You have finished your tertiary education; what’s next? You find yourself at the crossroads between being a full time student and a working adult. It’s time to take the plunge and find a job. What job do you choose? The choice of one’s career can be determined by various factors. However, two push factors stand out above the rest – Money and Passion.
Choosing Between Money or Passion
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius
Confucius makes a very good argument. However, depending on our social needs and standard of living, sometimes a job you love may not pay as well as a job you don’t entirely dislike. The value and worth of designers vary from country to country.
However, we are all familiar with the pressures of reality, mortgages, taxes, and everyday needs. Sometimes we don’t have a choice but to choose money over passion. And for those young and fresh individuals who are not burdened with too many responsibilities they can choose passion over money.
For those who choose passion over money, good on you! For those who choose money over passion, we understand the trappings of reality.
Be a Jack and a Master of One
As freelance designers, very often we wear multiple hats just to sustain ourselves in the business. We are not just a designer, we are also the developer, the photographer, the accountant, and we also have to do our own marketing at times. We are the jack of all trades, but it’d be a pity if we are a master of none.
Image credit: Anya Garett
Saving costs is important, especially when it can mean whether you survive in the business for another day or not. However, we have to weigh the pros and cons in every situation. If we compromise the quality of our work or claim to be an expert at something we are not, it will not reflect well on our integrity and reputation.
Having knowledge on all the necessary skills to stay afloat is a good thing, but branding yourself as a person who can do everything is risky business.
Can you really compare to an industry professional? If your heart is the design aspect of the work, stick to your passion and work on improving your skills in that area. You can be a jack of all trades, but you must also be a master of at least one.
Relight Your Fire
So what is your passion? Have you become bored of being a designer? Are your passions still running high? Every so often it is good to reflect on the choices you made and evaluate where you stand and how you feel about everything, including your career choice.
Think about the reasons why you chose to be a designer and ask yourself if those reasons are still valid. Is being a designer your true passion?
Chatting With Top Designers
As a child we all had fantasies about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Did you in your wildest dreams think you would grow up to be a designer? Some people are naturally talented, but there are some who put in plenty of hard work and practice to be a great designer.
Regardless if you are a natural born talent or nurtured talent, you both share a common bond; you both made the choice to be a designer.
Looking back to the time you made the conscious choice to go down this career path to be a designer, would you still choose to be a designer? Do you have any regrets? If you were given the opportunity for a do over, would you change your mind or would you stay on the same path?
In today’s article, we will hear some of the heartfelt thoughts of established designers from all over the world about the choices they made entering the world of design. Find out what career would they choose if they had a second chance.
25 Top Designers
For this article, we are honored to have gotten the chance to pick a part of the brains of some of the most renowned and successful web designers of today. Get an insight look into their thoughts through their answers to some of the questions we’ve asked them.
- Why they decided to be a designer and whether they have any regrets.
- What other passions and interests they have besides design and what they do for fun.
- If being a designer was a childhood dream of theirs and if they would still choose the same career path if they had a chance at a do over.
- What they have to say to aspiring designers.
We hope that their wisdom and honest sharing with us here will inspire designer hopefuls and give them the strength and courage to forge ahead in their passions.
Here is a list of the designers who participated.
- David Airey (David Airey)
- Alex Ionescu (Crazyleaf Design)
- Jacob Gube (SixRevisions)
- Matthew Heidenreich (DeviseFunction)
- Piervincenzo Madeo (WeGraphics)
- Jan Cavan (Dawghouse Design Studio)
- Inayaili de Leon (Yaili)
- Kat Neville (Safetygoat)
- Jon Philips (SpyreStudios)
- Walter Apai (WebDesignerDepot)
- Grace Smith (Grace Smith)
- Chris Spooner (Spoon Graphics and Line25)
- Brad Colbow (Brad Colbow)
- Brian Nelson (Brian Nelson Design)
- Shay Howe (Shay Howe)
- Yaron Schoen (Yaron Schoen)
- Mario Ocon (Ocon Design)
- Matt Ward (Echo Enduring Media)
- Soh Tanaka (Soh Tanaka)
- Brian Hoff (The Design Cubicle)
- Sneh Roy (Little Box Of Ideas)
- Stuart Thursby (Stuart Thursby)
- Jad Limcaco (Design Informer)
- Casey L. Jones (CLJ Design)
- Jacob Cass (Just Creative Design)
1. Why did you decide to become a designer? Do you have any regrets regarding your decision?
David Airey: I wanted to become an architect, but my grades weren’t good enough to allow me back into my secondary school in Belfast, so I went to college and studied art and design. No regrets whatsoever. In fact, I’m glad I left school at 16, rather than spend another two years there. The college education I received was right for me.
