Category Archives: Advice

Advice #38: Mix and Match

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So many of you have been writing in with questions lately so I wanted to use this week to answer as many of the shorter ones as possible. Enjoy!

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Givenchy Heels

I’m almost 20, and even though I adore how they look, I don’t know how to walk in high heels. Really. I own a pair and I ‘practice’ walking in them around the house every now and then, but I don’t know if I’m doing it right.

As with anything, get comfortable and then work your way up! Start with a one to two inch chunky heel or wedge and wear them as much as possible until you feel like walking around in them is second nature. Your stride should look as natural as possible though it will take some time to get used to walking at a normal pace. I don’t think that any woman is born walking perfectly in heels!

I’ll let you in on a little secret — if you go through my photos, almost always, you’ll notice that I stick to wearing wedges. They are great because they give you that bit of extra height with a huge dose of stability. Nobody wants to hobble all around town! In truth, I own one pair of actual stilettos. Everything else in my shoe arsenal is mainly a wedge or a super chunky heel. My all-time favorite wedges are my patent gray Dries Van Notens and my most easy to wear heels are also by Dries Van Noten. Both pairs have really great non-slippery rubber soles. When it comes to shoes, aim for quality over quantity — take care of your feet!

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I’m about to graduate high school next month and I’ve applied to a college for a two year diploma in graphic design. When I’m done with the two year diploma, I can upgrade for another year (it’s advanced graphic design). After those three years of studying, I get a one year transfer credit to a university towards a BFA degree. I could’ve applied for a BFA degree at the university now, but I didn’t, because their GD program is more studio art and art history. What would you say are the ups and downs of the choices I made?

Degree titles aside, you really have to focus on the program and route that you feel is the best match for your goals. Have you already taken the time to meet with advisors at both schools?

When you’re finished with college and applying for design jobs in particular, it doesn’t necessarily matter what your diploma says or what your exact path has been to earn that degree if your portfolio isn’t solid. In my personal experience, a great internship along with a solid portfolio and client list have gotten me further than what a piece of paper says I acomplished. I had my own reasons for seeking out a two year degree in design versus a four year degree. The most important reason was that I already had a four year degree in another major and I didn’t see any benefit in wasting the time and money to have two. Plus, my community college program was focused on preparing us for the real world as quickly as possible with the end goal of us having jobs by the time we graduated. I put in the time and effort and that held true.

Which program best fits your focus and budget? The less money you have to pay back when you finish, the better (thanks to the affordability of community college, my loans are almost gone). It sounds like you’ve already given your route some serious thought and who knows, after earn your two year diploma, you might be ready to work professionally and not need to transfer after all. Quite a few students in my two year program were.

Do you ever get tired or bored with what you do?

Tired, yes. We all get tired. Bored? Never. There’s always an opportunity to learn something new, even when you’re working on the most mundane projects. Realistically, this comes down to adopting a positive mindset and choosing to find value in every new experience. They say that practice makes perfect and I agree — you should always strive to find ways to improve your skill set and to become more rounded as a designer. For example, while I don’t find production work to be the most thrilling, I often work on projects with huge amounts of it because I want to sharpen what I already know. I chose my career because I loved it. If I didn’t love it, wouldn’t every day feel like torture? You’re only going to live once so you might as well do what you love. Of course you don’t have to love every little experience or project but you should strive to enjoy your overall path.

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Source unknown

I have a question about time/energy. Young female entrepreneurs work insane hours, right? I want to launch myself as a freelance art writer. However, I get tired and sick pretty easily and am dealing with some tough personal stuff, so am having to learn to pace myself with how much work I take on at any one time. Do you have any advice on managing workload? Do you have to work a 60 hour week to be successful?

I am probably the wrong person to ask about this because I genuinely enjoy working; it provides me with both structure and purpose. Everyone is different though and it’s really important that you adopt a plan that’s best for your health and lifestyle, not just your career. Unfortunately, while freelancing provides some huge perks, the lack of structured hours and often intense deadlines can weigh you down. We all require varying amounts of sleep and downtime — if a job, self-imposed or otherwise starts taking a toll on your health, it’s definitely time to reconsider!

