These Things, I Wish To Have Known

How many times have you thought to yourself that you might have avoided a whole field of mental-mines if you had just known that some clients are going to be the beasts of nightmares and that it’s not so bad when you make a mistake? I put together a list of fifty or so tips I wish I had known when I started my working life. I hope to help at least one student relax a little.

You’re going to screw up. The world keeps spinning
Things are going to go wrong and it’ll be your fault. It’s ok.

Admit when you’ve stuffed up
It means you’re taking responsibility; save time on bickering or
making-up excuses and you’ll feel virtually no guilt.

Solve your screw ups
You stuffed up, cost people money and wasted peoples time. Waaah.
Solve the problem and be a professional.

Keep your desk clean
Neat desk, neat mind.

Take the full lunch break
Your brain needs the break and the fresh air and time to think will do you well.

Enjoy creative magazines and/or books at the start of every day
Don’t jump straight onto the computer. Get your creative juices flowing organically.

Drink water
Lots of it. Coffee = bad.

Learn to love the On Proof & Working trays
Yeah, the in/out tray system is lame, but it’ll keep you sane and keep your desk neat.
As a side note, have a notepad handy where you write down everything you need to do.
Every little request that comes your way, write it down in a list, as well as every job you need to do when a proof comes back with changes. It helps you organise what to do when.

Clients are people too
Stop laughing, they really are.

Seriously, stop laughing
Some people are assholes, but most are nice.
Therefore, some clients are assholes, but most are nice.

Talk to your clients
Discuss the job at hand, ask how their day has been, if the have weekend plans. It’ll relax tensions and help the job go much smoother.

Send one version
Sending two versions of the same job means you don’t think either works.

Don’t send their version and yours
They’ll pick theirs.

The client will hate what you do
It’s going to happen eventually. They’ll tell you they HATE it.
Not dislike it, not say it doesn’t work, but hate it. Refer to four poitns previous.

Hyphen, en-dash, em-dash, a, an, &
Learn what all of these are and how to use them correctly.

Don’t be precious
It isn’t your job, it’s the client’s, they’re going to want changes.

Know the work of the following intimately
Steven Heller, Debbie Millman, Ellen Lupton, Paula Scher, Michael Bierut, Paul Rand, Jan Tschihold, Erik Spiekermann, Paul Arden, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Alan Fletcher, Tibor Kalman and Vince Frost. It’s the very tip of the iceberg but is a good start.

The audience won’t know what happened
They won’t know that the client rejected this idea or made you use that photo. Anything you are given for content and restraints need to be used in the best possible way, it’s what you’re stuck with.

Keep up to date on the industry
Read blogs, magazines, books and whatever else you can get your hands on. Know this world inside and out, it’ll keep you refreshed and inspired.

You’re forever a student
If you want to become successful in this industry,
do not lose your inquisitive nature or thirst for knowledge.

Know Design History
Knowing what’s been done before means knowing how to develop an idea to new places, not old ones. It’s all been done before, so know how to repeat it the best possible way.

There are good ideas in every creative medium
Stop just getting them from typography annuals. Look at architecture, photography, illustration, music, film, sculpture, industrial design, fine art, literature, street art and whatever else is artistic. Where a problem is solved creatively, something can be learnt.

Buy The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Read
Always have a book in your bag and a pile on your bedside table to be read.
It helps develop the minds eye and conceptualise ideas.

Stop watching TV
Nothing to do with design, but something worth doing.

The client is often right
It’s true, sorry.

Stay on top of paperwork
It’ll grow into a mountain very quickly.

Always ask questions
It doesn’t mean you’re dumb, it means you want to learn.

Systems – get use to them
Everywhere you go will have a different system by which they work.
They’re annoying, get in the way and are necessary.

Always get changes via email
Even if the client explained them on the phone or in person, get a hard copy.

Leave work at work
Go home to rest.

Get your ergonomic on
Thirty minutes of learning how to sit at your desk will save you hundreds of dollars and many hours lying on a table face down talking through a hole. Trust me.

You will be at your desk for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week
Get use to it, make it your own and make it comfortable.

