I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Here’s a common myth: to be a successful creative person, all you need is talent. It’s a nice myth to believe in, because “talent” suggests a divine or evolutionary genetic gift. So if you have talented DNA, you’re special and can be a cool creative person. If not, you’re destined to be an accountant. After working for the past three years at MetaDesign, I’ve noticed that this troubling notion of talent has very little to do with the success of a junior designer who’s just starting out. Instead, the ones who survive and last more than six months, practice these 7 habits:

  1. Work quickly, produce a lot
  2. Attend to details
  3. Be versatile
  4. Make an effort to learn
  5. Anticipate problems
  6. Set goals
  7. Display a positive attitude

1. Work quickly, produce a lot

In a design studio with large collaborative projects, time is money. So being fast is paramount to your survival. The studio relies on your speed in two areas: idea generation and production:

Idea generation
Let’s face it, being a junior designer means your final work won’t be great. Fortunately, design is more than just the artifacts you produce; it’s about ideas. The quicker you can generate ideas, the more value you bring to the design studio. Keep this in mind:

  • In early phases of a project, worry more about generating a lot of ideas instead of being perfect
  • Generate many distinct ideas rather than variations of the same idea. (I still have a hard time with this one)
  • Don’t be afraid of dumb ideas

Production
Great ideas are useless if you can’t show them off quickly. On the other hand, if your ideas aren’t great, other designers may rely on you to execute their ideas. This all means you need to be well-versed in the most commonly used software applications and prototyping methods in your studio. You don’t need to know them like the back of your hand (but it helps). You just need to know enough to meet the possible demands of the studio. To become more proficient you must:

  • Seek help by asking another designer how to do something, Googling for answers, or finding a manual
  • Keep updated on product announcements, tutorials, and updates
  • Try-out and adopt new software
  • Read blogs like this one for tips and tricks

2. Attend to details

Successful junior designers take great care in preparing files. They pay attention to pixels and picas, check spelling, remove unneeded files, and strive to make it easier for someone else to understand their work. Nothing will annoy your supervisor or creative director more than having to clean up sloppy work. Some tips:

  • In programs with layers, such as Photoshop and InDesign, name and order your layers with a logical naming convention. Delete any layers and ruler guides that are unnecessary
  • If you have linked or placed images in a file, make sure they work when you package them for your creative director to review. Linked images should also be named according to a logical naming convention
  • Make it easy for your manager to give you feedback by making a list of specific questions you need answered to take the project to the next step

3. Be versatile

Versatile and flexible designers can weather the economic ups and downs of a design studio, because they can be staffed to more types of projects. A sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot is by saying, “I don’t do web” or “I don’t do print.” You’ll be seen as a diva and won’t last long. Effective designers instead say, “I don’t know how yet, but I want to learn how to do it.” Eventually, you will learn new skills, and more importantly ways to adapt these skills to new demands.

4. Make an effort to learn

To be versatile, you must learn new skills all the time. Effective and successful designers are lifelong learners. They are curious, enthusiastic, and passionate about design and want to learn more. This passion translates to better job satisfaction and productivity. They also:

  • Seek out mentors
  • Choose jobs based on those that let them learn the most. (when you’ve stopped learning, it’s probably time to leave)
  • Read and write
  • Have projects outside of work (such as cute productivity blogs)
  • Participate in the design communities by attending lectures and other events.
  • Keep up with technology
  • Are early adopters

5. Anticipate problems

Junior designers can make themselves indispensable by recognizing and anticipating things that create problems for their managers. For example, you might:

  • Point out potential production issues that might delay the project
  • If you need more time to do a task, tell your managers early on so they can rearrange the schedule
  • Alert managers when work falls out of the project scope

6. Set goals

To be an effective designer, you must be goal-oriented. Set goals for yourself, and discuss them with a manager who can help you achieve these goals. This is especially important during performance reviews. These goals can relate to:

  • Skills you want to learn
  • Responsibilities you want to have
  • Types of projects you want to work on

7. Display a positive attitude

Design studios can be riddled with changes in staff, project requirements, and even company vision. Even in times of change and uncertainty, it’s important to remain positive. Nobody likes a grump. Here are some ways of showing a positive attitude:

  • No matter how junior you are, mentor others by sharing information you’ve learned
  • Identify problems in the studio, and find ways to make them go away
  • Ask what you can do to help
  • Avoid gossip and talking ill of fellow coworkers, clients, and competing studios
Do you have any other habits or qualities that I’ve missed or overlook? Want to elaborate more on some of these habits? Disagree? Don’t hesitate to post in the comments!

(Special thanks to Hugh Dubberly for his feedback on an earlier draft of this post.)

68 Comments

  • Oliver HoopER

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    5:28 pm

    As looking for my first junior design job London myself this has definately been a interesting read!!

  • Anonymous

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:11 pm

    How did this reach front page of digg? I’m not picky at all but this article states the complete and utter obvious.

  • ehwhatwhat

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:12 pm

    Isn’t 1-3 synonymous with talent?

  • Anonymous

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:16 pm

    It reached the first page because people found it interesting. If you don’t like it, then please go away.

  • daedal

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:16 pm

    Interesting article. Being a part-time designer myself, some of the points you’ve made don’t necessarily apply while others can be applied to my job in general.

    No matter what you do, productivity is the key to your success and you’ve pointed that out well. Good stuff.

  • Tom

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:31 pm

    i second that opinion… number 7 is my fav.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:49 pm

    Thank you for the comments!

    True, some of these points may be obvious to some people. But they are worth stating and clarifying.

    One could go on and on with the “nature” versus “nurture” debate about talent. But I believe many people have the ability to design and think creatively. You don’t have to have the creative bone in your body to design (or draw, or paint.) Skills are learned, not given at birth.

    One goal of this article was to point out that being a designer is more than just having a good looking portfolio. A pretty portfolio might get you hired, but it won’t mean you’ll last.

  • Pop Stalin

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    6:55 pm

    I’m a Sr. Designer at my day job and owner of my own freelance joint. I’d say all of these are great tips. Another thing I find helpful is having fun things to look at on my desk. Surfing the net, screenshots, magazines can be great sources of inspiration but I also find being able to hold something can help me think through a design dilemma. I have bobbleheads, weird little toys, etc. I’ve even created cue cards to express how I’m feeling to my co-workers. None of these things are necessarily related to design but then again, they are. Nice site, I’ll be reading you. :)

  • Kevin Cameron

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    7:16 pm

    I work as a designer, but am currently earning a BFA in illustration and love this article. Not only does it outline the kind of attitude I’ve been trying to harbor at work, but it sounds like the kind of attitude anyone could benefit from adopting in the creative field! Thank you for the good read!

  • Leopold Porkstacker

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    7:41 pm

    Wow, there’s still design work here in the bay area??!?! From 1990 to 1997 freelance graphic design and illustration was my bread and butter, but then things pretty much seemed to dry up, thanks to the assclown cheapskates who preferred to have their $12/hour secretaries armed with MS Office, clipart CDROM, and shitty truetype fonts be their “designer.” Needless to say (I don’t even need to mention it, do I???) their stuff looked like crap. Hell, even my father (who started in the design world in 1969) whose rate is more than $300/hour currently lost clients to the same dilemma.

    My point? Oh yeah, hats off to you for actually having a place in the design world. My UCSC Extension graphic design certification along with 4 years of graphic communication degree at Chico State were pretty much money wasted. In 1997 I started doing web work (design/development/production) where we’re all underpaid contract slaves.

    -he who stacks pork

  • mutetourette

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    7:41 pm

    Three things – Speed, Simplicity, Self-confidence. You already pretty much covered Speed but Simplicity and Selfconfdence are important on a project. Simplicity means spelling out ideas clearly, both with words and crisp images. Selfconfidence implies not loading EVERY trick you’ve ever learned into every page just to show how clever you are.

