The Designer’s Guide To

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A guide to help new designers learn and achieve more. Advice provided by international industry professionals, edited and curated by Richard Baird.

Learn from different disciplines

Attend as many events as possible where the delegates work within different area’s of design to you. If you’re a print designer, turn up to a 3D conference and learn about the tools, and techniques these designer’s use and look at the opportunities to implement these into your workflow and design projects.

@richbaird – This isn’t about spreading your skills too thinly but about improving the gaps between your responsibilities and the next designer/coder/3d visualiser along, as well as the opportunity to develop new aesthetics within your own work.

Provided by @themediawheel

Learn at every opportunity

Learning on-the-job is standard practice in a consultancy when coming from University but as a freelancer without an art director or finisher to guide you, the chances are you will make mistakes. Make sure you take the time to read up on new print techniques or web design standards, swap your fiction for some non-fiction in the evenings and focus on your weaker skills. Try to mix your learning across different sources to keep it interesting and engaging, spending even more time on the computer isn’t always the best way to absorb large chunks of technical information.

Provided by @richbaird


There are plenty of websites that provide designer’s with the tools to continuously learn, develop, and practice – a lot of these are free and should be considered as part of a weekly activity.

Recommended resources:

Provided by @HeyRui

Learn by association

Always work with someone better than yourself. It’s pretty basic, but in terms of covering all aspects of being a designer it’s one of the better things you can do to improve. It goes without saying, but to make it work you need to be open-minded and observant all the time.

Provided by @superalbie

Challenge yourself

There will be occasions where a client may ask you for something that you have little or no experience with. Rather than passing this work on, discuss with the client the opportunity to explore some initial ideas at a special rate. This will give you the chance to gain experience without overselling or under delivering. Be honest, enthusiastic and prepared to learn what you need to make it another skill. If it really is specialist, look at collaborating with another designer and learn from what they do.

Provided by @richbaird

Understanding basic design principles

Spend time learning about the fundamental design principles that underpin your speciality. From understanding the basics you will be designing from a solid foundation and can look to bend and experiment with these as you become more experienced.

Recommended reading:

  • Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler
  • Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton & Jennifer Cole Phillips
  • Jeremy Keith also has a nice list of design principles

Listen to podcasts for creative tips:

Join a creative community to learn from others and share your work:

Provided by @tadfry

Surround yourself with creative thinkers

Try to surround yourself with creative people, this doesn’t necessarily mean other designers but thinkers, artists, writers and performers etc. Taking a wider view of the creative world should help you to absorb and cross pollinate new ideas.

Provided by @richbaird

Asking for advice: Social networks

If you work in a design agency asking for advice and direction is easy but as a freelancer this can be difficult. Sites like Dribbble, Forrst and Logopond are great places to get feedback but try to be specific about the advice you require. Be polite and appreciative of other opinions regardless of whether you agree and don’t be reluctant to accept someone else’s idea as a better than your own.

Provided by @richbaird

Asking for advice: Emails

Don’t be afraid to give a designer you respect an e-mail asking for advice. Be polite and keep it to short and specific questions about your project. A good designer will be happy to answer any queries but often won’t have the time to write an essay, (especially if it’s general information you could find online). Remember, context is key, especially within identity design, a simple e-mail with a question such as ‘which do you prefer?’ is unlikely to garner a response.

Be patient, busy designer’s have to prioritise client work over general enquiries, if you don’t receive a response try another designer but don’t send out generic batch e-mails. If they do reply it’s important to show a little gratitude by replying promptly.

Provided by @richbaird


Create a dedicated blog or use Pinterest to post and tag design projects that inspire you; reference this material for fresh ideas. Dissect why particular projects appeal to you and how well they function in their intended environments. This could be textures, colour and type treatments, layouts and grids or a new and innovative approach.

Provided by @tadfry


If a client needs a particular skill set that is highly specialist (and you realistically couldn’t learn it in time), look at collaborating with another designer and learn from what they do. They may require you to output a new file type or a particular resolution for 3D environmental maps for their part of the project, these small pieces of information will give you the necessary insight to streamline your processes, make you more efficient and hopefully be able to take on more aspects of a project.

Provided by @richbaird

Grow “horizontally” and “vertically”

Become an expert in something specific, but try new creative mediums, wood working, oil painting, sculpting, street art, music, dance or food. These creative outlets can stimulate different thought patterns, approaches and understand creativity as a multi-sensory experience.

Provided by @BrandMooreArt

Avoid stagnation

The most dangerous disease in a designer’s career is going stagnant. Learning and evolving are as important as making money because our industry is almost 100% reliant on technology. Designer’s must keep up with the latest software and print techniques in order to deliver clients and consumers the most engaging pieces of communication.

“Through personal experience I find the best way to avoid designers block or burning out is to try to learning something new or focusing on developing my weaker skills. The results may be horrid but the process is fun and the techniques I learn along the way are inspiring and allow me to improve my overall designing abilities.”

Provided by @HeyRui


Aspiring to reach a certain standard or achieve a particular goal is essential to improving. Spend sometime looking at what you want to achieve both in the short-term and the long-term, this could be book, magazine or digital publication, being interviewed or featured on your favourite blog or simply to maintain a steady stream of work.

Provided by @richbaird

Push yourself

It’s important to push yourself as a designer and stray out your comfort zone. Learning new skills and challenging yourself to experiment with new creative processes, be it painting or your first mixed-media piece, will allow your skill set to grow.

