As a young designer with a need of direction you’ll often turn to your more experienced and more “famous” peers for guidance.
Many designers who have made a name for themselves will gladly and eagerly offer words of wisdom, but unfortunately they does’t always reflect reality.
Now don’t get me wrong – I appreciate all advice people give me, but it’s important to understand that some of those universal “truths” are nothing of the sort – neither true, nor universal and whatever Internet wisdom you might come across, it’s good to take it with a pinch of salt. So please treat this as a myth buster kind of text that’s here to tell you how things can really be.
There’s time for everything.
Let’s start with a statement I’ve come across more times that I can count and one that irks me a lot.
Many famous designers will like to tell you that saying that you don’t have time for a personal project or more commissions is just an excuse, that you are procrastinating and that if you make an effort you can complete anything. The problem with this is that it mostly comes from people who are single with no families and no commitments other than their work.
I’ll admit that if you are in such a situation then yes, you can spend your days tinkering with personal projects or take on more commercial work, but even then it doesn’t seem healthy to push yourself too much. They have “time for everything” because they are financially secure, and with that comes a bit of time-warping nonchalance. However, if you have people in your life that need your attention or other things to do, that statement is not only false, but potentially harmful.
A person doing a creative job also need to recharge, otherwise something I like to call “creative fatigue” creeps in – the quality of your work goes down and you no longer find enjoyment in what you do. Avoid that at all costs.
Art takes time. Don’t seek instant appreciation.
At its core I agree with that statement, but there is a flipside to this coin. If you’ve already made a name for yourself in the industry, if you are recognizable either through your work or your activity, that is absolutely correct. Your work will be found and it will eventually reach its fans. But “fresh” designers who need to make money on a regular basis to survive do not have the luxury of time.
The Internet may never forget, but it has a short attention span.
They say the Internet never forgets, I say that’s true, but it also has a very limited attention span. When Internet is the primary source of your marketing push, that limited time is all you have to make a dent in a thick wall of projects published every second. If that time passes your “latest work” turns to your “past work” and unless heavily promoted will get lost. Young designer can’t always give their work time, unless they want to be appreciated “post mortem”. If their latest project doesn’t get noticed quickly, it might never be noticed at all.
Yes, once something you’ve done makes a splash it will create ripples and they will visible for a long time. But it’s the noise of the splash you notice, not the ripples that come afterwards.
You don’t need a good website. Your work will defend itself.
As someone who also works as a web developer I can tell you this is pure nonsense. Let’s get one thing out of the way. I don’t want you to think you need the best looking website to attract clients. You don’t. God only knows how many successful sites are out there that look terrible. How a site looks is not all that important (although a good-looking site will help potential clients remember it). How it works though, especially in regards to SEO is a different matter entirely. Now I won’t write here what your site needs, that’s material for at least 2 different posts, but I will tell you where that “You don’t need a good website” comes from and that’s ignorance, unfortunately.
Known designers don’t need a decent website for a very simple reason. Nobody looks for them through Google search. Well, they do, but not the same way they would be looking for you. Since their names and their work is known, it will be available not only on their website, but also on design and industry blogs, mood boards, inspiration collections and whatnot, usually with links to their portfolios. For search engines that creates a lot of connections which make an individual particularly visible in search results. Also, because their work is recognizable they will be searched by their names, not a generic phrase. Nobody will search for “poster designer” while looking for James White or Ken Taylor.
You, on the other hand, will be searched by generic terms. Therefore you need a website that through content and metadata makes you easier to find. Yes, there are services that allow you to “build a website in minutes”, but that website is an Internet equivalent of prints you keep in a drawer. Nobody will see it unless you show it to them.
Yes, you can still be relevant without a decent site. You can be that without one at all, but your self promotion skill better be really good.
Your personal projects will get you work.
This is only partially true. If you are an illustrator or you design branding, your personal works are as good of an indication of your skill as any commercial work you’ve done. If you are a web designer, app designer, or a UX/UI expert your personal stuff only shows if you can design attractive things. It does not, however, indicate how effective your design is when implemented and in case of those fields that measure of success is paramount. As I’ve mentioned in my “Want to be a designer? Be one.” post there’s a way to measure how well product design works. It’s much more difficult to see that on projects that end on design stage. A product design without implementation is hard to test and therefore exists in a void.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you won’t benefit from doing personal work. You will; it gives you that much more experience if nothing else. But don’t expect that Dribbble shot of a weather app you’ve designed to land you a job at Google.
In the end, common sense is your best adviser. People give advice because they mean well, but they don’t account for difference in life situations, career stage or simple luck. Don’t ignore people more experienced than you, but filter the information you’re given. Make your own mind about things, learn, experiment.