  • Untitled

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    8:37 pm

    Excellent points, very wise indeed.

  • AZ

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    9:36 pm

    1. Attend to details
    2. Be versatile

    These two I think are the most important. As designer that works for a design/print firm, I deal with outside designers ranging from independent to VERY large corporations. I’m always dumbfounded one someone sends me a 600MB Photoshop file with 60 layers and no fonts. It all could’ve been done in InDesign, yet so many designers refuse to learn new tools. Take that extra step to make your workflow work for YOU, not against you.

    Not a vent, just the facts. :)

  • nj

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    10:04 pm

    These habits are true for all designers, not just junior designers.

  • Danielle

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    11:26 pm

    Great tips! I’m a junior designer myself. Some of these pointers have crossed my mind before, but it’s more meaningful now to see that someone else has made them concrete.
    Gotta keep building up that creativity and versatility is a must!

  • Mostaque Ahammed

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    11:46 pm

    I have lack of 2 & 6. Thanks to bring them to my attention.

  • Rotting

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    11:52 pm

    Hey, I am a designer in a web solution company. This sums up all that I need to note. Thumbs up!

  • Bernhard

    gravatarJul 12, 2006
    11:56 pm

    I, as a senior, don’t think you need habits at all. It surely helps to be masochistic and ignorant. that will do it. Seriously: you don’t sound like designers. To me this is junior-consulting-bla bla bla. Be true. Do it. Stop talking.

    Respects, Bernhard

  • Chanpory

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    12:01 am

    Bernhard, I think everyone at all levels in their careers need habits, sets of practices, and models for working. You have to think about what you’re doing before you “do it.”

  • Bernhard

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    12:22 am

    “You have to think about what you’re doing” – not necessarily as a designer. I try do do that in my private life. As I said, it’s all about action. Not about words.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    12:49 am

    Bernhard, I agree with you that it is about actions. But I disagree that designers don’t need to think. All actions, even fingerpainting, requires thought before doing them. Thinking and doing are inseparable. To separate thinking from doing only perpetuates the myth that designers just make things, and that people who think too much are scientists, theorists, and academics who are supposedly out of touch with the real world.

  • omegakenny

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    12:55 am

    nice article…

  • dragonhead08

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    1:38 am

    Good list,

    One thing they should add, especially for the bay area is that its a very small world. Never burn your bridges, and never treat those below you in the totem pole like a jerk. Case in point, when I started out in the biz 7 years ago I was a production artist and I use to run into alot of pretentous snot nosed kids right out of design school who would ask for changes for the hell of it. Well, one Art director from a hi tech firm I worked with was really polite and and easy to work with. Fast foward 5 years. She got laid off and I’m an Art Director now. She came in one day looking for freelance work and after 5 minutes I remebered who she was. I hired her on the spot and I’ve been giving her regular freelance work ever since.

  • Andrew

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    2:06 am

    Perfect timing here, I just got a job as a junior designer and have been working there for just two weeks. Unfortunatley I’m the only designer there, I replaced an experienced designer who left to move on elsewhere. So I’m stuck by myself trying to work my way through CorelDraw 12 which the past designer must have adored, while I’ve only ever used the Adobe Suites.

    Its been one big ball of stress, and I’ve been constantly staying late and taking my work home with me because I feel like I’m not fast enough, or that I need the time to get my ideas. I know that I’ll settle in eventually (I’m already starting to) but in the mean time I’m producing mixes of half decent, and some of my worst work.

    To top it all off, I only have the trial period of 3 months instead of the standard 6, If I dont make it, I’m considering going back to uni to get my Bachelors, but then I’ll most likely be in the exact same position once I finish there.

    End of Rant>, Thanks for pointing out what I’m doing wrong and what I need to be doing instead.