I have to stay super organized because I freelance at agencies as well as working with my own clients so there is a constant rotation of projects and deadlines. I keep a fairly simple routine for staying organized — I am a die-hard list maker. Every single day, I open up my Moleskine planner and write down everything that needs to be done. If something doesn’t get done, I carry it over to the next. Crossing items off my list makes me feel accountable for my time and that I’m not letting anything from emails, client work, appointments or household chores slip through the cracks.

Additionally, I try to keep a routine. Since everything around me can be crazy, I try to wake up at around the same time every morning, answer emails, re-write my to-do list and then unwind at night my catching up on my favorite blogs in Google Reader before starting any freelance work.

Success is a bit open-ended. Once you pinpoint what exactly you’d like to achieve with your freelance career and when, you can form a plan that will help you move forward in a way that works with your lifestyle. If your plan starts to not seem worthwhile, ask yourself why and reformulate your goals. Remember, your goals for you career don’t have to be all or nothing. Nobody reaches a level of huge success overnight.

Advice #37: I Am Still In School. Should I Start Blogging NOW?

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Image by Julian Bialowas.

I am currently in my 3rd year of studying design and I am wanting to start a blog a lot like yours. I’m wondering if I should start now and figure it all out, or wait until I’ve got more of a brand going on and do it properly?

Simple Advice: Start Now.

My advice to students who want to start blogging is always the same: DON’T WAIT. Nothing is ever going to be perfect — you could spend the rest of your life tweaking your brand and your work, waiting for the ‘right time.’ And you know what? That perfect moment never comes. Our lives and our work are fluid, always in constant motion. The web is always in a constant state of change as well…and that’s what makes it so great! Once you have your site live, you can make tiny tweaks as often as you’d like. But you’ve got to start somewhere to begin building momentum. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Blogging often requires more work than it appears and the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll develop your unique voice.

When I started blogging on my site in the summer of 2007, I was less than a year into my design degree. I didn’t even have that much work to post but I didn’t let that stop me. In the beginning, I simply shared things that I loved — design books that I found exciting, outfit photos, student projects and more. I knew that as my work and confidence grew, so would the quality of my posts. Looking back, I am so glad that I didn’t wait! There were much fewer personal blogs out there four years ago and because of that, the community felt much smaller and more accessible. The blogosphere only continues to expand so the sooner you make your imprint, the better.

At the time, it wasn’t as common for designers to have blogs. I wasn’t so sure that turning the front page of my site into a blog was the best move but one of my closest friends, a web developer who was constantly on the pulse of the next big thing convinced me otherwise. What I’ve realized is that you have to do what you feel is best for you.

To this day, I have a huge list of things that I want to change about my blog (a redesign is definitely in the works this year) but I never let that trip me up. Blogging consistently has had immense benefits that I might have not received otherwise. Over the last few years, it’s helped me gain a huge amount of freelance clients, I’ve received speaking offers from colleges and in the process, I’ve connected with and made many new friends. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that blogging has opened up a whole new world for me.

The secret to success in most things is consistency and this applies to blogging, as well. Follow the same routine day after day and slowly but surely, it becomes like second nature. There’s no reason to wait because truthfully, once you go live, even if everything is ‘perfect’ in your eyes at that point, within a year, you’ll find a million little changes that you want to make anyway. If you wait to get started, do you think you will look back in a year or two from now and wish that you’d just jumped in? If the answer is yes, make it happen now.

Advice #36: I Love Design But I Am Afraid of Change!

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Source: Julian Bialowas.

Hi! I see how you adore your job, you put a lot effort into it and, in my opinion, that’s the most important element: PASSION. I’m only 18 and I have realized that I’m just studying physics because it’s like a “safe” way to live my life. You know, you graduate, you get a job, you marry and have children … all those things. I’m afraid of doing what I want to do, what I like to do. I love graphic design and I’m now thinking about my options. How did you arrive at where you are now, what’s your job exactly and how does it work?

Remember that life isn’t a big check list.

You’re not in a race through an obstacle course, checking off your adherence to societal standards, one by one. As we get older, it becomes even more clear that our happiness and well-being are often more important than the perceived clout we get from a job title. If you’re not in school for a career that you feel passionate about, it tends to only get worse with time.

