From design student to expert

Whilst giggling at the thought of being labelled 'professional', Junior Designer Eilidh Dickson reflects on her transition from student to professional

So I’ve been a professional designer for 8 months now. I still have an internal giggle at the idea of calling myself professional, but it’s a hell of a jump compared to how I felt this time last year. Nope, it’s not been a roller coaster ride, it would be much better described as one of those drop zone things, you know the ones where you get slowly raised up for 100 metres then all of a sudden gravity takes the reins and you fall to your death screaming.

Hold on a minute, I’m still in one piece, and pretty buzzing. Now that I’ve written that out, it feels even truer than before. I’ve felt great drowning fear for things, all the way through to sheer joy. I don’t mind sounding a bit geeky about it, I’ve never felt this many emotions for one hobby before, once you find that stuff, you know you’re going in the right direction. Unless you’re chronically indecisive like myself. So here’s a few blunt truths about the transition from design student to professional.

The first thing I noticed changing about myself was the way I view my own work. As a student, I was constantly comparing my work to others’ in a frustrated and envious way. A bit of each is only normal, but you’ve got to kick yourself a few times and realise it gets you nowhere. Enlighten yourself. Use everyone around you as a tool to build yourself into the kind of designer you want to be rather than dreaming of being like them. I still get a bit shy when showing other designers my work but no one’s going to turn round and go ‘that’s a pile of crap’ or at least they won’t if you keep yourself learning. I feel a much more powerful sense of ‘getting there’ than I ever did as a student, your unforeseen skill strengths will pop up out of nowhere, as long as you don’t stop learning.

You come to learn that the work you are doing as a designer is mostly objective, so don’t be jealous that someone else is doing something ‘prettier’ than you, it may be pretty but that doesn’t in any way make it more valuable than what you’re doing. Design is a pretty messy word, and means all sorts to everyone. Sometimes you don’t even realise the variety of work you’re charging through until someone asks you. And their typical reply is “Oh, I thought you just did like, erm, t-shirts and posters and things.”

Manage your time well. Ha ha, if only. How long do you think this project will take to complete? Take that, and add another half of that figure on. Seriously. Then think about how long you would like it to take. Schedule yourself to work within that second time frame, stick to it as far as possible, then by the time you’re out of your target time, you’ve still got plenty left. Wow, that’s nice. It’s about channelling your focus to avoid overthinking tiny details and wasting time. Leave them until last. I always notice things I want to change at the end of projects, so make sure you give yourself that precious time.

Stop killing yourself if something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. It’s completely pointless. Obviously planning does no harm, but obsessing over the final solution before you’ve even started only distracts you and completely messes with the middle steps in the process. Do your thing, then think about it, evaluate it, and go from there. It’s literally the only way. Unless of course you’re happy with designing “erm, t-shirts and posters and things”. In that case, enjoy.

By Eilidh Dickson, Junior Designer.

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