Dear Junior Designer – A Product Designer’s Tips For Kickstarting Your Career
If you feel lost and overwhelmed and have been looking for a guide or a little pick me up, this post is for you, and I hope it gives you the clarity and answers you need.
Before you continue reading this, I want you to close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath. You have come too far to give up now.
I recently started talking to newbies for 30 minutes on weekends and doing design reviews, sharing my knowledge and tricks. It’s my way of giving back and ensuring that the people coming up after me get the help I didn’t get when I started out.
Most of these newbie designers had similar concerns. How do I start? What do I read? How can I be better? I knew how they felt because I had also been there, but I could figure things out on my own. I’m not saying I’m an expert yet, as I’m still learning because product design is a learning process, and no one is ever really expertly skilled at it.
Because these were newbie designers’ major concerns, I created a UX Roadmap with my friend Manny. This roadmap wasn’t a how-to- guide but a reference document for various different elements within UX that designers can get comfortable with. Since we released this roadmap, we’ve gotten positive feedback from people.
Let’s get right into why you are here. I’m sure you’re anxious to read all I have to share.
Money Should Not Be Your Main Motivator
I’m sorry, but if money is the main reason why you started a product design career, you will not get the fulfillment you need. Don’t get me wrong, money is good, and it’s fine to want it, but when it is the main reason you started a career, it is wrong. A question you should always ask yourself when you feel like this is: what happens to me when money doesn’t come as quickly as I expected?. You would probably get tired and frustrated.
Your motivation should instead be your love for solving problems and creating usable and scalable designs. If you have this on lock, the money will come. It’s not rocket science!
Your Design Should Be Usable As Well As Beautiful
If you’re the type to go on Dribbble for design inspiration, you need to pay attention to this. Most of the designs on Dribbble are beautiful, but some of them are not usable in real life. Instead, I’d advise you to search for components that make up whatever you want to design, e.g., calendar, date picker, header and footers, etc.
Please do not search for real estate apps, food apps, and the like, lol. The reason you’re designing a product is for users to use. Your design has to be functional, and it must solve a problem.
Kickstarting Your Design Career
Many designers complain about being overwhelmed with all the resources they see online that don’t really help them. Below, I share some of the resources that helped me out, and hopefully, they will help you too.
Books and Resources
Books Every Designer Must Read
My friend Manny is one of the most resourceful designers I know. There is no design book, tip, or resource he hasn’t read or doesn’t know where you can get it. He made me realize the power of reading, and I’m trying to read one design book per day.
Here are some of the books you can read:
Why Fonts Matter by Sarah Hyndman
Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Stop Stealing Sheep by Erik Spiekerman & E.M. Ginger
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Designing User Interfaces by Michal Malewicz & Diana Malewicz
Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan & Steve Schoger
Don’t Be The Only Designer On The Team
Being the only designer on the team as a newbie won’t help you grow. You still have lots to learn, and you need someone to guide you. You need someone who has design knowledge and not just Figma/Adobe XD knowledge. It’s best to have someone holding your hand as a guide.
As I said earlier, Dribbble is an excellent place to get design inspiration if you know how to use it. Some other places to get design inspiration are Behance, Nicely Done, Product Hunt, Pttrns, Mobbin Design, and much more. Google is also a good place to search for design inspirations: just type in your keyword, and you’d get lots of them.
Job Search And Rejections
Most designers complain about job search and the many rejections they get. I understand how this feels, and I’ve also had my fair share of rejections. So far, I’ve gotten almost 30 rejection emails, if not more. I felt bad, but I didn’t let it weigh me down. Instead, I asked myself what I was doing wrong and how I could improve.
First, ensure your portfolio has commercial products and designs that solve a problem. Leave that comfort zone and design a solution for a problem that doesn’t affect you, and explore things that would require you to think well. Your design process is different from design thinking. You can be taught how to use design tools, but you cannot be taught how to be creative.
Secondly, most design companies want more experienced designers and are not ready to employ entry level. Most entry designers lack tangible working experience except for the design challenges they’ve taken part in. Design challenges help, no doubt, but if all you have to show for your skill is design challenges, you aren’t different from the thousands of others who are also like you, and you provide no extra value to companies.
Always Ask Questions
If you do not know something, please always ask questions. It saves you stress and time. Don’t assume; always make sure you ask if things aren’t clear.
I don’t think the power of rest can be overemphasized. Please take a break and relax when you feel like you have done too much. Do other things asides from staring at your laptop screen all day. There’s so much to do like going to the beach, playing games, going on dates, etc. Burnout is really bad, and in order to avoid this, resting is important.
Post Your Work And Ask For Feedback
Please post your work everywhere so people know what you do and are able to refer you when positions pop up. Now, how would you get referrals when your work isn’t out there? So my advice is to always post your work across all social media networks you frequent.
Also, when you post your work and ask for feedback, make sure it’s not vague. Instead, try pointing people’s eyes to where you need feedback, e.g., what do you guys think about the color I used in this design? Is the font I used here okay for this product? What do you think about the illustrations? This way, people don’t give you the “Nice design,” “Mad design,” or “Very lovely” comments.
Thank you for reading this article. I know that it might seem like you’re not doing enough, but I want you to keep your head up and keep it going. It is not going to be easy, trust me, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I wish you the best in your journey, and I want you to remember that I’m always rooting for you.
This article was originally published here by Ruqayyah Yaro and has been edited for clarity.