Relax. We learn through trial and error.

In life, I’m a firm believer that sometimes you have to try out a few things that you don’t necessarily like before finding the right fit. Because then when you finally do, you just know. It’s about trial and error — at some point, most of us will end up at jobs that we end up hating or choose a college major that isn’t the best fit. When you do make mistakes, take the opportunity to learn from them…and then move on. Then file it away under life experience!

You have to do what’s best for you. In the end, you’ll accomplish nothing except feeling miserable if you’re just going through the motions, trying to live up to an ideal that doesn’t necessarily mesh with what you want. If you’re determined enough, you’ll probably hit every one of those goals (degree, career, married and children) before 30 and then what? Will you be happy? Or look back and wish that at 18, you’d decided to take the graphic design route because that was REALLY what you wanted to do?

How did I arrive at where I am?

Right now, I am happy with where I’m at but it took years to get to this place. I’m a designer and blogger, both of which I love and set out to do a long time ago. I’ve been actively blogging since 2001, most importantly because I enjoy it. I’ve always felt like my work, life, surroundings and style were all interconnected. While my design work is very important to me, it’s a snapshot of a much bigger picture, much of which gets shared daily on my blog.

I’ve been designing professionally since 2007 though I started dabbling a few years before. 2007 was the year that I got my first agency internship. The second I graduated in 2008, I started working full-time and transitioned to freelance in 2009. A career in design isn’t easy. You have to be really passionate about it because the task of constantly trying to deliver your best work possible meshed with what the client wants (they’re paying you, after all) can be incredibly stressful at times. But that feeling of getting a complement from a client or seeing your work in print just can’t be beat.

Like you, I have always been very practical when it comes to school and a career — I’m just not one of those fearless, ‘anything goes’ types of people! I had no idea that graphic design was a career option until my mid-twenties! So on I went, doing what I felt was the most practical and earning a business degree. I’ve always loved marketing and advertising and anyway, I wondered, where would I get a job with an art degree?

Once I’d finished, I felt like something was missing. By 2005, I’d discovered graphic design and was doing small freelance jobs. I soon realized that half of being a designer is made up of what you don’t see — gathering assets, setting up files, the production. So, back to school I went. Since I’d already gone the ‘practical’ route (like you) and trudged through all the classes I’d deemed un-fun (namely pre-calculus), going back to school for design was a total dream. I was passionate about it, excited to learn every single day and the time flew by. If you feel that you’re in the wrong major, don’t suffer through it ‘just because!’

Follow your passion.

It’s never too late to make a switch. Only you can make a decision about what’s best for you. If you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right or keep wondering ‘is this all there is?’ then stop and listen to your intuition. You’re in charge of your happiness.

Of course, getting from Point A to Point B isn’t magic! You have to first decide if a switch to design is what you want and if it’s the right choice for right now. Next, you have to make a plan. What school will you go to? How will you afford it? Next, you have to set some goals. How long are you going to give yourself to finish school? To build a portfolio? To find steady work once you’re finished? Finally, ask yourself…what is holding you back? What are you afraid of? Once you answer that, you can break through and take the next step. Good luck!

Advice #35: What Would Your Last Blog Post Be?

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Dear Nubby,

Last night I had a dream where you came to my house to announce that you were going to shut down your blog and we (me + many many random people who were there) could ask you any questions we wanted. My question is: If you could write one more article before leaving this world (blogosphere or planet earth), what would you say?

Wow. This is probably the most challenging question I’ve ever gotten here on the blog! At the same time, it’s also a topic that’s interesting to contemplate. We all get into routines. When it comes down to it, I’m so used to having a set blogging schedule in place every week that it’s like second nature to me. I started this blog in its current incarnation over three years ago and I plan to continue for a very long time. But, back to your question. Bloggers by nature are always planning for the future. We’re always thinking about what’s next after we hit the ‘Publish’ button. When that’s no more and you’ve reached the end of blogging, how would you metaphorically wrap up all of those loose ends?

In my case, I realized a long time ago that there’s much more to life than blogging and the internet. While this blog contains a pretty good overview of my overall aesthetics and thoughts, in reality it’s only a small part of my life. I view my blog as a creative outlet to share my work, thoughts and inspiration but it’s not comprised of everything I do. So in a way, I would want my hypothetical final article to be bigger than my blog. Essentially, it would contain pieces of advice that are important to me and help guide me through life.

