12 tips to turbocharge your design career

Making it in the fast-paced, competitive world of design isn't easy. That's why we've got all sorts of resources to help, from Photoshop brushes and tutorials, to free 3d models and handwriting fonts.

Of course, the best lessons come from experience. So we asked 12 of the world's leading creative minds to share the biggest lessons they've learned over their careers so far.

The advice below will help you take your own design careers to the next level...

01. Making the client happy isn't enough

Design career: keep the client happy

One of a series of holiday assets CGH created for Barnes & Noble; illustrations by Allen Garns

"The biggest lesson I've learned so far is that making the client happy isn't enough," says Sagi Haviv, partner at iconic design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

"At the end of the day, you, the designer, must be proud of the result, and the way to achieve that is to show the client only those options that you believe in wholeheartedly."

02. Never stop learning

"We're learning all the time," admit APFEL co-founders Kirsty Carter and Emma Thomas. "It's not that there's one big lesson in particular; being inquisitive, listening and talking means that you are constantly learning something new."

03. Keep work and life separate

"For the sake of sanity, it's important to keep work and life separate," urges animator James Wignall, aka Mutanthands. "It's easier said than done when you're a creative because you can't always tune out totally, but try to leave work at work."

"Working long hours is rarely a necessity; you always seem to get the work finished one way or another. Working smarter, not harder allows you to recharge your creative batteries, which makes for a much better end result."

04. Working for free never pays off

design career: working for free never pays off

Problem Bob was hired to create a sales-tool that visualises the benefits of Kvinnopanelen

"Clients who think design should be dirt cheap have no true understanding of what it can bring, and are subsequently impossible to work with," says illustrator Jonas Bergstrand of Problem Bob. "The fee reflects the trust that is placed in the designer."

05. Learning new skills stops stagnation

"Learning new disciplines is a great way to keep growing and open new doors," advises designer and artist Matt W. Moore of MWM Graphics.

06. Don't listen too much

"Listening to people, and dissecting and distilling what they say, is how we learn and build meaningful brands," says DesignStudio's Paul Stafford.

"However, there's a limit. When DesignStudio started, we listened to everyone we met, but I've learned along the way that you need to make your own decisions, or you'll just end up building something that's already been built before."

07. Stand up for your work

Design career: stand up for your work

Bottle-opening typography by ANTI for Talas

"If we come up with a concept and style we believe in, we fight for it, even if clients are sceptical at first," says Gaute Tenold Aase, ANTI. "And we're usually right. Otherwise, they wouldn't have hired us."

08. The business comes first

"Creativity is the thing that's most important to me," admits illustrator Rod Hunt, "but to create a successful and sustainable career you have to always put the business first."

"That comes down to educating yourself on all aspects of your business, including pricing, copyright, contracts and marketing. The business side is equally as important as creating the work."

09. It all starts with a good idea

"My biggest lesson is that a good idea spawns a thousand more," states Purpose's Stuart Youngs.

10. Reinvent to stay relevant

"The only constant is constant change," says Richard Wilde, School of Visual Arts. "I've always reinvented myself to stay relevant. There's risk-taking involved with this charge, but it's always made my life more meaningful."

11. Nothing beats talking in person

"Technology has enabled me to work with clients around the globe," reflects designer Glenn Garriock, "but emails and calls can't beat sitting around a table to discuss an idea."

12. Every new project should be your best

"One of the most important lessons I've learned? To treat every new project as if it will be the best of my career," says graphic designer David Airey.

"It doesn't matter who the client is, or what industry I'm designing for. I'm the one responsible for just how good, how interesting and how successful the result will be."

This article first appeared inside best-selling graphic design magazine Computer Arts. Subscribe to Computer Arts here

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.