5 Tips for Starting Your Design Career

“How do I get my first job in advertising/design?”

I think this is one of those questions that most senior creatives get asked all of the time. The truth is, there is no hard and fast way to get hired. Each person will have his or her own path into the industry, and each of those paths produces great professionals. With that said, there are a few questions that most people wonder about when starting out in the industry.

1. Do I need to go to school?

Yes. And you should go to the right school. Choose one that teaches you how to think strategically and defend your ideas, not a school that teaches you how to be a mouse jockey.

As a general observation, graduates from one year programs, and technical schools don’t have a well developed idea of concept and theory. Because of this, they produce good production designers with excellent technical skill, but generally poor creative designers with soft skills.

2. Do I have to use a computer?

Yes. But more importantly you have to be able to think, write, and speak publicly about your work. You should teach yourself to use software and how to code HTML, CSS and JavaScript at a basic level.

When you start at Top Draw, I can teach you how to use software more efficiently. However, I won’t have the time to teach you how to read, listen, write and speak.

3. Do I need to be good at art?

Yes and no. If you lack artistic ability, you probably won’t like the career, but it’s important to know that art and design aren’t the same.

I’ll put it this way: Thinking visually and being a good technical artist are really different things. Unlike classical art, design and art  direction rely on being able to think visually more than they do being a good at traditional art.

While I’m a Creative Director (CD) with a background of technical visual design, many CD’s don’t, and come from strong copy writing and strategic backgrounds.

4. Does my student portfolio need to be good?

Yes (but not really ). Understand that good to you and your instructor, and good to me are not going to mean the same thing.

I think work that shows up in the Communication Arts Annual is good. Student work is never going to be good by those standards.

Let me elaborate: I know your work isn’t going to be professional grade so I don’t expect it…I expect really great student work, not great professional work.

Really, I look at your student portfolio as an advertisement for your potential. If your work shows attention to detail, a great understanding of concept and strategy, an ability to write smart copy, and a general understanding of how to be a good technical designer – I’ll remember you.

5. How do I get my first Job?

I generally won’t hire a new grad I don’t know about as a designer.

That’s sort of a trick answer. I’m not saying that I don’t hire students. But, I am saying that I wouldn’t hire a student I don’t know about.

I would hire a new grad that has sign-off from someone I respect personally and professionally. Or better yet, that has the courage and hustle to try and talk to me about the industry or show me their book before they graduate.

Here’s the thing that most students probably don’t realize – as much as you need us to hire you so you can start your career, agencies like Top Draw need to hire new blood to stay in business.

I’ll say it again:  We. Need. You.

We need to have people:

  • That are young, hungry, and looking at things that we aren’t.
  • Who listen to the music we don’t.
  • Whose idea of pop culture is different than mine, and that sparks creativity in a way that my reading CNN and AdAge couldn’t.

You make our work better, and keep us progressive and curious.

You. Not me. You.

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