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

  • 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

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  • 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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  • 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?

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