Top Designers Advice to Design Grads: Work Really Hard!

Our January/February 2015 edition features the annual People To Watch (as in professional designers) and Students to Watch selections. It is an incredibly subjective process in a field loaded with talent and with newsmakers, but we proudly stand by them. The intersection of the two special reports was a question we posed to the professionals: What advice would you give a young designer or recent graduate just starting out?

Interestingly, there was a degree of consensus. The advice in a nutshell: be intentional and purposeful about early career decisions, then be passionate, prepared and work really, really hard.

Photo: White House Photo/Lawrence Jackson

For example, Ashleigh Axios, Creative Director at the Obama White House, advises: “Have a goal; make it something that isn’t easily achievable but will help you push yourself. Hint: your goal should never be to ‘be famous.’”

Siegel + Gale’s Kevin Grady says: “Focus your energy and portfolio around work that is meaningful to you. The work you do dictates the work you get, so best to try to get it right from the onset.”

Adds Kenny Gravallis: “Find an industry you are passionate about and go all out for that. People will notice because desire and passion is a hot commodity. Don’t settle for designing restaurant menus if you want to be designing album covers.”

Kevin Cantrell asserts: “If you want to excel in design, a 9-5 day isn’t going to cut it.”

Jim Read argues: “Do things ‘The Hard Way.’ It’s too easy to get distracted by fancy new machines … but more often than not, these short cuts don’t work. With a solid foundation of the basics, you will be far better prepared.”

Sara Frisk
 observes, “Seek out experiences that both empower you, and challenge you to be in a state of constant growth.”


Photo: Mindy

 Jim Mousner urges: “Always do your best. At choosing professional opportunities that are truly right for you. At the seemingly most menial design project. At cleaning the production area in the studio or group you work for. By choosing to always do your best, you will develop a mindset for excellence and discipline yourself over a period of time to be better prepared for your next big break.”

Photo: Mimi Haddon
The last words. From Barbara Kosoff: “Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, never give up, work your ass off, always give 150%, and have fun!”

And from Sharon Lloyd McLaughlin: “Oh, and learn to write an invoice!” Wisdom for the ages.

Read advice from all 30 of our People To Watch here.
See the Students To Watch selections here.