9 tips for starting out in design

When you're just starting out in you design career, everything can seem like a struggle. You can ease the pain by having the right drawing tools (opens in new tab) and learning from inspiring design portfolios (opens in new tab), but even so there's bound to come a time when you find yourself asking whether it's all worth it.

Everyone's been there, though; even the mightiest creative director (opens in new tab) has found themselves considering jacking it all in and running away to become an accountant at some point.

And so we asked nine leading designers to come up with their top tips for anyone starting out in design. They might just make you see your career in a whole new way.

01. Know your niche

Creative director Mads Jakob Poulsen (opens in new tab) says: "Think about what you can contribute to the world of design. What's your niche? What's your special secret weapon? Don't be like everyone else – do what you think is fun."

02. Have a singular vision

"If you make things the way you think they ought to be, they're more likely to be what you'll be asked to make going forward," says Spin (opens in new tab)'s Tony Brook. "It took me a long time to fully understand this."

03. Be versatile

Anagrama (opens in new tab)'s Sebastian Padilla comments: "A designer needs to be versatile, like a Swiss Army knife. You need to be comfortable with working in broad fields such as typography, composition and copywriting."

04. Refine your skills

"Hone your skill set," says Matt Howarth of ilovedust (opens in new tab). "Whether digitally or by hand, work hard on your craft every day and in time you will find a style that you are comfortable with and, most importantly, enjoy doing."

05. Follow your heart

Dawn Hancock of Firebelly says: "None of us really know what the hell we're doing, but if you think with your heart and go with your gut, it will all work out in the end."

06. Lose the attitude

"My tip for a new, young designer starting their career is to lose any sense of entitlement you may have," says Steve Simmonds of weareseventeen (opens in new tab). "Just because you've studied for three or five years doesn't mean you can come into the industry and expect it to be easy. This sounds harsh, but I get young designers all the time telling me what they are and aren't willing to do from day to day.

"You must remember that it's not just graduates fighting for their place in this industry; seasoned pros and entire companies are fighting too and good attitudes make all the difference. Be keen and enthusiastic: it goes a long way. Bread and butter work is a staple in any studio, so expect to be heavily involved in a lot of this at first. Don't expect to be working on all the bigger studio projects. This will happen in time; just approach the bread and butter stuff with bags of enthusiasm and make those projects shine unexpectedly. Do this and your rise through the ranks will be swift."

07. Stay the course

Becky Bolton of Good Wives and Warriors (opens in new tab) says: "Our general tip for people is to just try and stick with it! A creative career is going to be peppered with rejection and potentially confusing times. Without sounding too trite, it's important to try and believe in the value of your work and keep pushing through the times when you feel like quitting!"

08. Take risks

Ady Bibby of True North (opens in new tab) says: "Stand for something. Take risks. Don't be happy to merge into the mediocrity of creativity out there."

09. Only work with people you like

Designer and teacher Fred Deakin (opens in new tab) comments: "Biggest lesson: only work with people you like on projects you care about. If you take your time to make great work then eventually the money will come."

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts (opens in new tab), the world's leading design magazine. Subscribe here (opens in new tab).

Related articles:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards (opens in new tab) in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.