Before Google was invented and smart phones existed, I became a designer. Seeing my work roll off a printing press made me giddy with excitement. Then the launch of Netscape and Internet Explorer (yes, even IE!) drew me into the crazy world of software start ups in the Bay Area. I art directed and coded websites, designed corporate identities and branding, and produced all things interactive. It wasn’t until grad school that I realized design was not just about the pretty pixels and typography (well, I am a sucker for elegant typography), but about solving problems for real people.
As I reflect on the winding path my career has taken, there are 10 lessons (probably more) I wish I had learned much earlier.
- Be courageous with your ideas. Playing it safe is for sissies. Challenge constraints, and never be afraid to fail.
- Collaboration makes design stronger. Don’t think you can do it alone. You can’t. Design truly is a team sport.
- Your work is about people, not technology. You have the skills to imagine a better world for people, and the bits and bytes are just tools.
- Intentionally feed your passion for coding, as tech standards will change rapidly. Keeping up to date will improve your design thinking and ability to innovate.
- Appreciate every word of criticism as a learning opportunity, and accept the truth behind the words with grace. A thick skin and objective mind will protect your creative spirit and propel you toward creating even better work.
- After the freedom of self-employment, you will struggle with the dullness of corporate life. Create the environment you need to inspire your best work.
- Don’t become enamored with titles and status. Your entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic cannot be defined by hierarchical labels.
- Surround yourself with positive people (and canines). They will believe in you even when you don’t.
- Remind yourself that you alone are directing your career path and growth. No one else cares as much about your success and happiness as you.