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Some of you are fans of Oprah and some of you are not but either way, I felt that she hit upon a profound moment in the closing page of her January 2011 issue. In it, she said:

In July, I read a Vanity Fair article about the making of Michael Jackson’s album Thriller. The piece quoted some of Michael’s friends saying that one of his biggest mistakes was never realizing that Thriller’s becoming the number-one-selling album in history was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. And because he didn’t realize that, he spent the rest of his life chasing that success.

Reading that was a big aha for me. The reason I had wavered was fear: I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to duplicate what I’d done. But as I thought about Michael Jackson, I began to see that not only can you not duplicate success, you’re not supposed to. Every new endeavor is created out of the quality of the energy you bring to it and is meant to be its own thing.

Popularity, fame, notoriety (or whatever you want to call it) comes and goes. Sometimes you’ll be more popular than others but through all of that, it’s important to appreciate what you have because you can never again relive that exact moment. In a society obsessed with documenting everything that happens, it’s important to just block that out sometimes. What YOU are doing in that space of time can’t be replicated, no matter how much documentation you have of it.

Do what you need to do to make yourself happy. Stop chasing past accomplishments and instead, set new goals. Stay true to those goals and say no to things that make you unhappy (I am still working on this). Oprah closed her article with:

What I know for sure. Fear comes from uncertainty. Once you start clarifying your purpose for doing something, the way to do it becomes clear.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. While this advice is fairly general and it’s been said a million different times in a slightly different manner, the point is that a lot of times, unhappiness stems from feeling stuck, feeling like you don’t have a purpose or perhaps most profoundly, like you can never relive a past experience. That energy has to go somewhere. Blogging makes me happy, having a career in design makes me happy, having a list of goals that clearly define what I want to do next makes me happy. It’s all connected. That purpose, whatever you decide it is will help to propel you forward.

Advice #34: Is a Freelance Career Right For You?

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Image: Convoy.

Hello, I am a graphic designer and long time reader of your blog. I’m writing to ask for some advice on how to start a good freelance career and to hear your experience as a freelancer for design agencies. How long did it take to you to become a valuable freelancer? Do you send resumès to agencies, or do the agencies call you directly? Are recommendations important in finding a freelance job?

First of all, design is an immensely competitive field — for every one designer hoping to make it at an agency level, there are probably 100 more candidates waiting in line. Over the last year, I’ve started doing portfolio reviews at colleges and the talent coming out of schools is astounding! Students are more well-versed in what’s required to work in the design field now more than ever. Talent isn’t the only component of building a successful freelance career, though. Work ethic, personality, the strength of your portfolio and industry connections all play a part.

As a freelancer, there are a number of ways you can seek new work. The tried-and-true method of sending resumés and portfolios off to agencies and setting up interviews is perfectly okay. Placement agencies are another great option. And finally, it’s always a good idea to build a client base on your own outside of agency work because this could supplement your income if that area slows down. They say that you should never put all of your eggs in one basket and I agree 100%. As a freelancer, I’ve diversified my revenue sources as much as possible and they are now split between a steady freelance agency gig, a roster of my own clients and ad revenues.

Start building your career while you are still in school.

It’s never too early to get started with your freelance career. The day school ends, work doesn’t just magically appear — I know that this seems like common sense but I cannot tell you how many students are ill prepared for the harsh reality of being out on their own! By ‘building your career,’ start networking (with fellow students, teachers and local agencies), perfecting your portfolio, building an online presence (these days, a blog and online portfolio are a must) and reaching out for internships as soon as possible.

While I was in school full-time for design, I also worked full-time. I don’t think I had a real day off for a year. But, I still made time to start thinking about my portfolio and picked up the occasional freelance design job so that it wasn’t all school work. Once I finished my first year of school, I began working on getting an internship. Luckily, I got my first choice and spent my second year interning at an agency. A combination of things helped me get in the door and jump-started my career:

1. My portfolio was diverse and included projects that I’d done outside of school. This showed that I was a self-starter and able to handle real world deadlines.

