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  • Writer's pictureMomster Design

10 Tips for New Graphic Designers (from an Old One)

These days it’s more challenging than ever to stand out as a new Graphic Designer. From AI, to free template websites, to cheap outsourcing, designers have a lot of competition. Heck, thanks to the internet, your grandma can teach herself a thing or two about design (and go Grandma!) So how is a designer to score clients and present themselves as the best option? Here are a few tips I’ve learned in my decade-long design journey, and I hope they can help prevent a few people from making the same mistakes I did!

1. Polish Up That Portfolio

hand polishing a car with a rag

This one seems obvious, but not everyone thinks to have the best version of their portfolio readily available for their prospective employer. I’ll never forget my first Graphic Designer job interview out of college, where it came down to me and the other guy. The reason I stood out and won the job was because I submitted a polished and purposeful portfolio… while the other candidate had mistakenly sent a link to his VERY adult Tumblr account.

That brings up a secondary point…double check your links before you send anything out!

2. Reinvent Your Brand

a paint roller rolling purple paint on an orange background

When I was experiencing a particularly painful bout of unemployment during the last recession, I was at the end of my rope when it came to resumes. I had submitted my resume to dozens if not hundreds of companies to no avail, since everyone else was also on the job hunt. So I decided to think of small ways I could reinvent myself a bit. I started by sprucing up my resume and customising it with my favourite colours (which I would later use as Momster’s brand colours!)

One of my previous employers told me during my job interview that I was chosen out of two hundred other applicants, and the way I designed my resume helped me stand out above the crowd. (Want me to help YOUR resume stand out above the crowd? Happy to help!)

3. Stay On Top of Design Tech and Trends

young girl showing her grandma something on her phione

This one may seem obvious, but I myself have been guilty of getting stuck in my stubborn old ways and wanting to do things the same way I learned it in college. But times have changed, and so must you if you want to stay relevant in today’s versatile market. What are some new technologies (like AI) popping up in design that you can get educated on? Change doesn’t have to be scary! And I don’t think it will kill the design industry. I’m a firm believer that tech can only get you so far, and will always need to be tempered with the human touch. And while it’s important to have your own established style, it’s equally important to stay on top of current design trends. I quickly came to learn that my taste is not always what is popular, and you must be willing to adapt your style to your client’s preference. When it comes to designing for clients, it’s not about you!

4. Communicate Promptly and Professionally

a phone screen with 20 email notifications

Design isn’t all about…well, design. There’s an administrative and human aspect to it as well. You have to actually meet people, whether on the phone or in person, and TALK to them! For folks with social anxiety like me, it was so hard to get my head around actually communicating with clients. But I’ve used the skills I gained as an Admin Assistant over the years to draft emails that clearly and concisely get my ideas and questions across to my clients. And if it can’t be answered easily in an email, I have learned to (shudder - you guessed it) CALL them for clarification! You need to apply the same attention to detail to an email that you would apply to a client design. Is everything laid out properly? Is your email signature legible with contact info? Is the font the right size and colour? And, most importantly, is everything spelled correctly with the right grammar? By taking the extra care, you will not only establish credibility with your clients, but you will (hopefully) cut down on the amount of back-and-forth communication!

5. Know Thine Enemy

a detective looking at notes with a magnifying glass

Otherwise known as the “Competition.” You already know there’s a ton of other designers out there, all fishing for the same clients as you. A little market research can go a long way towards figuring out how they keep scoring those clients. Check out the local competition in your area (that is, people who offer similar services) and poke around their website a bit. Take a few notes about what you observe. Is their portfolio polished and easy to read? Are they clear about their services? What is their social media like? Are they engaging with their followers (or do they even have any?!) Making notes on what appears to be working and not working for your competition can go a long way towards helping you land some better clients. That isn’t to say you should be COPYING your competition. You’re a creative type - you do what works for YOU! For instance, I took a look at some local designers to see why nobody was visiting my website, then realized it was because it was hot garbage compared to my competition. So I took the time to give the entire thing a refresh, and here you are! ;)

6. Don't Sell Yourself Short

excited lady holding up a big stack of cash

This one is important. It’s far too easy to let yourself get discouraged by the oversaturation of cheap designs and designers in the market. It’s very tempting to lower your prices, even to the point of detriment, in order to make a buck or two and land a client to add to your portfolio. But consider your added value compared to that guy who will crank out two dozen logos a day for five bucks each.

