10 lessons learned in the first 3 years of professional graphic design.

Posted by on Oct 9, 2012 in Design | No Comments

1.) You don’t have to be a flawless illustrator.

Trying to be something you’re not isn’t only frustrating, but obvious. Taking steps to become a better illustrator is key. But don’t kill yourself over the fact that you still can’t draw it exactly like you see it. There are many talents in design aside from drawing. Find one that you not only enjoy, but seems to come easy to you. I pushed myself as hard as I could through school, thinking that one day I would wake up and be able to draw like Escher. Granted practice does make perfect, but my title isn’t illustrator, it’s designer. Discover your own style. Once you’ve mastered that, try another style. I got loony for icons. Iconic shapes and the  space around them give me goose bumps. That’s one style that I like to use. Try and take anything you’re good at and make an illustration from it, you’ll be surprised what comes out.


2.) It does pay to be organized.

Before I worked at Pulp, I was all over the place. My concepts were labeled blueVersion1, blueVersion2REVISED, blueVersionWithWhiteREVISION2, etc. After 1 year of doing this, my computer looked like it had been organized by a six year old. It might seem obvious, that ya duh, name your stuff right. But when you’re under pressure for time and need to send something out a.s.a.p. you couldn’t care less at that point. Force yourself to follow a system. The universe was kind enough to steer me in the direction of a girl who is now the peanut butter to my jelly, and i would be lost without her, her name is Meaghen. And aside from being a true blue friend, she is one of the most organized people I’ve ever met. Organized AND artistic! Super rare. If she went on a six-month vacation tomorrow, you would be able to go into her computer and find anything you need. She taught me her system, and after taking about 10 hours to rename everything in my computer, it has changed my world. I can’t believe how much  time I have in my day, now that everything has a system. But remember whatever your system, stick to it.


3.) If you don’t like it, don’t include it.

How many times have you made a poster, logo, web comp, brochure, whatever it may be, and you have that one version that, well, it’s growing on you slowly, but it doesn’t give you that fuzzy feeling that number 2 gives you, or that “I want to marry you” feeling that number 1 gives you. Although there is a lesson in itself to not marry any of your ideas, it is okay to feel fuzzy about them. That’s your visual intuition. It should feel right. I’ve learned over and over, that 90% of the time, the client will choose the one you feel least excited about. You want to shake them, tell them ” are you kidding me!? That one idea I made is so obvious! Why don’t you like my subtle, artistic ones?” but shame on you for even including it. Sometimes obvious ideas are okay too, if they communicate what you need them to. It should be able to communicate the same obvious idea, in a way that satisfies both you and the client. Push yourself. Keep your lack luster ones in a pile to look back on, but if you don’t like it, push through and make a different one.


4.) Reserve time for creative things, other than your specialty.

Being a designer is one of the most fulfilling things in my life. It’s a life long lesson that you learn everyday. I once thought that your brain was a bank of creative energy, and if you spend it all too quick, you will go broke. That idea isn’t entirely correct, but it isn’t entirely wrong either. I’ve come to learn that when you focus on one thing for too long, you don’t lose creative energy, you just get sub par energy. Medium energy. It’s like when you say the word tomato 78 times in a row without saying any word in between. Pretty soon tomato starts sounding like topado. If you’re working on one project, and the juice just aint flowin, take a break. Even better, take a break from it with a different creative genre. Play the guitar, scrapbook, take pictures, write, paint, anything! That way you aren’t distracting yourself from being creative, you’re just filling the same tank with an alternative source. I find these breaks don’t turn my brain off, but actually give me more creative power when I sit back down with that project.


5.) Learn to love reading.