2. My design teacher provided me with a solid recommendation. Having a teacher vouch for you is invaluable!

3. I showed a willingness to do whatever was asked of me. Initial tasks included spray painting shoes in the parking lot, filing invoices and designing CD labels. These small assignments built up a level of trust and led to much bigger projects.

4. Even though I was in school, I had a blog that I updated five days a week and the agency I interviewed at was very savvy with social media.

Though your question wasn’t about interning, finding internships while still in school can help you build a relationship with agencies (that may need freelance help later on) and add solid work to your portfolio.

If possible, gain in-house or agency experience before going freelance.

Attempt to build a reputation working full-time with at least one agency before branching out on your own. Learning how to work with varied teams of people, responding to feedback (both positive and negative), learning how to build presentations, picking up new creative tips from fellow designers, mastering the art of multitasking and making friends in the industry will all help you once you decide to take your career into your own hands. Also, I really do feel that being surrounded by creatives who are more advanced than you early on helps to push your boundaries and essentially ‘get better faster.’ Working at an agency when you’re starting out can also help in the portfolio department and can be a stepping stone to bigger things.

Work with placement agencies.

Once I’d built a reputation at one ad agency, I was able to successfully interview at placement agencies (in Portland, I highly recommend Aquent and in New York, I work with 24 Seven) where agents were able to pitch my work for other positions.

As a new freelancer, having an agent to assist with lining up interviews while vouching for the quality your work is hugely beneficial. They have the connections directly with top agencies — and they are the first people that get called when help is needed. Recommendations are very important — agencies don’t want to waste their money. They want to have someone who’s reliable the minute they show up. If you make a great impression and have solid work, agents want to place you. After all, they get a commission and the more you work, the more they earn.

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Image, Convoy.

My first year as a freelancer.

What’s that old advice? That the first year of running your own business is the hardest? I’d have to wholeheartedly agree. Since you’re just starting out, the fear of the unknown can get the best of you. And, it’s really hard to know how to budget when you have no idea how much you’ll earn. Since I wasn’t sure what to expect, I felt like I couldn’t stop working…because what if I did and it all came to an end? During that first year, I found most of my jobs on my own. They came in through recommendations from previous clients, interviews and a few lucky breaks. I constantly refined my portfolio, fired off emails, went out to events and lunches with people in the industry and most importantly, never gave up. Before I knew it, I’d freelanced at five agencies in that year and doubled the projects in my portfolio.

Even though the first year was a struggle at times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I’d spent that year sitting at the same desk every day at the same agency, I wouldn’t have made as many connections or become as rounded as a designer. Working in completely different atmospheres with a variety of teams gave me a better perspective of the design world and what was expected of me. In the process, I concepted the direction of an entire ad campaign from scratch, designed a book in a week, assisted with building graphics for every team store in the NBA, revamped corporate guides, and, well…did production work for months on end. Though I learned something valuable from every experience, not every job was brimming with fun and excitement. But, that learning in varied situations, surrounded by a variety of personalities and deadlines (that ranged from extremely fair to you can’t really be serious) all prepared me for whatever may be just around the corner. Freelancing tends to push you outside of your comfort zone and forces you to have a can-do attitude.

It takes time to become a valuable freelancer.

Looking back, I would say that I became a valuable freelancer within six months. Every agency I worked at did things slightly differently and it took me awhile to get well-rounded enough that I could bounce from working on an intensely creative assignment to building production files. And, different agencies focus on different niches — for instance, I designed a website at one, created retail signage at another and worked on 100+ page catalogs at yet another. But sometimes, gaining the skill set needed for the wide variety of jobs that you’ll encounter isn’t the hardest part — adjusting to completely new environments and expectations is. There are always going to be times where you’re scared to death or wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. Yet somehow, you always get through it.

Why would you want to go freelance?

The reasons for going freelance vary for each designer but almost all freelancers relish the freedom of choice. It’s up to you to decide who you want to work with and how much you want to work. The variety of clients, both big and small can be another appealing factor. And, there’s the opportunity to travel — I’ve packed along my laptop and worked in multiple locales with total ease. Also, there’s a chance to learn how to wear many hats instead of doing the same job every day. And finally, perhaps best of all, there’s no limit on how much you can earn. It’s completely up to you to decide how hard you want to work and what to charge. Though freelancing isn’t for everyone, I’ve found the experience to be highly exciting and rewarding. Perhaps you will, too.