Most of the work you do won’t be creative or interesting
So learn to revel in the creative moements whenever you can.

You won’t have enough time
Ever.

Don’t promise deadlines
If you can get it done by lunch, tell them they’ll have it the end of the day (things come up).

You’ll loathe the telephone and you email client

Work parties are awesome
No matter how lame.

Be friendly
Smile to people, ask how they’re going, take a genuine interest in finding common ground. It’s nice to be nice, you know?

You will get fired or quit
Be ready.

Don’t multitask
Focus on one job for at a time. You’ll get to the rest, don’t worry.

Have a justification
The client is going to spring the good ol’ “why did you do this?” on you at random. Be ready – either have a reason or be good at making them up. Chances are, your instinct told you to do something for good reason.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘just because’
Don’t tell your client this, but other designers will understand fully.

Check everything, and check it twice
PDF proofs, mock-ups, spell checks, colour seps, print quotes, fold marks, fonts – EVERYTHING.

Check it again

It’s going to suck
At some point, more than once, your job is really, really going to suck.
Just get through it, you’ll be fine, the work will be fun again. I promise, you’ll be ok.

Some clients are assholes
There, I said it.
Call them douche-bags and shrug off their idiocy.

An open brief is useless
They mean the client doesn’t know what they want.
Find out what they need – you need a goal to aim for.

Music and laughter will be your salvation
So have a good supply or tunes for every mood and a nice stack of podcasts.

There will be politics
The bigger the business, the bigger the politics. Stay out of the way.

You’re going to learn, a lot
You don’t know nearly as much as you think you do, or enough to get through – enjoy learning everyday.

You’re better than you think

What tips do you wish you had known before you started your career?

8 Brilliantly Fantastic Responses

    Jonathan Powell

    Great Tips! Thank you!

    I’ve recently learned the ways of the clean desk and I’ll never go back!

    If anything I would add; when your stuck, frustrated, etc. take a walk to refocus/re energize.

    Take lots of pictures of things that inspire you (kind of goes with the There are good ideas in every creative medium tip above).

    Also, take care of yourself, exercise – walk, run, ride a bike- get outside as much as possible.

    Alex Charchar

    You’re very much welcome Jonathan!

    The clean desk just makes it easier to walk in and start the day, doesn’t it?

    Going for a walk to refocus is a great tip! I’ve done it a number of times but didn’t think to add it, thanks! Getting away from all the noise and source of frustrations just helps you to balance your mind out a little..

    I’ve been trying for a long time to take more photos of everyday things that i love but never get around to it.. although my ‘beautiful’ folder currently weights in at 3,623 images, so I’ve done it in some sense ;)

    Thanks for the extra tips

    Erin Pierce

    Fantastic post. LOVE it.

    Alex Charchar

    Thanks Erin! Glad you enjoyed it

    James Pope

    Haha these tips are great and can be adapted to other industries as well.

    Would like to add under the politics headline

    “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…”

    lol :-)

    Brian Dodson

    Yes, great post! Going along with bad clients/bad work, etc., I would have to add that no matter how bad a project is going, or how much you hate the results, make a point to always find a way to challenge yourself and grow with it. The client may be forcing horrible photos, horrible colors, horrible concepts, etc., on you, but you can still focus on creating unique typography or work on other elements that you do have control over – even if you are the only one who cares ;) You’ll become re energized and it will go much better for you.

    Alex Charchar

    Hey James,
    Yeah, a lot of these are kind of generic to working life, aren’t they? But hey, gotta put a tone of graphic design to it given the audience :)

    Hey Brian, glad you liked it! I agree completely with what you said.. I recently had to make some changes to a job I took a considerable amount of time establishing a nice grid to and I experimented with harmony and proportions. The client came in with some (non-negotioable) changes for me to make and even though I wasn’t thrilled with any of them, and was told to do them anyway, I still managed to explore those things I wanted to learn more about.. in the end i was still happy with the job because of it, and so was the client.. gotta get a good balance, don’t you?

    zahra tavangar

    Thank you! I can’t get enough of your posts :-D

I would be so delighted if you were to contribute