It has been a long time since I have posted on these boards. Life has gotten in the way but I told myself this summer that I was going to try to get back to being active in the Core community again. So hear it goes. I posted this article on LinkedIn and thought I would share.
As the new school year is upon us and I just marked my 15 years as a design professional, I thought I would share some advice to those about to start their careers. I have learned a ton, got to work in some unbelievable businesses with some amazing people, and have had the opportunity to create some truly meaningful work. Here is what I have learned. Enjoy!
1.YOU OWN YOUR CAREER... NO ONE OWES YOU ANYTHING
I thought I would start with the hardest. Whether you are a new grad or a seasoned veteran looking to move on, you have to take control of your career. If you are a new grad, know what you want and make a plan to go get it. If you are and experienced designer looking for a new opportunity make them want to hire you. Lay out your goals, short and long term, and work hard to make them happen. This may mean extra work, learning a new skill, or pushing outside you comfort zone. Do not wait around and expect and opportunity to come to you. It won’t happen. Just because you have a degree, or have been at a firm for a while does not mean someone should give you a job or a promotion. You have to prove to them why they should care.
2. LEARN YOUR CRAFT FIRST
No one comes out of school a “Strategist”. I am so tired of interviewing entry level designers that tell me that they want to do “Design Strategy”. You cannot do design strategy until you understand your craft. You need to go through the process and understand how products are designed, manufactured, influence consumers, and impact the business. Without these experiences everything is theoretical.
Take the time to get your hands dirty, pump out thousands of sketches, build prototypes and CAD models. It’s what you went to school for and what you are good at. If strategy is your thing, it will come after you learn your craft and truly understand the entire ecosystem of product development and how design influences other functions of an organization such as R&D, Marketing, Finance and Sales.
3. YOU WERE HIRED FOR A REASON
We have all fallen victim of thinking we need to over prove ourselves when we are hired. Coming in guns blazing and start laying out our resume at every chance. Spouting out “at xyz firm we did it like this” and consistently trying to show “better” ways of doing things. Bringing past experience is a good thing, but consistently quoting your past can comes across as insecure, not being a team player, and having doubt in the team’s capabilities. Remember you were interviewed by the team. They know your past, know your skills and they hired you for a reason. Find constructive ways to bring your past into the team, but don’t be patronizing.
4. TAKE YOUR TIME - IT'S A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT
This may be a bit cliché, but it is the total truth. Be patient with your career. Put the time in to learn. If you work hard and put in the time, you will move up, you will take on more responsibility, and you will get to where you want to be. Let it happen! That’s how you learn. Without this learning, you will fail and fail hard. Foundation is always needed to build a solid structure.
5. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMEONE BETTER
We all know them in school. That guy or girl that blows out unbelievably hot and ridiculous sketches, models, and renderings. They seem to always have the answers and everyone oohs ahhs over their work. They get straight As and come graduation, they land a job at the hottest design consultancy. Guess what, they exist in the professional world as well. But here’s the kicker, they also have someone that they view as that guy/girl and it may very well be you. We all have that person that we think is better than us. Instead of looking at them as a threat, look at them as inspiration. Let them push you to your best. If you are on the same team, learn how your skill compliment theirs.
6. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE NEGATIVE PEOPLE
On the flip side of point five, there will always be obnoxious and negative people in the work place. We all know them, the ones that complain about the boss, or think that they always know best. Don’t let them get you down. Don’t let them drag you into their negativity. Negativity only breeds unhappiness and drags you into a dark hole. Shut it down as quick as you can.
7. KNOW HOW TO GET OUT OF A FUNK
Funks happen, even to the best of us. You may be very passionate about a design direction and feel deep down it is the right direction to go, but it gets shot down by the client. You may have been moved on to a business that you have no interest in. Whatever triggers the funk, you have to learn how to get yourself out of it. A funk is self-induced negativity. You create it, therefor you control it! Take on special projects that you are passionate about or go to the gym and lift heavy things (my remedy of choice). Whatever it maybe, make sure your get out of the toxic mindset.
8. LEARN YOUR SUPERPOWER
We all have a skill that makes us awesome! What’s yours? Identify it an exploit it! Usually your superpower is what great careers are built around.
9. DIVERSIFY YOUR EXPERIENCE
A well-rounded design leader can wear many hats. They collect those hats by taking on responsibilities outside their design “discipline”. If you are an Industrial Designer do not be afraid to take on roles in Graphic Design, POP, Manufacturing, UI/UX, etc… In my career I have done Industrial Design, Package Design, Graphic Design, Food Design, Toy Design, POP, Workshop Facilitation, and Innovation Strategy. Without taking on all these experiences, I do not feel that I would be where I am today.
10. MAKE THE BEST OUT OF BAD SITUATIONS (WHILE LOOKING FOR NEW ONES)
I have always found that bad situations cause me to evaluate my successes. Maybe because this is when I start updating my portfolio, but I think it’s mostly because as I have mentioned, in order to get through the negative, you have to think positively. Try to see the silver lining in the situation. Are you learning new skills? Maybe a skill outside of design. Are you making meaningful connects? By pulling out these positive experiences, it will help you in understanding how you have grown and what new skills you may bring to a new role.
11. YOU WILL FAIL - IT'S WHAT YOU DO WITH THOSE FAILURES THAT MATTERS
Failure is the key to all success. We all fail at some point. The key is learning from those failures. I have failed many times. Projects have gone off the rails, I have been on teams that have launched products that were not successful, and so on. But I have always looked at those failures as opportunities to learn. Take note of your mistakes, try not to repeat them and always revisit those failures to continue to learn and guide you.
12. KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON - BUT DONT QUIT.
Even the best gigs will eventually come to an end or start to get stale. Know when to find the warning signs. For me it has been when I stop learning or stop being challenged. As soon as I stop being passionate about the work and/or the team, it’s time to find something new. Define what inspires you but know what inspires you today can change tomorrow. Constantly re-evaluate what drives you to be your best. If it’s not there, move on, but don’t quit. Quitting will get you nowhere. I have never believed in quitting. It’s the easy way out and does not guarantee a better situation.
13. THAT OLD GUY IS SUPER KNOWLEDGEABLE - TAKE ADVANTAGE
You know that guy that has been with the company for 30 years? He isn’t a dinosaur. He is the best text book you will ever find. Make friends, and take advantage. You will learn more from him than you did in school.
14. WORK IS NOT EVERYTHING - DESIGN IS A LIFESTYLE BUT IT'S NOT YOUR LIFE
This is the MOST important point. It is way too easy these days to let our careers consume us, especially as industrial designers. We are surrounded by our work and have a passion for beautiful product design. We have a love for solving consumer problems and making the world a better place through design – it’s what drives us.
With that, there are much more important things than work. Don’t let work cause you to miss putting your kids to bed, going to soccer practice, or having dinner with someone you love. Work will come and go, but your loved ones will be relationships you will keep well beyond work. Nurture and grow them, they will be the ones that will be there for you in the good and the bad times.
15. HAVE FUN!!!
I hope you can learn something from my experiences and as I too always want to keep learning, what pieces of advice can you share from your experiences?