Top 5 Tips For Designers Starting Their First Job

Starting your first job in design can be a daunting prospect for any graduate. Matt Delbridge, Associate Creative Director at creative studio Gretel, who has worked with clients such as Google, the New York Times, Nike and Amazon during his career, offers his advice on how to shine in your new role.

1. Be a Sponge:  

Design is embedded in and in communication with the world around us, so it’s important to absorb ideas and conversations happening in the world at large. Always stay curious and find bits of knowledge and inspiration wherever they may be. Whether that comes from film, books, articles, music, talks or travel. Opening yourself up to these inputs will make you a more multidisciplinary thinker and equip you with skills to attack different kinds of problems with clarity.

Each new project requires you to become an expert in the topic and understand the communities and people that will be interacting with what you make. As designers, we act as a translator between the needs of the client and the world at large. To do this well, we need to equip ourselves with the ideas and references that can lead to cut-through creativity and strong work.

2. You Will Make Mistakes:

Be prepared to make lots of mistakes. It’s totally natural to be disappointed and frustrated in what you’re making at first. Ira Glass talks about the gap between your taste level and the level of work you’re able to put out when you’re first starting out. This gap is normal for all creative people and it may take longer to bridge this gap than you want. The important thing is to stick with it and continue to take risks.

You’ll have plenty of hard reviews and long nights, but these experiences will teach you more than any success will. Always be looking for what these challenges can teach you and don’t lose sight of what drew you to this field in the first place. We’re fortunate to work in a creative field. Have fun and work hard, the rest will follow.

3. Good Work is Built on a Strong Idea:

Your work is only as good as the idea behind it. Good work can’t stand on aesthetic merit alone, it needs resonant insights that contain a kernel of truth people can connect with. Finding that kernel is often the hardest part of the job and is the foundation for creating work that is memorable.

Each new project is an opportunity to learn about the communities that will be interacting with your work. Do your homework and ask lots of questions to try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience. This will help you unlock the tone you want to strike and the big idea behind that.

Always ask if you can communicate the true intention of the work with clarity, in a memorable way and if the visual output levels up to that.

4. You Learn By Doing (A Lot):

The best teacher is experience. The only way to master your craft is by giving yourself the opportunity to learn by creating as much as you can. Chase the opportunities that will give you the skills and experience to make the work you want to make. Identify the parts of the job that are difficult for you and run towards the projects that make you nervous and excited. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand for new challenges.

You can learn a tremendous amount from collaborating with friends and clients outside of work. It can give you the opportunity to hone formal and informal communication skills and try on different hats. You can’t always choose the projects you’re given at work. Taking on personal or freelance projects will also build your portfolio to show what you’re truly passionate about.

5. Design is a Collaborative Medium:

We are communicators by trade and that extends to the way we work. Always be open to new ideas and remember not to be precious about what you make. Being collaborative and a pleasure to work with will go a long way. That doesn’t mean you should be passive. Learn the communication skills to speak up for your ideas in a way that others can see what you do in the work.

Being a good collaborator extends to the way we think about the work itself. At Gretel, we have a boutique footprint with global output and we think of ourselves as systems thinkers who consider how a design system will manifest over the course of its lifetime. What we make will impact many people within an organization, even people who we may never meet. We try to create systems that will make future work more impactful and efficient. By doing this, we can think about the work as a collaboration even after we leave the project. We want the work to be something people within the organization will feel proud of while cutting through the noise externally.

Developing the skills to understand this as a younger creative will open doors and expand the way you think about your role.