Extra Credit

One Year of Freelancing: What I’ve Learned
Freelancing 101 for Graphic Designers
7 Tips For Creating A Print-Based Design Portfolio

Advice #33: Should I Focus on Graphic Design or Business?

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Desk Image, Source. Model, Unknown.

I am currently a student attending community college and I’m almost done with the Graphic Design program. I will be going to university and almost all of the courses I took won’t be accepted. If I continue to pursue a 4 year degree in Design, I will have to take everything over except for some math and science. For this reason, I am thinking about studying Business. This way, I have something to back me up in case finding job as a Graphic Designer is tough. What is your opinion?

Ah, I see that you’re contemplating taking the opposite path that I did! Back in 2005, I graduated with a 4 year degree in Business (minor in Marketing) and after a year off, I went back to community college for a 2 year degree in Graphic Design. Originally, I went to school for Business for the very same reason you’re contemplating doing so — I felt the need to have “something to back me up just in case.” While I don’t have anything against the degree I earned (it made me way more rounded than I would have been), it did absolutely nothing to quench my true passion, which I realized was design.

When I graduated from high school in 2000, I toured my dream school, a local art college. But, it was prohibitively expensive and like you, I realized that there were no guarantees of finding employment afterwards. And, to be honest, I was firmly middle class. I didn’t have a backup plan (or a college fund, for that matter). University was much cheaper than art school. And, in my mind, it was much more practical on my resumé (I didn’t know a single graphic designer at the time — looking back, I wish that I had!)

What I learned in the process though is that you can’t feel fulfilled if your true passions are being buried. I clearly remember doing my senior thesis on an early incarnation of That was where my passion was. I still have the project somewhere — a red folder with custom designed print-outs that clearly lay out my business plan and marketing strategy (maybe I’ll share it sometime).

As someone who’s now been on the inside of ad agencies for upwards of three years, let me tell you this: while the business degree did look nice on my resumé, it was not a defining factor in any design job that I got. The interviewers were much more interested in the quality of my portfolio and my blog. Period.

To be clear, I’m not trying to deter you from earning your business degree. On the other side of the coin, one of my best friends went to school for Business & Marketing but has a huge passion for design. In the process, he became an instructor at a handful of top art schools. He also manages to work full time at an agency in their Sales & Marketing department. Once, he too was also at a fork in the road, trying to decide between Graphic Design and Business degrees. He took the business route, aligning himself with top agencies and designers along the way and has been hugely successful in this path.

The moral of this story is that you have to follow your true passion, no matter what. During the way, you may curse yourself for the hardships that you have to endure, but once you get to the other side, you’ll thank yourself. I spent most of my 20s in college. I barely went to parties, worked in drab offices and a shoe store or two, interning for a year before I got hired at my first design job. But now? I can honestly say that every second of that path was worth it. Hard work builds character and if anything, sometimes those jobs you hate are good for something — when you do get that first design job, hopefully you won’t take it for granted!

But, back to your schooling. You mention that you are considering a 4 year degree in Design. What’s wrong with your 2 year degree? Have you checked into art schools that may be a bit more lax and accept more of your credits? If you do decide to go to university, at the very least, having your math and science out of the way is a good start. Even if it takes you a year longer to earn back those extra credits, a year in the overall scheme of life is fairly minimal.

Whatever you decide, you have to make the right decision for YOU. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that you can’t worry about all the “what if’s” in life. Even if you perfectly plan everything out and take the route that you’ve deemed the most practical, you’ll still encounter challenges. It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I didn’t go back to school for graphic design until I was 25. The choice is yours (and yours only). Good luck!

Advice #32: How Can I Get Back into Design?

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I received a bachelors in graphic design a few years back, but have done hardly anything with it and have been working in an only marginally related job since graduation. My design software isn’t even up to date. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting back into design lately, but I don’t know where to start. What would you suggest I do?

