not be an afterthought.

Blue is my favorite color and it was always the color scheme I would go to first when working on projects. Very lame, I know! Using alternate color schemes has been a priority for me now. I use applications such as Adobe Kuler to find interesting color combinations to use. I really force myself to try out colors that used to be way out of my comfort zone. It’s amazing how you can surprise yourself and your clients with a good color scheme implementation that falls out of the norm.

I have been reading about the “user experience” (UX) and how you should focus your designs and interactivity on the target audience rather than the client or what you think looks “cool”. This has definitely changed my design process, I spend longer amounts of time on sketches and wireframes to make sure the functionality and message is clear before moving to aesthetics. I’m also better prepared to educate a client on why we did or didn’t do something and why it matters.

I could go on forever with all the things about myself that need improvement, but I think you get the picture

Social networking and making friends

I don’t think I will ever move out of the previous phase, but I have begun a new phase. I came to a point where I wanted to be an active part of this great community rather than just lurking in the shadows. I setup this blog and got more into social networking. I hope I can make some good contacts, and possibly some good friends. Someday I might lose my job, and I think being connected to a network of other designers improves my chances of finding another job. Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook are a good start if you are looking to make some connections. Like the other phases, the sooner you start the better!

The future

What will the next phase in my design career be? I will continue to read as much information as possible and continue trying to improve myself.  Not really sure at this point where that will take me. I hope if you are a student you read over this post and take something away from it. I think you could really jumpstart your career if you take the right steps now. If you have any questions or have any thoughts on “phases” you went through or are currently in feel free to post a comment below.

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Gravatar for lawless 1 lawless February 22, 2010

Well said. I find myself bouncing back and forth between the “discovery” and “self-improvement” phases a lot. I dig around find something cool, then go play around with it and learn the quirks and try and find real-world scenarios where I can apply it in my work. CSS3 and HTML5 come to mind, lots of cool “tricks” but there’s stuff I’ve put into production sites that degrades nicely and only enhances the look in browsers that support it.

On the web if you’re not constantly learning you are falling behind. I think that’s what I enjoy so much about it, there is always something new to learn and apply to your daily routine.

Gravatar for Mike Lohrman 2 Mike Lohrman February 23, 2010

@lawless, I wonder if its the same for print designers? I have coworkers at my day job that mostly do print design. I know they aren’t into design blogs and such like I am. I wonder if it’s going to bite them in the ass someday!

Gravatar for Marty 3 Marty February 26, 2010

I too find myself jumping back and forth between blind and discovery phase.

I was trained as a print designer and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve transitioned into web design that I follow design blogs, or if it’s just the way I am. I can’t imagine that as a print designer I would have had the motivation to seek out design info in blogs or just invest my time (and money) on books.

I’ve been contemplating the same things and recently blogged about how exposing yourself to a lot of good design is paramount to training your eye (http://bit.ly/cfmQTu). I too wonder what print-only designers do.

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