Alex Ionescu: Actually I am not a designer. I am a dentist. But getting to the point, I got into design as a hobby and as a way to earn my way through dental school. I have no regrets concerning the decision to start on this path, because it turned out to be the best decision I’ve made so far, except deciding to go to dental school.
Jacob Gube: Being a designer satisfied both my art and science interests. It’s creative but also logical, and requires good reasoning skills. The only regret I have is when I first started out, I took on every single project that I could. I’d be producing 2 to 3 logos per day! It affected the quality of the products. I wish I would’ve held out for bigger and better projects back then. You live and you learn though!
Matthew Heidenreich: I always wanted to be able to create something I could call my own. I wasn’t the best handyman around, but the internet always intrigued me. When looking at websites I thought, “I want to do that”. So I decided to teach myself what needed to be done to create something like that. I have no regrets. I love what I do. You know it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life because you can sit down and do it for hours and not realize how much time has gone by.
Piervincenzo Madeo: It’s hard to find a single reason, a specific why. I don’t remember exactly when I said to myself, “I wanna be a web designer”. It was a gradual thing. But now I know why I love this world: a great and helpful community, filled with awesome and inspired people. Each job is a new challenge in which we have to vent our creativity to build an effective website, using the right technologies in the right way. This is a real passion for me and I am pretty sure that whoever chooses to work as web designer makes a choice of the heart, a choice of love; for this reason, the community works. Finally, I don’t have regrets! I like what I’m doing.
Jan Cavan: I never really thought I was going to be a designer. I thought of taking up crash courses in Animation while I was attending college at a university, but unfortunately, where I’m from, there weren’t any schools offering that at the time. However, I accidentally came across an institute that taught Web Design and the salesperson said it involved animation. It turned out that the only “animation” it had was the ‘marquee‘ tag. But as I attended the classes, I fell in love with it immediately. So I guess if it weren’t for that salesperson lying to me, I probably would not have gotten myself into any of this.
Inayaili de Leon: I always wanted to be an architect, but a couple of months before graduating from high school I had an epiphany and decided to study Design instead, so I did. I don’t regret making that choice.
Kat Neville: I didn’t really decide to be a designer. I had always been drawing, especially on the computer, and I started doing newsletters for clubs when I was just 11. It seemed no matter what I did, I always fell back into design; in university, I was studying marketing, but I spent a lot more time working for the school newspaper, designing cover art, and doing layout than I did on my school work! I want to enjoy myself every day, and when I’m designing (now pretty much exclusively for the web), I’m happy. I definitely have no regrets!
Jon Phillips: Well I’ve always been interested in art and creative stuff. I’ve been playing music for about 15-16 years now and love creating things. Being a musician, design was a natural choice. I don’t think I’ve actually questioned myself regarding my career choice, it happened just like that. I started designing things, learning HTML, CSS, etc. Being pretty business minded, I turned something I love doing into a career.
Walter Apai: It happened by accident, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I just liked to do creative stuff in Photoshop and things evolved naturally from that point onwards. I do not have any regrets. In fact, design in general lets me see the world through feelings as opposed to an analytical view of the world and I connect with that a lot.
Grace Smith: A passion for design and art is a huge part of who I am. I was an avid artist throughout my childhood and right through school. I actually remember creating sites using Geocities when I was a lot younger! I don’t regret my decision to become a designer at all. I’ve been able to create and sustain a successful design business, working with amazing people and companies every day, and I enjoy it immensely. Being a designer is just very natural and suits my sensibilities and passions. I can’t really think of being any¬thing else!
Chris Spooner: I’ve always had an interest in artistic topics, and stumbled onto the career of Graphic Designer at quite a young age. Being something I pursued right through school, college and university, and then landing my first job in the industry, it’s never been something I’ve regretted. It’s quite the opposite really.
Brad Colbow: I studied graphic design in college, it was only my minor. My design classes were a lot more fun than my other classes so it was a pretty easy decision to make once I left school. I also graduated at a time when every company wanted a website but not many people knew how to make them. I just kind of fell into a web design job because I knew a little HTML and knew how to use Photoshop. So far, no regrets, I like where I am and it took both good and bad decisions along the way to get here.
Brian Nelson: When I was in high school, I really enjoyed studio art; more of painting, sculpting, all that sort of stuff. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I was also big into computers at that point. They were still somewhat of a new technology, but I liked them. Graphic design seemed like the perfect combination of art and technology. It’s interesting now, because I often find myself wanting to do more projects that are handmade, rather than use the computer for everything. As far as regretting anything, no, I don’t have any regrets about my decision. I had great professors and great training at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and they really infused a passion for design in me. It’s been a fun ride so far.