    I better go do some more work…

  • Tim

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    2:28 am

    Hi

    Sweet article. I employ designers, and this article is spot on in terms of what is important to ME in a junior role.

    This article is about survival – and these 7 rules are exactly right. If I get this type of behaviour, I am happy. If I don’t, I get grumpy.

    Simply put, if you exhibit these behaviours you will succeed – if you have a baseline of raw talent.

  • Balakumar Muthu

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    2:31 am

    I accept the points, but they seems to be not in the proper order…

    – Balakumar Muthu http://i5bala.blogspot.com

  • Rachel

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    4:50 am

    As a Creative Director, these attributes are exactly what I look for in a designer. To add to this, while I believe these are necessary skills for a junior designer to acquire, I also absolutely expect my senior designers to have the same attributes down pat. In other words, if you don’t have these skills, don’t expect to be promoted! I think this article is stating the truth, not the obvious (because I’ve certainly dealt with many designers who don’t seem to know these things).

  • Joey Stevens

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    5:56 am

    I will be on the market soon. These are really great tips. Thank you for your insights

  • deb

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    6:25 am

    great article. attention to details is highly underrated… i’m a former print designer now working for a sign company and receive many logos and images from a variety of companies and firms… you’d be amazed how many times we have to inform the designers to save fonts as outlines, increase the resolution, and that JPGs saved as an EPS file are not vector artwork. nobody taught me this in school, it’s just something i picked up along the way.

  • My Wedding Memoirs

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    10:50 am

    The points make sense, but it will take quite a bit of effort to execute them in reality. Effort and definitely a positive attitude will be required.

  • FMCS

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    1:47 pm

    commen sense always prevails! Work hard be smart, be one step ahead of the rest and you will always succeed!

  • Convergence

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    3:25 pm

    7 Good Habits for young professionals…

    LifeClever (a blog for design professionals) offers up their “7 Habits of highly effective junior designers.” Specifically, they are:

    Work quickly, produce a lot Attend to details Be versatile Make an effort to learn Anticipate problems …

  • Rui Nunes

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    3:40 pm

    This also applys for programming and server technology get arounds… as a junior developer I see myself in all these points =)

  • Doug

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    10:52 pm

    Learn to automate repetitive tasks.

    Learn command-line utilities and how to combine them into scripts.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarJul 13, 2006
    11:00 pm

    Doug, Great point about automation. I agree, learning to streamline and be efficient is another great habit to have. I find myself wanting quicker and more automated ways to accomplish uninteresting tasks all the time. A friend told me once that the best programmers are the lazy ones, because they abhor mundane boring tasks. A few seconds saved everyday adds up to a lot of time over the course of a year.

  • dandyna

    gravatarJul 14, 2006
    1:24 pm

    thanks so much for this article!!!

  • Kevin

    gravatarJul 16, 2006
    8:23 pm

    I recently had the pleasure of hiring a junior designer and wrote about the experience a few months ago: http://www.graphicpush.com/hiring-a-junior-designer

  • mobcode

    gravatarJul 17, 2006
    10:31 am

    More than talent…

    This is written for graphics designers, but it translates directly to software development. Read it, translate it to your work, and do it. It’s good advice.

    ……

  • Rollo Tomassi

    gravatarJul 17, 2006
    11:44 am

    Who are we kidding with titles like Junior Designer? This is stuff I’d expect from a Production Artist. I’m an Art Director myself for an in-house design team with a major brand of liquor. Before that it was 12 years in the casino and tourism industry.

    The single most important mentality/habit I can’t stress enough for new designers is developing an ability to distance yourself from any individual project. Never invest yourself into a client’s project. Design work is not art – design is problem solving; creative problem solving to be sure, but the problem is communicating the message your client (not you) wishes to convey within a defined set of limitations. Ultimately this is what they pay for, and the success or failure of any project rides on the signature of the check they pay for it with.

