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Ten tips for kickstarting your design career

by Helen Kokk, Service Design Lead at Nortal, April 17, 2018

As a professional who eats, sleeps and breathes design, I could go on for years about just how amazing and rewarding this work is. I also know first hand that the prospect of getting started in this world can be overwhelming, so I’ve put together a few tips for all you design hopefuls out there.

So, are you dreaming about a career in design? Here are my hints to becoming a pro. Good luck!

1. Pick your area

The term “design” is fairly broad and covers many fields. There are visual designers, interaction designers, user experience (UX) designers, user interface (UI) designers, product designers, graphic designers, service designers… the list goes on. Then there are generalists who do a little of everything. Start by figuring out which area or areas interest you most. Companies like Nortal hire designers for UX, UI, graphic design and service design.

2. Read UX/UI design articles

Got a few spare minutes during your commute? It’s time to inch your way into the world of UX/UI design with some introductory reading. Start with “So you wanna be a user experience designer” by Whitney Hess. From there, check out “16 must-read articles for the UX newbie,” then Medium’s collection of design posts. You’ll need to do a lot of reading and research at first before the ideas start to click, so be patient and stick with it.

3. Learn the tools of the trade

Sketch, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator have long been the designer’s go-to tools. At Nortal, we mostly use Photoshop and Illustrator, and sometimes After Effects, to flesh out our animation ideas. There are a number of resources available to help you learn these programs, but a few of my favorites are Envato Tuts+, Lynda and Skillshare. For prototyping, there are good tools out there like proto.io and InVision.

4. When you’ve hit a wall, take a break

At this stage, you might feel like you’re drifting somewhere between confused, defeated and overwhelmed, so buy yourself a latte for goodness sake! Reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve put into your passion. Stay positive.

5. Read the good stuff

Read about the fundamentals and philosophy of design. This will give you deeper insight and could lead to a few sparks of inspiration. Here are some of my favorite books on the subject:
The Mom Test: How to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you,” by Rob Fitzpatrick
Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation,” by Chris Nodder
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” by Nir Eyal
Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy,” by Martin Lindstrom
Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want,” by Osgterwalder, Pigneur, et al.

For a more exhaustive list of options, I recommend you check out Robin Raszka’s article.

Dreaming about a career in design? Here are @HelenKokk’s hints to becoming a pro

6. Find experienced designers to bug

Make friends with some awesome designers who know their stuff, people you can text on occasion or meet for a quick coffee when you need advice.

7. Spend time getting inspired

Listen to Matias Duarte, VP of Android Design at Google talk about material design. Look at design work on Dribbble, Uplabs, Onepagelove, Behance, The Best Designs and Awwwards. Make inspiration a priority. It will help you understand UX patterns and visual design, and it will energize you.

8. Work on fake projects

If your goal is an internship or entry-level position as a UI/UX designer, you’ll need something to show. Welcome to the world of fake projects. Taking on your first fake project is one of the hardest steps because it feels a little like jumping off a cliff. You won’t think you’re ready, but do it anyway. Great things happen when you learn both the tools and the thinking.

Start by working on products and services (apps, software, systems) you’re really familiar with, things you use daily. Redesign something in need of a redesign (Pinterest is perfect). Invent your own to-do list web app. Create a frozen yogurt delivery app. Design things that solve problems you can personally relate to. Make sure you understand how to do user flows, high-fidelity wireframes and interactions.

Once you’ve mastered design tools and processes, you can move to the next level. Now work on products and services you don’t have previous experience with. This is where you start learning the thinking behind design – what it really means to understand other people’s problems and needs.

9. Subscribe to newsletters

No matter what stage of a design career you’re in, it’s always important to follow industry trends and stay current with the freshest ideas. The five best design links, emailed daily: http://sidebar.io/, Invion Blog, HeyDesigner, UXdesign, Brave UX

10. Maintain your momentum

Make inspiration part of your daily ritual. Jot down your favorite design quotes and keep them at your desk.

And most of all, enjoy the ride!

P.S. If you have any questions or ideas to share, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Helen Kokk

Helen Kokk, User Experience and Service Design Lead at Nortal, has almost 15 years of experience with user experience and user interface design. She’s passionate about entrepreneurship, branding and identity. Kokk has helped clients rethink their approach to the UI and UX for their services on numerous occasions and would be happy to do the same for you. Get in touch with her via email.