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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?

JC
-Justin Coble-
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"Never let the same dog bite you twice" -Chuck Berry-
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bepster
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This is great Justin!
But I would say that this is not just sounds advice for young designers, but all designers.
I love how a lot of this is about mindset and approach.

A lot of this sounds really familiar and am still trying to improve. I guess that never chances ;)
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I'd say your number 11 should be number 1. But maybe you thought it was so important that it is number 1 twice?

And quite frankly, the whole process is continuous failure until it isn't. That's what I enjoy about it, the challenge.
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This is a great list Justin. Thanks for posting that. I think it is great advice not only for the young designer but for seasoned professionals as well!
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I just got off the phone with one of my old school professors. He dropped this quote on me: “young designers know all the rules, old designers know all the exceptions” ... I’m not sure if that is always true but it has a fun symmetry ‬
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Thank you Justin, these are great reminders. The most important point you make is to keep doing things that we love and are passionate about, even if there are a lot of commitments and obligations. Then working smart and spreading your opportunities to be able to manage things as well as expand business-wise and personally. I will revisit a book I have about this and see if things resonate again.
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One of my professors, the late Cees Overbeeke, often said that you can't start to think outside of the box, once you have mastered what is inside of it. True isn't it.
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yo wrote:
August 29th, 2018, 2:39 pm
I just got off the phone with one of my old school professors. He dropped this quote on me: “young designers know all the rules, old designers know all the exceptions” ... I’m not sure if that is always true but it has a fun symmetry ‬
So true. This is actually where this list started to build. A few years ago I went to a portfolio review, and everyone there told me they wanted to do Design Strategy, Design Innovation, Experience Design, Design Thinking, and whatever other buzz words were out there. I came away from that review thinking to myself, "what happened to learning your craft?". I tried to give some advice but it didn't seem to stick.

Your career builds. It's not linear and you never know where it is going to take you. Trust me, my plan in college was never to be in the food industry for almost 13 years. But I have shaped an awesome eclectic array of human centered skills that are highly transferable.

You can have a plan, but know what you plan now WILL change as your life changes.

JC
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I am most intrigued by nr. 8. LEARN YOUR SUPERPOWER, and so the related 3. and 1. how to apply it in your team and overall career.
For some people these are things like modern dance, or sports, and relating it and the lived experience of the human body back to their design work. For others these are insights into human behavior such as why people do certain things, like ritualized behavior, and playing into that as a designer. Others are mathematical geniuses or great researchers. Some are great at automotive design but it took their lifetime starting from childhood to be an insider in that field. I only know that I am especially good at drawing comics but it doesn't make me want to be a comic artist. Visualization is what I am good at but I wonder if it can be the unique selling point I am looking for. Otherwise I am good at a lot of things but not one of the best. So how do you find your superpower? I was wondering if you can share some advice or examples of people who did.
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ID seems to now be defined by people that arent designers at all. It now seems to be driven by getting the file done by 5PM more than a concientious effort to develop valuable 3D products.

To me Justin is a younger designer.
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idainc wrote:
September 3rd, 2018, 9:26 am
ID seems to now be defined by people that arent designers at all. It now seems to be driven by getting the file done by 5PM more than a concientious effort to develop valuable 3D products.

To me Justin is a younger designer.
This is very odd. Maybe that is what it is from your individual perspective but I don’t think it is a fair assessment of the industry. If it is your current dilemma then perhaps there is something you can do to make it better.... as for Justin he is an experienced designer who has had leadership roles at several companies...
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idainc wrote:
September 3rd, 2018, 9:26 am
ID seems to now be defined by people that arent designers at all. It now seems to be driven by getting the file done by 5PM more than a concientious effort to develop valuable 3D products.

To me Justin is a younger designer.
Idainc - I'm not sure where this is coming from. I'm also not sure where you work, or what you have put out into the market, so I'm not going to have a debate on who's work is more meaningful. What I can tell you is that I do have multiple products that have gone to market and have enhanced consumer's lives, I have managed great teams, and I have a passion for design. Do I come in a 9 and leave at 5? Yes, when I can. But, when the hours are needed I am there working hard to make sure the job is done right.

Back to the post....
I am most intrigued by nr. 8. LEARN YOUR SUPERPOWER, and so the related 3. and 1. how to apply it in your team and overall career.
For some people these are things like modern dance, or sports, and relating it and the lived experience of the human body back to their design work. For others these are insights into human behavior such as why people do certain things, like ritualized behavior, and playing into that as a designer. Others are mathematical geniuses or great researchers. Some are great at automotive design but it took their lifetime starting from childhood to be an insider in that field. I only know that I am especially good at drawing comics but it doesn't make me want to be a comic artist. Visualization is what I am good at but I wonder if it can be the unique selling point I am looking for. Otherwise I am good at a lot of things but not one of the best. So how do you find your superpower? I was wondering if you can share some advice or examples of people who did.
Visualization can be a very strong story telling tool. Very few can do great scenario drawings that tell a great consume story. I have a passion for consumer research and synthesizing those insights into meaningful platforms. Most of the time this means scenarios, experience platforms, etc... BUT when we have the resource to turn our insights in visual scenarios that tell a story, it takes the work to the next level. It can then be easily communicated to stakeholders and a true story is created.

The key here is being able to tell a STORY, not just visualization. If you can master that, then you become valuable and you can eventually learn strategy and grow that skill further into a more strategic role.

JC
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I have been an Industrial designer for 13 years and can identify with every one of these points. I think they're spot on - insightful and inspiring!
Thanks for sharing Justin!
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Thank you Justin, I agree stories is what designers need to focus on.
A nice example is Dutch electronics giant Philips, with very appealing (although somewhat sexist at those times) illustrated ads telling a consumer story of what their products would mean in people's lives, already in the early 20th century.

I also notice that the older I get, the better I get at doing design as a day-job instead of overwork, overwork overwork of the earlier years.
The mind gets trained and we need less time, so we learn to organize life a bit while improving the (perceived) quality of our work.
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Can I print this? Would love to have this on my workspace :D
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