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Life happens but really, it’s never too late to catch up. There are times when we get pulled in different directions or have to take another job that’s not related to our profession and that’s okay. Nobody expects you to be an amazing designer overnight. Possessing a willingness to learn and a sense of follow-through will help you with getting back on track.

Enroll in a Continuing Education Program

If you need a quick refresher, you’re in luck because quite a few art schools now offer Continuing Education programs. I am familiar with these because I was recently invited to review portfolios for design students in the program at PNCA. Many of the students I spoke with had already previously earned degrees in design or related fields and in the meantime, ended up in different professions, took time off to be stay-at-home parents or just wanted to refresh their knowledge and update portfolios.

These programs make a lot of sense when you really think about it. Many aren’t necessarily credit-based and the cost tends to be less expensive than traditional, for-credit programs. And, if you’ve previously earned a degree in design, it’s pointless to go back to school to re-earn the same degree again. Technology and software are always changing and if you’re hoping to re-enter the field after an extended break, one of these programs can provide the tools, motivation, connections and resources to get you up to speed with current practices.

Subscribe to Design Blogs

Become familiar with what your design peers are doing (for free) by subscribing to design-related blogs. Keep an inspiration folder on your desktop and collect images as you go (I upload my saved images into a private folder on my Flickr account about once a week).

Once you learn about a few blogs, a whole world will begin to open up as they link to others. A few good places to start (in no particular order) are: Smashing Magazine, For Print Only, Neusblog, I Love Typography, ISO50, Logo Design Love, Computerlove, Brand New and Brand New Classroom, Friends of Type, The Dieline and Design Work Life. This is just scratching the surface!

Take Online Tutorials

When I was in school, we weren’t required to purchase many books. Instead, we subscribed to, which I highly recommend. Providing an amazingly comprehensive selection of online tutorials, Lynda uses videos to teach you new skills. If you don’t understand something the first time around, it’s easy to re-watch the video again and again. Lessons are divided up by chapters and if you’re more advanced, it’s very easy to skip ahead. In the past, I’ve learned a lot of inDesign and Flash tricks by watching Lynda videos. Finally, the subscription options are really affordable, as low as $25.00 a month and allow you to access over 53,000 online video tutorials instantly. So much knowledge at your fingertips!

Test the Waters With Temporary Work

If you haven’t been in the design market for a few years, it’s hard to know what to expect and if you’re up for the challenge — will you enjoy the work, can you handle the workload, are you up to date with practices, do the clients interest you and do the hours work with your schedule? You can only tell so much from an interview. Many companies have been trending towards hiring freelancers as a way to test the waters, especially in this still shaky economy. This is beneficial for both parties because a freelancer can see if they like what the company has to offer with regards to work quality and culture; at the same time, the company can make sure that the freelancer is a good fit with the rest of the team.

When freelancing for a company that I am unfamiliar with, I personally prefer to go through placement agencies so that I have a liaison between myself and the business via my agent. Your agent can assist you with navigating unfamiliar or tricky situations and act as a confidant if any issues arise. They can also put in a good word if you really like the place and are seeking permanent placement. And, if things don’t work out for some unseen reason, there’s less of a loss for both sides. The company doesn’t have any contractual obligation…and, well, you don’t get fired.

Pay Attention to your Portfolio

As a designer, if you end up in a long-term gig (design-related or otherwise), it’s easy to get too comfortable and neglect your portfolio. We are all guilty of letting things slide at some point. Though, when you take too much time off, it becomes increasingly difficult to catch back up. For this reason, I try to set aside a chunk of time every six months to refresh the look and contents of my book. This is your key to finding steady work, whether it be freelance or permanent. And, if a few years slip by, your book runs the risk of becoming dated and falling behind the competition.

Where should you begin? If you feel too overwhelmed to take on the challenge by yourself, a continuing education program can help you get up to speed. If you lack the budget and time, most agencies and design professionals are willing to set aside 15 to 30 minutes to give you a quick round of feedback as long as you’re polite and clear about what you are looking for (an informal portfolio review, not a job!) If you’re in need of some portfolio tips, pay a visit to two of my previous posts, 7 Tips for Creating a Print-Based Portfolio and Creating a Killer Portfolio Discussion.

Readers, do you have any recommendations or further resources for someone who would like to re-renter the graphic design job market?