  • Joni

    gravatarJul 17, 2006
    12:17 pm

    This truly is a Captain Obvious article. These are fundamentals taught during basic design courses in college. If people are enlightened, they obviously were sleeping during these classes…

  • maureen

    gravatarJul 17, 2006
    12:37 pm

    I work in the fashion industry and while it is a different design field I felt that all of your points applied to any kind of designer in a corporate or competitive environment.
    Yes, it may have been obvious but having been an intern and hosting interns in my field you would be amazed at how timid people can be when placed into the “real” world.
    I currently manage over 20 people and I forwarded this email to all of them. Some practice these habits instinctively and some are trying to learn how to be more like those people, so picking a mentor can be just as important as being a mentor.
    Thank you for this article, it reminded me that it isn’t easy being the junior person on a team and every bit of encouragement and advice helps.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarJul 17, 2006
    1:19 pm

    Joni,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s true, some things are obvious: like being nice to others, avoiding war, practicing safe sex, and not insulting other readers of cute productivity blogs. While they may be common sense, we often forget the obvious. Perhaps you can suggest some not-so-obvious advice for young professionals starting out?

  • dt

    gravatarJul 19, 2006
    8:31 am

    I’m a design manager with 9+ years in the consumer electronics industry.

    All i have to say is that you guys hit it on the mark, and best of luck as the both of you will go far!

  • DIO

    gravatarJul 19, 2006
    9:59 am

    Actually, though the points may be obvious, they can also span across different disciplines. As an outsourcing specialist, I also have to live by some of these rules in my day-to-day work.

  • Bob

    gravatarJul 19, 2006
    10:41 pm

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with people who all assumed someone had looked at the obvious only to find out we had all skipped over it. Start there, build on it. And one of the biggest things it to keep things in perspective – even what seems like the worst job can turn out amazing with a little attitude adjustment and change of perspective so could I add Find Something Good in Each Project?

  • Jeff

    gravatarJul 20, 2006
    11:44 am

    I always am on the fence about these kind of guides. It seems that anyone worth their salt will already know what is up and doesn’t need this kind of push. It seems more suited for high-schoolers ready to move into a design career.

    And also, you left out Enjoy Yourself which is rarely given as encouraging advice from older to younger designers.

  • RobWert.com – Blog, Resources, Info, & Community of Rob Wert

    gravatarJul 22, 2006
    11:06 pm

    […] Talent isnt everything (for the junior designer) […]

  • ShopNewsBank

    gravatarJul 24, 2006
    10:31 am

    I’m not actually a designer, but I think the points raised were general enough to be applied across different industries. While this increases the relevance of the article, it does reduce the value of the article to junior designers since the tips are not strictly industry specific.

  • Televisionmind » Blog Archive » not just for designers

    gravatarJul 31, 2006
    3:50 am

    […] These are good tips for a person working in any field: LifeClever ֚» Talent isn’t everything: 7 habits of highly effective junior designers Published in: Whatever | on July 31st, 2006 | […]

  • g-money

    gravatarSep 6, 2006
    2:31 pm

    Great article, but my god, the self-absorbed, mean-spirtited comments by other Art Dirctors and Designers makes me ashamed to be in this field. You’re not all that. You’re not that great. You put on your socks just like everyone else.

  • Mike

    gravatarSep 24, 2006
    1:46 pm

    Excellent blog, Chanpory and Sean, and extra kudos to Chanpory for truly practicing what you preach!

    So often in the design community do talent, technique and style issues overshadow the more pressing matters facing the design profession ‖ particularly the very value that designers bring to their work. Design is about much more than tools, end products, aesthetics, or self-expression: it is a service that requires as much mindfulness and diligence as any other. Without a willingness to understand and help others, a positive and respectful attitude (challenging as it may be at times), and a desire to do one’s best, a designer (or anyone else, for that matter) risks cutting his or her career very, very short. And the unfortunate truth is that many life lessons such as professionalism are not necessarily common sense or taught in schools. They’re either extensions of one’s character or (hopefully) accumulate with experience.