Shay Howe: I became a web designer because I have always been fascinated with art, obsessed with building things, and have a love for solving puzzles. Designing websites allows me to do all these on a daily basis. I can be creative while still creating pleasing user experiences. It is truly a joy. As for any regrets, I cannot say I have any.
Yaron Schoen: Ever since I was a kid I was artistic in some way. My mom always talks of an amazing drawing of a car that I drew when I was two years old. Unfortunately the drawing disappeared so I will have to take her word for it. 17 years later, I was introduced to the Internet. It was 1998 so everything sucked. I immediately felt there was a way to make websites easier to use and still keep them looking nice, so I became a web designer. I was also intrigued by the fact that the Internet was a new world and I would be able to shape the way it looks and works. It is now 2010 and I still have the same goal.
Mario Ocon: I didn’t have much of a choice. In school I was horrible at everything. The only thing I excelled at was art and design. I knew at a very young age what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Matt Ward: I would love to say that becoming a designer was the result of some deep, introspective and soul searching journey, but quite frankly, I just fell into it backwards. I took a year off after high school, during which I fiddled around doing some pretty primitive design work for web and print. I then went off to university and completed both my BA and MA in English literature. Go figure.
Eventually, that knowledge led to a few freelance gigs and I started Echo Enduring Media, which I run on my own time out of my home office.
Regrets? I don’t think that I really regret anything that I’ve done so far. I wish I’d managed to learn a few things a bit earlier, but that’s an issue of timing more than anything else.
Soh Tanaka: The path I took to even consider doing anything web design related was by pure accident. After graduating high school and looking for a school to attend, I found myself at Devry University taking courses in CIS (Programming). I had no interest in computers in my high school days, and chose to get a degree in CIS with no thought or logic behind it.
After a year went by, I took my first HTML class which sparked an interest in design. I realized this was something I was interested in and my passion for it grew from there. I absolutely have no regrets with my decision! I love this field and love interacting with creative and brilliant designers and developers.
Brian Hoff: From a very young age I was really into drawing and painting; I loved creating and was very fascinated with how things were drawn in particular. I remember watching the Ren & Stimpy cartoon and remember wanting and trying to draw like the creators of that show. I also always loved technology and computers so it seemed natural to unite the two. I absolutely love what I do and could never imagine having any regrets about my decision to become a graphic designer; not sure I could even picture myself as anything else.
Sneh Roy: Ever since I was a child, I was into all things “Art”. I loved sketching, painting, crafting and writing. As I grew older, that interest transformed into digital art and photography. Although I studied Computer Engineering, my heart was more inclined towards the creative side. It was not a conscious decision to become a designer. It just kind of happened. And I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.
Stuart Thursby: I fell into photography at university while doing a degree in history, which naturally segued into design and advertising. As anyone knows, once they find the field they love to work in, it doesn’t become work anymore, it becomes extended play, so no regrets there!
Jacob Cass: Becoming a designer seemed like a natural progression, it’s what I did as a hobby and I enjoyed it, so there was no reason not to pursue the path. I definitely don’t have any regrets about it.
Casey L. Jones: I have always tinkered away with graphics and art. Once I learned that websites were something people could make a living from, it piqued my interest. I was building my very first personal website using Yahoo Geocities. Yes, I know that sounds bad! I soon realized that Geocities limited what you could do. So, I found a few HTML tutorials online and decided I wanted to make a site the “proper” way. Now mind you, this was when we were all still using Tables for layouts!
For my career at the time, I was working as a legal professional in a law firm of about 15 attorneys. One day I just decided I wanted to turn my hobby into my profession so I began building my “business site”. I was very fortunate in that I obtained a client very early on; my own site wasn’t even completed yet!
As far as regrets I really don’t have any. My extensive legal knowledge has come in handy numerous times. I have a very strong working knowledge of Intellectual Property Law and that’s helped not only me, but my fellow designers as well.
Jad Limcaco: Well, when I was a little kid, I used to draw a lot. I even won a couple of drawing contests when I was growing up. As I got older, I also got into computers. I discovered the computer software called Adobe Photoshop Elements and I played around with it. I really enjoyed it and soon, I got a hold of Photoshop 6 and that was pretty much the beginning. I pretty much read every article online about using Photoshop and also about design. I really enjoyed it and found it really fun and exciting.
When I got out of high school, I knew that being a designer would be something that I wanted to do so I went ahead and started freelancing as a graphic and web designer. Later, I got my first official job as a graphic and web designer. By the way, the only regret I have is that I should have jumped into being a designer sooner. Before I became a designer, I worked at warehouses because I wasn’t confident enough that I could make it as a designer.
