Advice #31: How Do I Know If I Am Good Enough To Be A Designer?

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I’m a graphic design student at the Hartford Art School. I keep wanting to drop out because I haven’t been getting the best feedback. How do you know if you’re capable of being a designer? We’ve been doing a lot of business logos and I just feel like I’m stuck in this uncreative bubble. Lastly, how much should I listen to my teachers? Design is so subjective. I show some people my work and they love it, while my teachers were overly critical about it. I could use a lot of advice so I can feel motivated again.

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First of all, take some relief in the the fact that you’re not the only designer who feels this way. At some point, every person in a creative profession wonders if they’re good enough. It’s human nature to question whether you ‘measure up.’ And, that is so much more admirable than just thinking that you’re the greatest designer that ever lived. Being humble will get you way further anyway, I promise.

But, you’re still wondering if you’re ‘good enough.’ As you mentioned above, design is so subjective. This is where things get tricky. Step back from your teachers and peers. Do you think that you’re good enough? Do you love sitting in front of a computer all day and bringing concepts to life? Do you feel like you can handle constructive criticism and listen to what a client (or teacher) wants, even if you disagree? It’s okay to disagree but are you still willing to give their idea a shot?

School Is a Test

School is meant to prepare you for the real world. As a designer, you’re often creating work for public consumption and if you want to get paid, you have to buckle down and please clients. The views of your teachers and fellow students regarding your work may differ in part due to age and views. While a teacher may encourage you to keep your work timeless and to drop unnecessary content, your peers may love the fresh new technique you just picked up from a tutorial.

Do your teachers ‘hate’ your work or are they just making suggestions on how you can improve? Is their feedback constructive or are they disregarding the outcome altogether? If your teachers are good, they will be critical. They simply want to push you to be your best. Sometimes, they see potential in a project that perhaps you don’t. Teachers understand design principles in ways that a new student might not and it’s true that if you want to break the rules, you have to learn them first.

Accept That Someone Is Always Going To Be Better Than You

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Stop comparing yourself to everyone else because it will only make you miserable. I had only one year of community college design courses under my belt when I started interning at my first ad agency. I was surrounded by guys with a minimum of 5 years experience each and sometimes it was intimidating. At times, I felt overwhelmed but I also knew that I wanted to be as good as them someday. Everyone has to start somewhere and the people that you admire were probably in your shoes once. Even if you’re naturally talented, it takes years of hard work. If anything, rubbing shoulders with people who are better than you will push you further faster.

Learn to Accept Feedback, Both Good & Bad

As a designer, you’ve got to develop a tough skin because people love to tell you what they think, good and bad. It’s never easy but over time, it does get better. When you’re still in school and experimenting and developing your style, it’s natural to be unsure about what you’re doing. But as you get more experience, you can more clearly judge if your work is measuring up. I spent nearly two years at agencies where I got constant feedback from art directors and I never took it personally. It’s their job to push you to make the work look its absolute best for a client. A fresh set of eyes can see things that you can’t when you’ve been staring at a screen all day. In school, your teachers are the equivalent of an art director.

Not Everyone Is Going To Love Everything You Do

Work usually falls into one of four categories:

1. You love the outcome of a project. Your client loves it. The public hates it.
2. You love the outcome of a project. Your client is unsure. The public loves it.
3. You loathe the outcome of a project. Your client loves it. The public hates it.
4. You hate the outcome of a project. Your client really hates it. The public loves it.

If you can manage to make everyone happy, including yourself (and get a portfolio-worthy piece out of it), relish that moment!

School Is Not Supposed To Be Easy

Life at an agency (or wherever you end up) isn’t easy. Getting pushed hard in school is a huge benefit in a way because it helps to build a solid work ethic for when you hit the job market. Someday, you may actually look back and miss the carefree (in comparison!) days of school. Knowing what I know now, I sure do. Take feedback in stride. School, just like everything else, doesn’t last forever.

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