8 Tips for Getting Started in the Design World

If you’re a recent college graduate on the hunt for design work, good news. Not only is there demand for traditional full-time jobs, but opportunities are on the rise for becoming your own boss. “There are so many resources for independent designers, platforms to sell your work, and opportunities to create passive income streams,” says Hailey Myziuk, who works full time for her company Snow and Ivy. The 31-year-old Detroit artist joined the Minted community in 2010 and says now is “such an exciting and fun time to be a designer.”

To help you curate your career, Hailey and Genna Cowsert — a fellow Detroit area designer and Minted artist — share these right tips for getting your digital foot in the door and developing your career.

The Sky Is the Limit” by Genna Cowsert

1. Identify Your Strengths

What are your strong suits? Whether it’s sketching, font creation, infographics, or a combination of a variety of skills — get clear about what you can bring to the table to a potential employer or client.

2. Define your goals

Do you want to work for a creative agency, an established brand, a nonprofit, or start-up? Or perhaps your goal is to be a self-employed designer. Whatever your goal, get specific about where you’d ultimately enjoy working. Write it down, and keep your vision at the front of your mind as you’re going through these next steps.

3. Do Your Research
Before you apply for a job or freelance gig, research the company’s website or their clients, read about them on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and whatever you can find. Are they growing? What kinds of creative materials do they create, and how can your skills benefit their work? If you know the answers to these questions, you’ll not only be prepared to interview, you’ll help decide whether the organization is a good fit for you.

Elegampersand” by Snow and Ivy

4. Carefully Craft Your Portfolio

“The most important thing is your portfolio,” says Genna Cowsert, 32, a freelance graphic designer and owner of The Detroit Card Co. With a number of portfolio template services, including Behance, Krop, WordPress, and Virb, you have more than a few options to choose from.

Hailey echoes the importance of portfolios, and advocates for showcasing the work you want to produce in your portfolio. “Do you. Showcase your personal style,” Hailey says. “You will immediately stand out to a potential employer or client who has your aesthetic or specialty in mind. You’ll also repel employers or clients who would likely not be a great fit.”

Looking for examples of good portfolios? Check out Hailey’s here, and Genna’s here.

5. Aim for Related Experience

When you’re starting out as a designer, any related experience is good experience. Even if your first design job isn’t your dream job, the experience will inform your next steps. If you’re struggling to land a job in your field, apply for a design internship or even volunteer your design services. For example, if you’re working in food service, ask your employer if they need help with website design. Aim to intern or volunteer for companies that are growing — if and when a design job opens up, you may be in a good position to be hired.

Hailey is now her own boss, but she got her start, after graduating with a graphic design degree from Central Michigan University, by working as a designer for two companies. “There was so much to learn beyond the classroom,” she says. “Having the ability to ask my co-workers questions, learn through observation, and have my work reviewed by art directors and experienced designers was priceless.” In short, working for someone else was a critical step in reaching her ultimate goal of working as an independent designer.

Golden Rabbit” by Snow and Ivy

6. Shape Your Own Path

Create the work you ultimately want to do. If you’re going down the wrong path, change it.

Unsure of what path you should shape? Keep exploring, says Genna. “There are always going to be design trends, and I think it’s important not to get too sucked into them,” she says. “Try to find your own voice by creating lots and lots of work. Experiment with different techniques to figure out what resonates with you. When you create work that you are passionate about, it will show. And if you can’t find someone to pay you for the kind of work you want to be creating, make it anyway.”

7. Embrace Change

Should you specialize in a certain aesthetic or medium, or should you diversify your skill set, to include not just design but also photography, videography, and maybe even writing? The answer changes depending on who you talk to, and who’s potentially hiring you. Though the demand for hybrid workers may be on the rise for some companies, there’s also a continual need for specialists. And perhaps that’s the point—be open and ready for change.

Genna thinks the creative industry has always been changing. In 2006, when she graduated with a graphic design degree from Wayne State University, the industry emphasized a need for graphic designers to design and code websites. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, partly because there are so many beautiful template-based websites out there,” she says. “I don’t think you should feel like you have to be able to do it all. It is OK to specialize, and sometimes it’s even better if you do, because then people will seek you out for that specific service that you do really well.”

8. Connect and Keep Learning

“Design is a constant learning process,” says Hailey, who recommends asking for help and feedback, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie. “Sometimes I’m really happy with something I created, but after receiving feedback from other designers, and revising the work, the end result is often so much stronger than the original version.”

And though the design world can be a competitive and complex world to navigate, Hailey thinks there’s a place for everyone to thrive. “There is an abundance of resources available to designers of all skill levels, including communities of your fellow designers, like the Minted community,” she says.

About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

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Published June 27, 2016 • Want to join the Minted Artist Community? Submit to a Challenge here.

  1. Adorable pictures . I really liked them. Thanks for sharing such great ideas in design world.

  2. Kim Dietrich Elam

    Great tips, ladies!

  3. I definitely agree witht he define your goals and do your research. How are you supposed to know if you have achieved your goal if you never set one!

    Research is also paramount if there are twenty people doing similar designs to yourself you have twenty competitors the more unique the designs the less people will be able to copy you.

    Identifying your strengths is also huge I personally am no good at anything to do with accounting so I outsource all of it and play to my strengths in marketing.