2. Besides design, what are your other passions and interests? What is the other side to the designer we now see and know? (or simply: What do you do for fun – that’s not design related?)
David Airey: I’m not sure how much fun it really is, but I go to the gym around three times per week. Actually, I do enjoy sitting in a Jacuzzi and steam room after a workout. That part is fun. I play 5-a-side football every Saturday morning. I love a game of poker with friends at home. I enjoy taking my fiancée to the cinema (I’m a big fan of movies), and it’s also good to get outdoors with my camera.
Alex Ionescu: When I’m not at my dental office, or working on my websites, I enjoy playing sports as often as I can, mostly tennis and soccer. Other than that I like going out with friends, having a good time, clubbing, and movies – the normal stuff. Lately I’ve been really interested in cosmology and astrophysics, so I read about that whenever I can.
Jacob Gube: I like reading and watching TV shows and DVDs during my free time. I play console games on the 360 occasionally – when there’s a decent game out worth playing.
Matthew Heidenreich: Not design related? Ha! I feel these days everything I do is design related in some way. One thing I have started to get myself into is skydiving and I would love to work on getting my license for doing it soon.
Piervincenzo Madeo: Ah, too many things! I love football (soccer), I play in a small team in my city and any given Sunday I have to run and kick a ball in a green field. I am a music lover, a real lover; many moments in my life have their own soundtrack. I play the bass, but I’m only a self-taught amateur musician. My favourite genre would be Blues, Jazz, Classic Rock, Hard Rock, and so on. At home I love to watch TV series (Lost is a masterpiece) and good movies. But time spent with a good company, with my friends, a pint of beer and good food, is always appreciated!
Jan Cavan: When I was still in school I had always been involved in performing arts. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of doing but I kind of put it in the back burner when I started designing. But I’ve recently gotten involved with it again and I’m enjoying it as much as I always have.
Inayaili de Leon: I enjoy what I do, perhaps too much, and I guess that reflects on my extra-curricular activities — catching up with the latest design news, developing my own side projects, etc. I also enjoy going out for walks or for just a coffee with friends, watching TV shows and movies, listening to music, cooking, sleeping, shopping, traveling, etc.
Kat Neville: I like to do arts and crafts, dressmaking, vegetable gardening and having adventures.
Jon Phillips: Like I said I’m a musician, so when I’m not designing you can most probably find me playing the guitar, jamming away or spending some time in the recording studio. I also enjoy reading and writing. I guess that as long as there some sort of creative process, I’m happy.
Walter Apai: I enjoy creating new businesses, websites, traveling, and simply inspiring/empowering people to look at things in a different light. I like to teach people how to break out of conventions and stop following the pack to become leaders in their own unique way.
Grace Smith: I love spending time with friends and family. I am also something of a ‘movie addict’ and can often be found at the cinema or watching a great DVD. I’m also hugely into photography at the moment. I purchased my first DSLR late last year and find going on photo walks and spending time with other photographers to be really inspiring.
Chris Spooner: My fiancée Laura and I used to go to the cinema pretty often, and we usually make a few trips to the gym each week. On occasion we’ll head off to the local theme park for some fun. However, having recently adopted a dog (Jake, a 7 month Labrador Retriever), our everyday lives have been completely rearranged, but we’re getting back into the swing of our new schedules.
Brad Colbow: I love biking. I live in a city where everything I need (the bank, grocery store, library) is within a couple miles of where I live and work. Now that it’s getting warm out again I don’t have to use my car nearly as much. Last summer there were weeks when I didn’t drive anywhere. My daughter is old enough to ride a bike now too. We have a tag-along attachment that lets her ride along with me so we’ll run errands around town together.
Brian Nelson: Well, I love music. I’ve been playing the piano and guitar for quite a few years now. It’s one way to let off a little steam. I’m also in the middle of planning a wedding, so that takes up plenty of time. It is really important to me that I don’t let myself get swamped with design all the time. We need ways to relax and unwind and these tend to do it for me.
Shay Howe: Behind every great designer is a happy, cheerful person. Working yourself into the ground and being miserable is no way to live let alone work. I spend a good majority of my free time mountain biking, traveling, as well as hunting for mouthwatering cupcakes. I value my free time just as much as I value the time put into my work, and keeping a healthy balance between the two is important.
Yaron Schoen: Like any profession, there are many sides to a designer that you don’t see. Usually people only see the glorious end result, and don’t realize how much work it really takes to produce a website. Though being a designer is an amazing job, I sometimes need to get away from it all. When I need an inspiration boost I normally search for things that are completely unrelated to design such as music, museums and even just a stroll in the park with my wife Adva. That usually fills me up with good vibes. In my spare time I try to catch as many music performances as possible, doodle on my Wacom, and search for good restaurants; I love food. Traveling from time to time is something I try to do, even just to get out of the city for some fresh air.
