10 Insights for New Designers

The first design problem that CCD took on was a custom coat rack. It wasn’t the most glamorous project. It wasn’t even the most profitable. As a matter of fact, once we finished the project, the client returned it as the final project wound up using a stock coat rack from a store in Phoenix.

There are many things that you learn when you are developing a career as a designer and some of the things you learn will create the foundation of how you engage with clients and projects. Here we’ve put together 10 insights that new designers should consider when first starting out.

Ten Insights

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Never stop learning.

The worst mistake a person can make once they have finished with an educational program is thinking, “Welp, that’s it for me! I’ve completed my education!”. It is awesome if you finish an educational program. It is awesome if you don’t but still study anyways. What isn’t awesome is thinking that the knowledge you have today will be forever future-proofed. Technology in design, and actually everything, has a limited time frame. The technical information that you gain in your freshman year of college, for a lot of majors, is irrelevant by the time you graduate! Think about that for a moment. That means that just three to four years after you graduate, your knowledge becomes obsolete! This is why digital education sites are becoming more and more important and relevant. You can, from anywhere, gain the educational material you’ll need to keep on top of your game. Three sites we love (aside from our own) are:

  • CtrlPaint.com – A site run by Matt Kohr that teaches illustration fundamentals in a very simple to follow along format.
  • LearnStory.org – A great educational platform that teaches one of the most concise processes for telling a good story and the importance of story that is extremely relevant in the film making process as well as the design process.
  • Skillshare.com – An amazing platform to engage directly with professionals about a wide range of industries.

Have a backbone.

One of the worst traits of new designers is being afraid to draw a line in the sand when it comes to a point of view. This is partially due to the fact that new designers don’t know enough to know what lines to draw. This is also a side effect of wanting to please everyone around you. At CCD we have a few interns and mentees that are always waffling in their positions and agreeability. I’ve spoken with them at length about this and it comes down to not wanting to disappoint or even upset those around them. The problem with this approach is that it sets an expectation of those people that further perpetuates the cycle. Don’t be afraid to say “no” from time to time with your superiors and clients. While this should be a rational choice, it should also be able to be explained so your clients have a point of view to understand the decisions. Our favorite way to say no is to ask people to explain the drivers behind their requests and help them understand at least two to three alternatives that can get them the same result with less time/money.

Question trends.

There is a misconception about design trends. Often, and sadly more often than is good, trends pop up in the design world that are initially based in some sort of good intent and often fall apart into a well of over produced goods. Take a look at minimalist wallets. People like to cling onto words that sound sophisticated and chic. Unfortunately, with the word “minimalist”, this has become a design epidemic with anything that is remotely skinny or simple in design becomes labelled as “minimalist”. The actual definition of minimalism in relation to the visual arts is “a style that uses pared-down design elements.” The issue becomes when you have a culture that is style obsessed and becomes relentlessly addicted to collecting minimalist wallets, backpacks, chairs, comforters, carpets, etc. you’re gathering a whole lot of material goods. At that point can you still be considered a “minimalist”?

Heavy reading helps.

We bang this drum a lot. Much like continuing your education, reading up on authors that reinforce your ideas and also authors that challenge your point of view are very important. Here are five books that we’d like to recommend to you this week that might inspire some new ideas at your home or place of business:

The biggest thing when choosing the books you want to read is making sure that they somehow align with a larger strategy.

Ideas aren’t usually new.

Let’s have Kirby Ferguson talk about this and keep in mind that this isn’t just about films and music. Product solutions are just as guilty. The rarest quality a product can have is true innovation:

Look for holes.

One mistake that comes up a lot is ideas are presented to clients without the proper audit of the idea. Idea auditing is just the assessment that your idea first and foremost answers the problem statement. Secondly it looks for any new problems it creates. A great example of this is a recent design that CCD did for Huntco:

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While this is a great design and tells an awesome story, CCD was pointed out to also helping out the skateboard community with this design. It’s perfect for skateboarders to come and ride on! While this certainly isn’t the most egregious offense, this “hole” is actually a plus as it makes the seemingly innocuous bike rack an dual-function product. Skateboards aside, this simple two-bend design works as a nod to Mt. Hood and the Tilikum Crossing bridge that was completed this year in PDX. The design allows for a stable bike and better locking positioning to both the frame/front wheel of the bicycle. The design suggests forward movement and has a beautiful silhouette that can fit into any architectural setting. The Tilikum is the newest bike rack Huntco offers in conjunction with their site re-launch. The client loved it!

Mistakes happen.

The worst possible thing you can do when a mistake happens is try to bury it. Don’t do this. Embrace your mistake by letting others know that you messed up and come up with a plan to fix it. If it can’t be fixed, make sure you let your creative director know that you messed up and work with them to right the err. The end of the world isn’t a mistake, but the end of your career could be hiding it.

Seek out leadership.

You are never going to learn in a vacuum. Seek out the guidance and wisdom of those that have made the mistakes you’ve made or might make dozens of times before you. And if in the circumstance that you’re the smartest or most experienced person in the room, get a new room. Always find mentorship wherever you can as long as it is leading you in the direction you want to be lead.

Software isn’t everything.

Much like the dreaded Gear Addiction Syndrome (GAS), designers can have SAS (Software Addiction Syndrome). It can be really tempting to see that software that has the coolest tools, the most photorealistic rendering built in, the raddest texture bump map system architecture blah blah blah. Ultimately, as we’ve said before, you’re being hired to find the solution and communicate it to your client. However you can get from A to B is great! But don’t let being paralyzed by choice affect your ability to do so. We put together a handy guide for figuring out what 3D software is best for you here. The same idea relates to 2D visual communication as well. Sure automated data aggregation is great, that fancy new lens flare might be awesome too. But if you are just putting all of the filters on the page, your intent will get lost in a sea of visual effects as well as your message.

Nature is better than you.

This is kind of a no-brainer. Nature has had a long long time to figure out how to do things efficiently and solve problems. If you get stuck on a design problem, one thing we recommend is to see if there is an analog solution in nature. Think about solar panels and how they are a direct rip-off of leaves! The system is kind of already in place, we’re just reinventing it at this point.  A great deeper dive into this is reading up on the blog over at The Biomimicry Institute!

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