Being experimental is always beneficial. It opens up new creative avenues to explore, you’ll be more diverse in your range of work, improve on a distinctive style you may have already developed or even find a new skill you never knew you had.

Provided by @heinrichdsf


If you are teaching yourself new software books are a great way to start but mixing this with live projects will help to speed up the learning process. These guides often fail to cover subjects that are necessary for real world jobs, be prepared to spend extra time making sure that when you output work from new software that you have referenced a reliable source.

Provided by @richbaird


Tutorials are a great way of learning new skills. When things are quiet at work, I’ll focus on a new tutorial and guaranteed to learn something that can be incorporate into future design work.


Always accept new challenges. There’s loads of resources out there to help tackle these such as the online tutorials and books, even simple things like just googling a problem can move you a step forward.

Provided by @ellishollie


One of the most important things is to practice a lot! Simple as that. Work hard and find your own way of functioning. Try to understand your creative process and don’t be afraid to show your work.

Provided by @marianowerneck

Take time out

As valuable as researching, sketching and designing are to improving your craft, remembering to take the occasional timeout can be one of the most important things you do.

Breaks are the yin to your work’s yang. Using a refresher, whether it be a 20 minute walk around the block or a two-week vacation will enable you to refocus, rethink your goals and ultimately redirect yourself to a path of improvement.

Provided by @e_know

Develop your style

Don’t follow trends, don’t be part of the stream, instead, be yourself and set your own style. Practice constantly and try to improve on your last project. Although this may take a while, people will begin to recognize you. I promise, you will enjoy your job a lot more.

Provided by @OronozDesign

Don’t get discouraged by feedback, use it!

When you design a website, graphic or interface try to get as much feedback from as many different types of people as you can, especially those that you’re targeting. Even though these people may not be designers their feedback is still valuable and will push you to make a good design even better.

Many designers get disheartened or disappointed when they receive negative feedback. As a designer you need to be able to handle both negative and positive feedback. You simply need to remember that design is a very subjective topic and that all feedback is simply a message that will lead you to creating a better design, don’t take it personally or you won’t last long in this field.

Provided by @AdhamDannaway

Don’t be afraid to say no

Some jobs/clients are just not worth taking on, don’t be afraid to pass on a project. It’s hard to do when beginning a design career as getting paid and the opportunity to develop a commercial portfolio is a priority. Remember, improving shouldn’t be at the expensive of earning a decent living or enjoying your work, think about whether the project is right for you, fits your schedule and your plans for the future.

Provided by @SDXcreative

Developing business related skills

The most important skill you will need after talent in order to land potential clients is an understanding of business and how to communicate in a clear and professional manner. This could be the language you choose to use to explain your ideas, a consistent and formal style throughout your communications (invoicing, quotes and deposit receipts) as well your promptness in replying to e-mails and telephone calls. It’s worth considering how potential clients perceive you and how you can improve on and avoid any weaknesses and past mistakes.

If you’re busy and can’t reply to an e-mail in full, write a quick response explaining where you are with a clients project and when they can expect a more detailed reply. Keeping a client informed is not only polite but good business practice.

Make sure that all the documentation a client receives is consistent and professional. Terms & conditions should be clear and well formatted with all the relevant and legal details. For an invoice this might be all your contact details, VAT number, payment details, company number, a clear indication of how the cost breaks down and the hours covered.

Be sure to spell check your e-mails, quick and poorly structured responses can give the client the impression that you are inexperienced or unprofessional. It’s worth spending a bit of time improving your writing skills, this will also benefit the way you annotate your design work for a client.

Provided by @richbaird

Improve your non-design related skills

It takes another career to manage all the requests, creative briefs, client correspondences, phone calls, chat sessions, preparing quotes, invoices, contracts & agreements, market research and brainstorming sessions etc. It can be a long wait before a designer starts to receive inquiries on a daily basis so use any free time to learn and improve on these skills before this begins to happen.

Streamline your creative processes

Spend some time identifying and streamlining your creative processes, while these may not be traditional and linear it’s important to refine and resolve these into manageable systems that make the most of your time and budget. Being a freelancer, particularly in the field of visual identity design, means you need to bring some degree of order to the chaos of creative freedom in order to succeed. This takes self-discipline and a focused mind.

Generally, I’d say that if you can’t explain your working process to a potential client, you’re far from being effective.

The best advice I’ve taken to heart is this old lecture from John Cleese on creativity which is really worth checking out.

Recommended reading:

The Future of Self-Improvement Part 1

The Future of Self-Improvement Part 2

Provided by @gertvanduinen

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your service

You cannot know how to make your service better if you are not aware of your weakest areas. Every client is different, some need more guidance and assurance, some like to tell you how it ought to be done and some give you more trust and creative freedom, but you learn from every one of them. How you present yourself reflects your brand image, your services impact a lot on how your clients respond to you. It also gives you the opportunity to work with clients again as a retainer and to be given referrals. If your client really loves your work and enjoyed working with you they definitely will tell others about you, this goes the same if you provide a bad service and they weren’t satisfied.

When you are wrapping up a project ask your clients to take a minute of their time to let you know how they regarded your service so that you can improve. It can be on a scale rating from 1 – 10 or you can ask for a short critique/suggestions. You may not be aware of little things in which you can improve on to make your professionalism and services even better. Strong relationships build strong brands.

Provided by @FaMz



If you are a designer and have any advice you would like to add to this article, please submit your contribution as a comment below and remember to include your Twitter ID so I can credit your tip.


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