    Our clients should expect more than a deliverable and an invoice at the end of a project, as should our co-workers and employers expect more than a “warm body” toiling away in front of a computer ‖ gone the second they’re done for the day. The person-to-person experience of working with others is as much a design challenge as any project, and one should always seek to improve upon it.

  • Wellington Saamrin

    gravatarOct 2, 2006
    12:03 pm

    I´ve really read this article sometimes because it enlights some issues that are forgotten while people are working and some others, that the majority people I know never heard about.

    I would like to have your permission to translate this article to my language (portuguese) and publish it to Brazilian design comunity with a reference to Life Clever, Chanpory Rith and its original URL.

    This article covers the subjects and values I´m trying to evaluate in my work. It would help so much! May I have your permit? Thanks in advance!

  • Chanpory

    gravatarOct 3, 2006
    7:44 am

    Wellington, thank you for the kind words! You can of course translate and republish the article with a credit to LifeClever. If you don’t mind, please let us know when it’s up on your site!

  • links for 2006-09-08 at willkoca

    gravatarOct 31, 2006
    3:29 pm

    […] Talent isn’t everything: 7 habits of highly effective junior designers » LifeClever (tags: career jobs lifehacks productivity design) […]

  • Sanjit Kumar Burnwal

    gravatarJan 15, 2007
    9:22 am

    hello everyone. i really have read this article myself and although i am not a designer student but like any other success striving individual reformist who would like to make this world order better by his capabilities and experiences i would say that in todays’ world of unpredictability and disorderliness simply enlisting these type of habits and expecting oneself to follow them as being hard and fast rules seem theoretical and on the long run we again come back to our old habit and patterns where we find ourselves comfortable, reality in original perspective should be much different from just some few rules. What i am trying to convey is that we should not be labelled with some marks to follow such n such rules but it should be a constant learning experience or we should be flexible enough to environment so that our habits dont make us obsolete in practicality. Be real and expect real things.

    I would like all readers of this article to go through this article i am placing its link here…if you are not patient enough you can simply go through just the second last and last sections.The article explains the behaviour of unpredictability of real systems.Just have one look. Comments from viewers are most welcome.

    http://www.codynamics.net/science.htm

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    […] April 11th, 2007 at 2:29 pm (Chit Chat, General) Read this very interesting & informative article, Talent isn’t everything: 7 habits of highly effective junior designers […]

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  • Scott

    gravatarAug 23, 2007
    11:00 am

    I pretty much agree, but admittedly, don’t follow these tips. I try though.

    One thing I do question is #7, first bullet which reads:

    No matter how junior you are, mentor others by sharing information you’ve learned.

    If by “information” you mean details on the company, who’s who in the organization, what a client is looking for from the agency, client/agency history and philosophies etc etc… that is fine.

    If you mean information like helping others learn an app such as photoshop or DreamWeaver I completely disagree with you on this.

    First off, I have my own desk to worry about. I have to be productive for my supervisors and having someone constantly ask me how to do this or that because it is easier to ask me than Google it or pick up the manual is interuptive and counter productive to getting my work done. There will always be the “Spong”… the person who asks (ie “interupts) someone else rather than finding a solution themselves in the workplace.

    Second, Aren’t my technical skills as well as creative abilities what the company has hired me for? I think the old adage about “knowledge is power” rings true here. Why would I want to share all my secrets of success with another? So the company will fire me because the other person knows as much as I do and they make less?

  • Kolz Blog » Blog Archive » 30 Ways to Transform Your Career

    gravatarAug 25, 2007
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    […] 7 ways to bridge the talent gap. Talent has very little to do with the success of someone who’s just starting out. More important factors are your productivity, attention to detail, versatility, openness to new ideas, and attitude. Read More. […]

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    gravatarApr 25, 2009
    6:59 pm

    […] This article is based an earlier blog post on LifeClever, published July 12, 2006. Share and […]