If I could have anything in the world, it would be an editor. A person hired strictly to look over my sentence structure in emails, and my spelling mistakes in design. I HATE spellchecking. I realize this will have to be dealt with sooner or later, but reading the same content 4-6 times can be exhausting. And although the computer assists you in doing this, he’s not as smart as he thinks. It’s not uncommon for a client to send you content. You assume that this content has been written, edited and read over by at least one person before it was sent to you. This isn’t always the case. Some will copy and paste content from multiple publications into one document that you are then responsible, at the very least, to read through. And unfortunately, spell check isn’t smart enough to point out correctly spelled words that just aren’t supposed to go there. That’s your job. Turn your music off, lower the brightness and your screen, and get comfy. It’s become easier over time, but those three points are imperative to my success in reading any content. To save time, I’ve started taking their content docs and reading through them 3-4 times, doing edits where I feel they should be, and saving a new version out that I will use in my designs. This way you have a copy of the gobbledygook they sent you, and the clean version you used.


6.) Try not to take it personally.

SO much easier said than done, but really, get over yourself. It’s not about you. Sometimes it isn’t as sweet as you think it is. And sometimes, they just like the green one better, because they love green. Taking it personally, takes away my ability to experiment. I reserve my playful side, which ends up affecting the overall design. It’s not about you; it’s about the end product. Even though they try to teach this in school, you never really feel it until your getting paid to do it. Then it’s serious. The only thing that’s helped is A) getting over myself, you aren’t that big of a deal and B) communicating to my bosses how I take in information. I can take criticism; I just don’t like to be told what to do. You’re thinking “ ya okay, welcome to having a career small fry,” but really, Your bosses don’t want to take away your creative energy, so express to them how best to communicate with you, so that you understand it in a non personal way, that it’s just about the work.


7.) Every relationship has peaks and valleys…

This also stands true with the creative relationship you have with yourself. You will never dislike what you do, but there will be times when it is a bit muted. Either you’re exhausted, or stressed, or maybe you’ve been working on a project that you thought was going to be a synch, and has turned into a time eating machine. Whatever the reason, I’ve learned now that that’s necessary. It’s cyclic. It’s nature. Things have to go down, to go back up again. Don’t panic. You aren’t over it. You don’t need to start looking for another career. You need to let yourself go through the cycle to get to the other side. I’ve started to like the feeling. Because when I come back up, I’m so amped up with creative juice!


8.) Keep a notebook and pen beside your bed.

I went to a lecture series in my 2nd year of college, and the topic of discussion was “ finding creativity”. The speaker talked about different activities that groups of creative’s could do to get great ideas. He then talked about the 3 B’s. Your brain trips on creative things when you are either in the bathroom, in your bed, or on the bus. When your mind is on autopilot and you space out for a few moments, it’s like the big bang! Since I don’t live alone, keeping a book in the bathroom is out. And with Alberta’s distracted driving law in effect, I don’t have one in my car. But the one beside my bed surprises me every time. I’ve learned I get my best ideas on the nights where I can’t sleep. When my mind wanders, thinking about what I’ll make for lunch, and then BANG! Awesome idea. If you aren’t already doing this, do it.


9.) Make a resource bank.

Looking at reference before a big project is like having an appetizer before your meal. It’s inspiring. I find photos, textures, colour combos, fonts, anything! I get most of my resources from If you aren’t already using this as a creative, start. Page after page of interesting and educational resources that I can save and use anytime I need them. I normally keep a folder on my computer with links from this site, but with, it’s perfect. I can upload a photo of a font, and link the photo to the page where I can purchase it in the future. This is also amazing, because if your visual like myself, looking at a list of links is somewhat less inspiring than looking a board filled with snapshots of fonts. Whatever way choose to do it, make sure you’re saving them somewhere. And sign up to Do it. Right now.


10.) Eliminate your ego.

Ego in the dictionary is defined as “the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.” Your ego is an important part of who you are. It is your self-esteem, or self image. It’s how you see yourself. And although this is key in the development of each of us, your ego tends to steer you by way of negative criticism. It wants to separate you from everyone else. Praise you for being different and fabulous, but scold you for what others may think of you. I don’t think design is about that. You can still show your strengths. But you don’t want to separate yourself from the masses, that’s who all of this is for. You work for the world, and are interdependent on how they feel. Yes, you should feel proud of what you do, but don’t forget the people who need you to think on their behalf, and not just yours.


Every career will have it’s ups and downs. But if you are open to receiving lessons as they come, they will make your life, and job, much more enjoyable.


Thanks for reading   =D


– Jaryn 



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