Mario Ocon: I’m married and I have a 1 year daughter. I’m a family guy. When I’m not working, I’m spending time with them. When I need time to myself, I like to go the shooting range and bust some caps. (A Glock 19 if you are curious)
Matt Ward: With a full time job, freelance work on the side and a two year old daughter, I don’t have as much time for leisure as I used to, or even as much as I would like to have. That being said, however, there are a few different things that I really enjoy beyond the world of design.
I love to read – mostly fantasy novels and such. I just finished reading Karen Miller’s Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series, which I really enjoyed. Currently, I’m just getting into Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch, and it looks pretty promising. I’ve also completed the first draft of my own fantasy novel, but it’s pretty much on the shelf until I can carve out some more time from my schedule.
I love baseball too. It’s the only sport that I really follow in detail, and I usually go through some sort of withdrawal during the off-season. I usually try to watch a few live games a year too. There’s nothing quite like an evening or afternoon at the ball park!
Beyond that, I also play video games when I get the chance and mess around on my acoustic and electric guitars.
Soh Tanaka: I am a dancer (“Popping” – Street dance created in the 70’s) outside of my work life. I also love skateboarding as well as listening to music (Downtempo, Glitch Hop, Dubstep, Live electronics, Hip hop, etc). I attend a lot of hip hop and electronica events here in Los Angeles. Dancing, skateboarding, music, and design/development pretty much rounds it up for me.
Brian Hoff: I’m really active in my field so I also do a lot of writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at local colleges on the topic of design. When I’m not doing any of those, I like to keep life simple. I enjoy going out with friends and having a good entertaining talk, going on bike rides around the city, and going to see outdoor concerts when the weather is nice. I also love movies; in particular old gangster flicks. I have no idea why, but I just love them, but I’ll give any movie a try.
Sneh Roy: I love cooking, creating new recipes, photographing food and writing about it. I am one of those million foodies and bloggers who devote way too much time thinking about food. I love reading fiction. I enjoy watching movies and old re-runs of my favorite sitcoms.
Stuart Thursby: I’m still relatively active photographically, as well as the usual – movies, TV shows, books, and the odd video game. I’m from Canada, so hockey’s also a pretty big interest, but I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan so it’s not always fun!
Jacob Cass: I love to travel, eat out, drink, and party. More than likely, you will find me doing one of these things and if not, I’m most probably designing.
Casey L. Jones: When I’m not working I enjoy reading a lot and writing my own stories. I am currently working on a historical fiction novel when/if I have spare time. I also enjoy traveling, visiting old cemeteries for awesome photo ops and antiquing throughout the small Texas towns.
Jad Limcaco: Well, I have a lot of different hobbies. I really enjoy playing and watching basketball. I’m a huge fan of the sport. You can probably ask me any question about the NBA, past or present and I would be able to answer it. Also, I enjoy lifting weights. I go to the gym about three times a week. Another one of my hobbies is chess. I used to play it all the time, although I don’t play much now because I know it would take up a lot of my time. I actually won a chess competition between 20 schools while I was still in high school.
3. Was it your childhood dream to become a designer? If you have the chance to choose another profession, what career path would you choose?
David Airey: It was my childhood dream to join the army, then I wanted to be a policeman, a fireman, an engineer, an architect, and finally, a graphic designer (right about the time I began studying it). If I wasn’t a designer, I’d love to try something like being a sky-diving instructor, or coral reef dive instructor.
Alex Ionescu: No, my childhood dream was to be a doctor, so I’m lucky this way. If I had to choose another profession I think I would like to be a judge or work in construction.
Jacob Gube: I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger. I wouldn’t change my current career path; it’s my passion, it’s something that I would do on my spare time, and I get paid for it.
Matthew Heidenreich: As a child I always wanted to go into the military. I feel like there is still a place in my heart for the military, but that was before I decided becoming a designer is the path I would rather take.
Piervincenzo Madeo: When I was a child I dreamed to become a journalist, but with pencil and brackets I drew several layouts for my fictitious newspaper, where I wrote my “article”. Today with blogging and web design, maybe, I’m realizing my childhood dreams. Who does not want to be a rock star? Maybe I would have tried to become the bassist of a famous rock band, but seriously, I don’t know.
Jan Cavan: Although I have always been drawing since I was little, I never really dreamt of becoming a designer. I’ve always thought I was going to either be a cartoonist, animator or a professional performer. Another profession? I don’t think I can imagine myself doing something else besides those I’ve mentioned.