When I work for a client, I take many painstaking steps in order to ensure we land at the best finished product possible. The end result is something unique and custom to my client, depending on what they want. There is nothing cheap or generic about the work I produce, and I have learned to price myself accordingly. I used to severely undervalue myself thanks to low self confidence, and my clients took advantage of that. I once did a logo for a church for $50. That sounds okay, right? Except that doesn’t take into account that the church board couldn’t make up their minds about the final design, so it was put through endless revisions over the course of several months (as the board didn’t meet very often). In the end, they decided to go a different direction altogether and sent me on my way with my $50 cheque. Months of work, meetings, revisions, and sketches for $50. I have smartened up since then! Don’t sell yourself short, friends.

7. Become a Marketing Master

lady on social media with lots of likes

I don’t know about you, but when I was starting out as a designer, I wasn’t big on posting on social media. I just wanted to get down to design - why did I have to take the extra time to market myself? I naively told myself “If I build it, they will come.” My time as a Marketing Coordinator has helped take the scales off my eyes when it comes to this industry. While it’s true that word of mouth can get you far if you are well connected, I sadly am not. In fact, I suspect many of you are not. Therefore, it’s vital to have a well-established web presence and an active, engaging social media account if you want your work discovered online. It doesn’t have to be a scary or intimidating process, but it definitely takes intentionality and education. If you really want to succeed, I believe design and marketing must go hand in hand. Here is an article from Professional Academy with some more tips on becoming a Marketing Master!

8. Diversify Your Skillset

person asleep on a pile of books

In this ever-changing world, the market’s design needs have vastly changed as well. It’s not just about design anymore. If you take a look at job postings on Indeed, most companies are seeking creatives with a wide array of skills. I learned the hard way that simply sticking to one thing (in this case, design) just doesn’t cut it in this day and age. So I learned to diversify and lean into my natural talents and interests. I can now offer marketing, illustration and copywriting in addition to my design skills, which not only gives me an edge in the market, but helps me to more thoroughly understand the industry. And maybe you already have the skills on hand but you’re not offering them (yet!) What skills can you acquire or refine in order to give yourself the competitive advantage?

9. Know Your No

hand holding a megaphone and a no sign against a yellow background

As fantastic as it can be to land a great client, it can also be a total hassle if you wind up with a client from hell. Sadly, as much as we all want to get along with everybody and be able to read their minds, sometimes you just won’t jive with a potential client. And that’s okay! But you have to be able to know when to say no to work. I used to say yes to absolutely everything because I was desperate for work, even if the money was measly. But over the years I have come to learn that knowing your worth applies to more than just money. It pays to respect yourself, your talents, and your time as well. If someone is asking you to do work you just don’t feel good about, or they are a straight up PITA to work with, politely tell them thanks but no thanks and send them on their way. Know your No.

10. Design for Delight

happy woman drawing on a graphic tablet

And finally, the most important point… design for yourself, simply because you want to. Don’t worry if anyone sees it, or if you make any money off of it or not. Just have fun! The world of corporate design can become an absolute grind and steal your joy if you let it. You will face much criticism, revision, and discouragement as a Graphic Designer. Maybe, like me, you will wonder why you got into the industry in the first place. But I’ve started to make personal art and design a habit and try to draw just for the heck of it. Half the time I just throw the doodles away, even if I am proud of how they look. And it feels amazing to just let go and be free in my creativity sometimes. This practice helps me to get back to design with a fresh set of eyes and keep growing my creativity.

Design for delight! Don’t let the things of this world rob you of your joy. And those are all of the Graphic Design tips I have for you today, folks! Thank you for reading this far! Do you veteran designers have any other tips for the newbies? Drop them in the comments below!

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