Joshua Krohn

Entering the Design Field

A recent design grad, Bailey LaPoint, recently stopped by the Focus Lab office to check out how we get things done. As part of #teamremote, I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to chat with Bailey. But she was kind to follow up with me personally to introduce herself, and to ask some questions about entering the design field. Enjoy!

Joshua Werkin Final

What is something important for designers to know coming out of college?
Graduating from college with a design degree, you’ll have a good grasp on the design principles: typography, color theory, contrast, proximity, alignment, and grids. You’ll have the foundation for design aesthetics.

But there’s so much more to being a designer than just this foundation. While there are more than these three, the quicker you can hone these skills, the much more well-rounded–and successful– you’ll be:

  • How to present your work – A lot of colleges don’t teach this, which is a shame because this is something you’ll be doing constantly. You’ll be working with, and presenting to, people who aren’t designers. It’s your job to convince them that what you just made solved their problem. If you don’t know what problem you’re solving, then you’re not designing. Design = problem solving.
  • How to receive feedback — I won’t go into too much detail since I’ve written about this topic before but in short, design with confidence but listen with humility.
  • Learn how to write well — I’ve heard designers say, “I went to design school so I don’t have to write.” Wrong. Nothing says unprofessional more than an email or presentation littered with typos and grammatical errors. Running spell check is an absolute must; Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Sketch, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs all have it. But you still need to read through it for clarity and make sure there aren’t any grammar issues (like the dreaded to/too or their/there errors).

What mistakes have you seen in young designers that they should be aware of?
No matter how good (you think) you are when you graduate, the reality is a lot of your early work is going to be bad. Think about any new skill you’ve tried to learn: playing an instrument, solving algebraic expressions, playing basketball. We don’t instantly become an expert; expertise is learned over time. Design is no different.

And while you may be super talented coming out of school, please don’t be cocky. Nothing is more off-putting than designers who think they have nothing to learn. I’ve been designing for over a decade and I’m always learning something new. Here’s something new I learned this week.

What is your background and how did you get to where you are today?
I went to school for graphic design, which was more of a print-focused program. That dovetailed nicely with my experience since I was already designing logos and flyers for bands. And yes, my work was terrible.

Post-graduation, my work was a little less terrible and I found a job with an in-house marketing team. I designed and worked on everything imaginable: catalogs, logos, emails, postcards, brochures, forms, banner ads, website redesigns, mugs, t-shirts . . . everything.

During that time I also freelanced at night and on weekends. It was a chance for me to work more on brand identity and web design and start improving those skills.

Freelance work started to take off and it got to a point where I could do it full-time. With six months of living expenses saved up, I made the switch to full-time freelance. Those two years of freelance were awesome but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the team at Focus Lab.

That’s the short version of how I got to where I am today. But realize that this journey–from school to working with Focus Lab–spans ten years. There were a lot of late nights, working weekends, and pushing through bad design after bad design to gain the experience I needed to get better.

“No one else is going to make you a better designer other than yourself. You need to have the desire to want to be better, and then put in the effort to make it happen.”

Digital or print portfolio? Or Both?
Definitely both. If you’re going into a print-heavy field like editorial, catalog, or packaging design, it helps to also bring a print portfolio to the interview.

However, most potential employers are going to look at your online portfolio first before asking you to interview. Make sure that every portfolio piece is serving a purpose and is tailored for that job.

It also needs to be focused. You’re a designer, photographer, and audio engineer? Great! But most employers don’t need all that. If you want to get hired as a designer, focus your portfolio on design. Want to get hired for brand identity? Take out everything that isn’t related to that. The work in your portfolio should be work that you want to keep doing, not work that you don’t want to do.

Today’s designers are expected to be more than just designers. We’re thinking about the entire problem, researching, writing, and working collaboratively with others to solve it. Writing about that process is as important as the work itself.

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Have any other questions about the design profession? Don’t be afraid to hit us up. We’re always down to drop some knowledge!


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