Inayaili de Leon: My childhood dream was, like I said before, to be an architect. In Portugal you need very good grades to go to the best school, and I had them, but in the end I thought Design would be more fun – I was right. If I had to pick something else, I’d probably try being a chef.
Kat Neville: I didn’t dream about it, but I sure drew and designed all the time. I wouldn’t do anything else!
Jon Phillips: Becoming a designer wasn’t my childhood dream, far from it. I actually wanted to become a paleontologist (as weird as it may sound) but spending years and years in school really wasn’t something I was looking forward to, so I shifted to more creative things, playing music and then designing came naturally.
Walter Apai: Nope, design never crossed my mind as a child, but I liked building things all the time (Lego). As a child, I wanted to be a pilot or work on an airplane in some capacity (which I eventually did). I’m not a designer most of the time, I’m a blogger, an entrepreneur and do many other things in my life besides design, but I enjoy them all. If I was in another profession, it would probably be one of service to other people – something that would allow me to help people grow and be closer to who they truly are.
Grace Smith: My childhood dream was actually to be a barrister up until I discovered my love for Geography in High School. I was going to apply to study Geography at university until a last minute change of mind. If I wasn’t a designer I think I probably would have gone into Geology or Archeology, as I find both subjects fascinating.
Chris Spooner: It definitely was a childhood dream, and something I’ve followed ever since. I always struggle to come up with an alternative career with art and design being the only thing I’ve really followed. During my studies I worked at an electrical store installing TVs, VCRs and Hi-Fis. If I hadn’t been following my design course at the time, I probably would have stuck this job out.
Brad Colbow: My childhood dream was to draw comic books. I guess I’m kind of doing that now. If I had to do it over again I don’t think I would choose drawing comics or illustrating over web design. It’s a great hobby and creative outlet but it’s not nearly as dynamic as web design.
Brian Nelson: I don’t think I really knew what design was as a child. In fact, even now, it’s hard for me to put that into words. I wasn’t really dead set on one single career as a child. It was usually tied to whatever was in my head at the time. At one point, I think I wanted to be a musician or song writer. At another point, I was into filmmaking. In high school, I got into acting through our drama program and that really opened me up to design. Our director threw me (thankfully) into set design and poster design for our shows. It was sort of a trial by fire, but one that I really enjoyed. That job taught me so much about designing, prototyping, and physically making things with my hands. It’s an experience that really prepared me for my current profession.
Shay Howe: I knew immediately I wanted to do something art related as a child. Initially I spent a great amount of my time playing in a band, making music, and touring the country. I was, however, always intrigued by the Internet and range of opportunity behind it. After getting my hands dirty on a few projects I fell in love and knew this would be profession.
Yaron Schoen: If I had a chance to redo my career, I would be a musician. I played many instruments in my life and I sucked at all of them – violin, drums, guitar, bass, piano. If you ask me to play one of them now, I’m sure you would regret it. I do play around with DJ-ing from time to time and I create music with Reason.
Mario Ocon: I knew at a very young age I was going to get into a creative field. Even if I can do it all over again I don’t think I would change a thing.
Matt Ward: I never really considered becoming a designer when I was a kid. When I was really young, I was determined to be a major league pitcher. That lasted until I was about 11, when I started to realize that I was about as athletic as a stump! After that, it was all about drawing comics until about halfway through high school. That dream was probably a little more viable, but by the time I graduated I wanted to pursue a career in writing. So off I went to university with the grand plan of becoming a teacher and using my summers to write! Obviously, that didn’t quite work out either.
In terms of another career path, if I could do anything at all I would still be a writer. I guess I already am to an extent, since I run my own blog and write for others like SpyreStudios and MyInkBlog (and hopefully Onextrapixel eventually). When I say “writer” though, I’m talking more about being a novelist, which is where I hope to eventually end up. I have lots of ideas for really interesting stories.
For now though, I am perfectly content working in design. It’s something that I really do love, and hopefully I’ll be able to get myself to the point where I can write my novels and still do some awesome design work.
Soh Tanaka: No, not at all. I always enjoyed drawing cartoons here and there but I never considered myself a designer/artist and never took it serious. When I was a child, I wanted to either be a pro baseball player or pro skateboarder. I really can’t think of any profession that suites me better. However, I am interested in psychology, but I’m not sure if I will ever be serious enough to pursue it.
Brian Hoff: From about the age of 13 I wanted to become a graphic designer. I remember driving with my parents and pointing at billboard signs and saying I want my work to be seen up there. As I stated above, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, but I’ve always been really interested in philosophy.
