Tips for Design Students in 2020

So far, 2020 has been weird af. If you’re a design student graduating in the Spring of 2020, it may seem like getting a job is impossible in this market. I don’t know if I can help ease your fears or get you a dream job, but I’m definitely going to try my best!


A quick bit about getting started with my own design career.

Getting my first job as a designer was almost surreal. For whatever reason, I never thought that I was “good enough” to be a real, working designer while I was in school. It almost seemed like successful designers were movie stars and I was just some dude who spent way too much time in Adobe Illustrator trying to make a logo comparable to the ones on Instagram. I was too consumed with learning to ever get an internship (I may have been a little intimidated too). Long story short, I ended up getting a job. I have since worked with brands such as Culver’s, Comcast, Intel, Miller Lite, and Nissan.


The situation.

So... You’re perfecting your portfolio and going to send it out into the world, hoping for the best. Every graphic design student that graduates builds a portfolio. It is kind of scary when you think of it like that. Sometimes, it isn't so easy to stand out. Below are a few tips that might help.


How in the hell am I supposed to get a job when dude next to me makes the cool stuff?


1. Know more technology better.

Having a range of design technology knowledge is going to help with getting a job now more than ever. The obvious first reason is that economy is trash right now. Being able to take on multiple roles within a department is only going to add value to a candidate. Knowing more tech is also going to open up more positions to a candidate. Candidates who only know the Adobe Suite really have no idea how to execute anything other than a print project and maybe some motion graphics, if they learned After Effects. A student who dabbled in CSS/Javascript and coded up a static site for their portfolio opens the door to front-end development positions. These small additions help show a little more commitment than someone who just knows the basics. Most importantly, learning new tech is going to make your work better. Understanding how the things we design are actually built gives us a better understanding of how to design them. For instance, after learning CSS, my typography game improved. Last, but certainly not least, it will make your mockups more realistic. This keeps art directors in interviews from doing their whole, “Well that’s not possible” spiel.

Here are some applications/skills to dabble with that can open up your job search a whole lot.

HTML/CSS

Basically, HTML can be picked up as you learn CSS. CSS can do a lot of really cool stuff. Knowing HTML/CSS can aid in finding a career in the digital realm and possibly get you in the door for an entry-level front-end developer position too. Codecademy (free) is a great place to start and does a great job of covering the basics.

Blender

Blender is a free 3D modeling application. It’s used in motion, game, architecture visualization, and web design. It’s way different than the Adobe Suite, but there’s a great educational community built around it. Check out Blender Guru on YouTube to get started.

Game Engines

Game engines are what games and a bunch of other things (VR, AR, realtime architecture visualization) are built with. The two big game engines currently are Unity and Unreal. They are beasts and could be studied on their own. Both provide awesome learning resources. Knowing a few of the basics can go a long way in the job market.

SVG Animation with CSS

Logo and icon animations created in After Effects are cool and all, but where can they really be used? SVG animation allows vector graphics to be animated across the entire web. These places include banner ads, loading screens, and general website graphics. You can even do fancy blob animations and duotone photo filters all with SVG and CSS. SVG's are super lightweight in file size and keep all of a graphics vector properties. The best news about SVG animation is that if you know Illustrator/Sketch and a little bit of CSS you already have most of the knowledge you need to make SVG animations. Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks has a great tutorial to help learn SVG animation here.

Spark AR or Lens Studio

Spark AR and Lens Studio are Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat's photo filter creation tools. They're super simple to learn (both companies provide great learning resources). It's super fun to create these filters and you can have an interactive portfolio piece in no time. Similar to a fancy printed piece, filters can be a digital way for you to create a memorable memento with your interviewers.


2. Connect with people outside of your circle of friends.

Social media has made it pretty simple for us to connect with strangers. As designers, we often only follow and support the masters within our industry. If you're looking for a job, make an effort to follow and support designers within your own community. Connecting with local design industry folks will help to get your name and work out there.

Having a hard time finding designers in your community? Hop on LinkedIn and type "designer" then "company name you'd like to work for". From there, it usually shows profiles of designers at that company. Time to be a creep... Just kidding. Search their name on Google with "portfolio" or "design" following. Generally, a link to their portfolio appears which usually links to their social media accounts.

Most designers don't receive gobs of praise. If a designer works for a tire manufacture, people don't flock to that work the same way that they would to work done for Nike or Adidas. A "like" can go a long way, but dropping someone a note about their great work is like sending a personalized firework show to their house. Call it "pay to play" if you want, it's free though.

Remember, designers are only a small percent of a creative or digital department. Reaching out to developers, videographers, and creatives of all sorts can help. I've always wished to see more collaboration among young developers and designers.


3. Stay positive and keep at it.

There is no secret behind being a successful designer. The goal is to basically make cool stuff that people like and resonate with. The more time and effort put into experimenting with design, the better the results get. With that said, none of our work is where we want it to be, especially as a student. It can be maddening after failing at your 30th logo attempt for a make-believe project. This is learning though.

Getting "stuck" is when a design process comes to a halt because what is being designed doesn't look right. It happens all of the time. Getting out of being stuck is an art. Some people go clean the house or take a walk to try getting around being stuck. Here are a few tips that sometimes work for me:

  1. Close everything that's open and try something that's 100% new.
  2. Replicate your inspiration for the project (even if it means tracing).
  3. Use a different design application to complete your task.

Sometimes, we really get into a rut. It can seem like all of the work we're doing looks like shit. I got to this point early in 2019. I was unsatisfied with everything that I was making. I generally design or learn between 10-12+ hours a day. I stopped designing in my free time entirely for around three months. At that time, my wife and I did a complete DIY home renovation. I came back to design after the house work full of confidence. That confidence has helped me make faster design decisions, as well as given me the attitude that I can learn whatever I set out to do.

If I can figure out how to install a toilet, I can figure out how to design better...

Our home during renovations

Our home during the renovation.


Closing

If your a student graduating this year, the design community is with you. If you need help, never be afraid to ask (even if it's a stranger). Helping students and other designers is way more fun than actual work, so you're doing us a favor.

Motivation comes and goes, so don't get down on yourself if this stuff is too much. Having fun and being happy is all that really matters. Thanks for taking the time to read this, click below to read some more. Hit us up on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook if you'd like to share your thoughts!

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