One Year Out of Design School: 10 Valuable Lessons

I graduated with my graphic design degree last June and since it’s been almost one year, I thought I’d share the 10 most valuable lessons that I’ve learned so far.


In the beginning, it’s okay to take on low paying jobs. During school, I did a ton of freelance. I took on nearly every job that was offered to me including work from Virgin Records and followed that up with some small logo comissions. If you feel that there’s some valuable portfolio pieces and knowledge to be gained from a lower paying job, by all means take it. I wouldn’t recommend working for free though. Your schooling and talent should be worth at least some compensation!


The connections that you make early in your career will take you far. I still keep in touch with former classmates, teachers and even people who’ve reviewed my portfolio. Every person that you meet in the design industry knows someone else and you never know when an opportunity will arise.


Never feel like you’re too good to take on smaller jobs. There’s always something to be gained, even in the most minute task. Even if you’ve had a high powered job and end up at another employer later on in an entry-level position, use that time to demonstrate your work ethic. Set up some time to bring your portfolio by the art director’s / owner’s desk after you’ve been there awhile to show them what you’re really made of. Perseverance pays off.


Never be afraid to ask for help. If you can’t figure out how to perform a design task or how to work the printer, it’s always better to ask for help than to screw up. Most designers were in your shoes once and they are usually more than willing to give you a hand.


Work on something design-related every day. Whether you have a design job or not, make the time and put in the effort. I wake up before 7 a.m. every day and read design blogs, work with type, do freelance and blog. It keeps me fresh and up on current happenings.


Do design because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Don’t do it for the money.


Turn negatives into positives. If you can’t find a design-related job right away, do the research and start your own business. If you get terrible feedback on a project, redo it and prove the nay-sayers wrong. You are in control of your output. Make it the absolute best that you can.


Don’t burn your bridges. If you have a bad experience with a client or a job, never share it publicly. Everyone gets burned during their careers but it always pays to take the high road. The design community is way smaller than you think. Get the negativity out of your system privately with someone you trust and move on.


Unpaid internships can be valuable. If you get an amazing internship opportunity but it’s unpaid, consider the trade-off. Is the experience that you gain worth your time? Can you afford it? In the case of my internship, I was also working full-time and living on my own, so I was upfront about my situation. In this economy, it’s going to be much harder to find paid internships, but it never hurts to ask if monetary compensation is available.


There’s no way that you can possibly know everything right out of school. You’ll make mistakes. Sometimes, they’ll be big ones. You’ll get embarrassed. It’s okay. Apologize, learn from them and move on. It’s not the end of the world.




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