Sneh Roy: My childhood dream was to be become a neurosurgeon, I used to be very idealistic. I am more realistic now and love being a designer. If I wouldn’t be a designer, I am quite certain I would have scrimped and saved enough money to start a small, cosy café with locals frequenting it for the signature pastries, amazing coffee, and the day’s specials scrawled on a chalkboard every morning. In fact, I hope I can do that someday in this lifetime.
Stuart Thursby: My childhood dream was to be an NFL cornerback; didn’t happen! I can’t imagine choosing any other career path because, if anyone wants to do something badly enough they should drop what they’re doing and give that a go, so if I did want to choose another profession, I’d choose it!
Jacob Cass: It wasn’t a childhood dream, I don’t think I even thought about work as a child however if I wasn’t a designer I would probably have been a professional sports player. I loved sports, back in the day.
Casey L. Jones: When I was young, web designers were practically non-existent. I was actually really into music, especially choir, and had been classically trained in Opera for well over 7 years. There is a chance I may have gone into Opera.
Jad Limcaco: No, it wasn’t my childhood dream. Actually, when I was younger, I wanted to be in the Marines. I was actually considering it when I was still in school, but I changed my mind. That would have probably been the career path that I would have chosen.
4. What advice would you like give to people who want to become a designer?
David Airey: Do it because you love it, and not for the money. You can make very good money as a designer, but it only comes on the back of a lot of hard work, and who wants to work hard at something they don’t love?
Alex Ionescu: Advice? I don’t know if I’m in a position to give advices, but if I were, I would say it’s a beautiful, liberal profession that will give you a lot of satisfaction. But you have to take care of it, always improve yourself, try to be the best, keep persevering and eventually you’ll see the results.
Jacob Gube: You have to love design and be surrounded by it. Every day should be a learning experience that hones your craft. Being a designer is as much of a lifestyle as it is a profession.
Matthew Heidenreich: The best advice in my mind is, don’t worry about how crappy your designs are in the beginning. Everyone’s designs are terrible at first, so don’t think you can’t get to where you want to be right away. It will take time for you to get things where you want them to be, but it’s worth it in the end.
Piervincenzo Madeo: I am not a ‘guru’ or a ‘genius’ at giving suggestions or advices but I want to say one thing – make your job (and make your works) your passion. This is the only way to be at peace with yourself and your world. Problems will always going to arise in your career as pro-designer, blogger or developer, but if you’ve chosen your path ‘push on’ from the heart and you will succeed!
Jan Cavan: Check out design tutorials and read design books – just keep practicing and keep learning.
Inayaili de Leon: Aspiring designers should only go for it if they love it, because if they do, all the hard work that comes with it will feel like a pleasure (most of the times).
Kat Neville: I would definitely say, “Keep at it”. Nothing but time makes you a better designer. I’m a much better designer than I was 6 months ago, and a hell of a better designer than one year ago. I would also say, “Stick to your guns when dealing with clients, but make sure you’re fighting for what’s best for the user, not what’s best for your ego (or your portfolio)”.
Jon Phillips: Be prepared to work long hours and make sure you network with other designers and people in the industry. Don’t neglect your online presence. Of course being creative types, we often forget that web and graphic design is a business and you have to treat it like one if you want to make a living. Enjoy it, love it and remember that even though it’s not always easy, it’s a really fun ride!
Walter Apai: Follow your instincts, and to do it for the right reasons. Design is an art, and cannot be “forced”, it’s either in you or it’s not.
Grace Smith: Advice I would give someone entering the field of design would be.
- Never stop learning, and try to surround yourself with other knowledgeable, talented designers.
- Look at design everywhere, not just online, but in magazines, television, books, film, newspapers, signs, maps etc. It’s important you start seeing the design which surrounds you every day.
- Learn about the business side of creativity. It’s not enough to be a great designer; you need to know how to run a business professionally and efficiently.
Chris Spooner: I always advise new designers to take the time to learn the basics; experiment with new styles and techniques until you find your comfort zone, and to network and make friendships with like-minded people around the world.
Brad Colbow: The hardest part is building a portfolio. I started by doing volunteer work for local non-profit organizations. It gave me a chance to get better and build my portfolio while helping people who were doing good work. It also looks a lot more respectable to potential employers and clients than spec work.
Brian Nelson: I’d say the biggest thing that has helped me is to always continue learning. You can start by reading, whether it’s books on design, weblogs, textbooks, anything. The real appeal to design is that there’s always something new that we have to face. One project may be a chiropractor’s website, and the following week you’ll be redesigning a logo for a machine shop. There is a great opportunity and necessity to continue learning throughout this profession and I love that aspect of it. Oh, and use a sketchbook – for everything.
Shay Howe: Always enjoy what you do, and never be afraid to ask questions. Wake up each day ready and willing to go to work; your productivity will sky rocket and the quality of your work will follow suit. Additionally, reach out to those around you whenever you are in need of help. The web design community is extremely welcoming and those who seem daunting may actually be the nicest guys in the business.
Yaron Schoen: Remember that as a designer your goal is to solve a problem. If the problem has not been solved, it is either a bad design or it is art. If you are not passionate about solving problems then you should choose a different career. Oh, and know how to receive feedback, because as a commissioned designer you will receive a lot of it.
Mario Ocon: Don’t wait until your senior year to get into an internship. Intern as early as possible and work your ass off. I interned my freshman year, and by my junior year I had a full time job in the industry. By my senior year, I had no student work in my portfolio. That helped me tremendously. Smaller shops and agencies are better for learning. They throw more real projects at you.
Matt Ward: First, learn the fundamentals. Remember that, though they may share a lot of common elements, design is not the same as art. There are some fundamental principles behind design, and it’s important to learn them so that you will know how to make use of them – and when to throw them out the window.
Second, keep practicing. I wrote an article a few months ago called “The One Thing You Need to Do to Become a Better Designer”, in which I discussed the importance of practicing your craft, and I still maintain that position. Even if you have all the talent in the world, you’ll never really blossom into a great designer unless you really take the time to work at it.
Just before the New Year, Jad Limcaco wrote an article for Smashing Magazine in which he challenged designers to design something every single day for a year. It’s a bold challenge, but definitely something worth considering if you really want to get better.
Third, believe in yourself. I struggle with this myself sometimes. It’s easy for me to look at some of the designers around my age that I really admire, like Brian Hoff, Chris Spooner or Jacob Cass, and think that I just don’t measure up. I’m pretty sure all of those guys went to school for design at some stage though. So, while I was reading Shakespeare and cranking out term paper after term paper, they were already pushing pixels and learning the fundamentals of design.
To help keep my perspective, I’ve tried to develop a practice of looking at my current work then looking at my work from six months ago. As long as I can see some development and improvement I have to be satisfied because it means I am becoming a better designer.
Soh Tanaka: My advice would be to pursue it because you truly love it. Don’t chase money or fame, and let your passion dictate your style, skills, and career. Always be open to criticism, take pride in your work, and above all never stop learning.
Brian Hoff: Learn and know the difference between style and design. Many people that know how to maneuver around Photoshop can easily give our profession a misguided name. Also you need to have passion for it, much like anything you do in life.
Sneh Roy: Like any other profession, if you want to be good at what you do, you have to follow your heart and devote yourself to it. No half-baked attempts! And never for a minute believe that you know everything or that you have learnt and done it all. That is just a myth. To be great and to be truly successful, you have to keep an open mind and always have the hunger to learn more.
Stuart Thursby: Don’t be afraid to fail.
Jacob Cass: The biggest piece of advice that I would give an upcoming designer comes in a ‘package’ based on the little things that I have learned over my short career as a designer. Don’t undervalue your work. Seek criticism, not praise. Always keep learning and don’t be a static learner; do this by reading books, magazines, blogs and by practicing. Collect and share things. Teach others. Never give up. Keep practicing. Again, keep practicing. For further advice, check out this post that features advice for design students from seasoned design professionals.
Casey L. Jones: Study as much as you can about the backbone of design. Once you know “how” to do something, then you can make it beautiful. I’ve seen so many designers who think that as long as the design is pretty, they can let the code be sloppy. Also, design schools are not a requirement to become a talented designer. A school can teach you the foundations of design, but talent is something you are born with.
Jad Limcaco: Well, if you want to be a designer, I suggest that you study everything about design. I’m not just talking about following tutorials, although they are good to do as well. I’m talking about learning the design basics and fundamentals. Learn when to use a certain color. Learn about typography, balance, rhythm, contrast, and white space. Don’t just learn the how, but learn the why. It would serve you well to do these things. Also, practice, practice, practice! To this day, I still design random things for myself and I’m constantly experimenting with new styles and effects. If you don’t practice, you won’t get better. Oh, and if you can get a mentor, someone who is really good at design, then get one. Learn from them, ask them questions, study them, and find out everything that they know about design. That’s my advice to those who want to become designers.
Is Design For You?
We hope that you have been inspired by these successful designers. Good design spring forth from great passion and innovation. If you feel that you’ve lost the flame for design, re-evaluate the reasons why you chose this path in the first place. It will give you a better insight as to what to do to get your groove back or whether design should be the path for you.
We would like to thank all the designers who have contributed to this article by sharing their story with us and giving us an insight into who they are.
- Do you have a story of your own to share? Why did you become a designer?
- Do you have any regrets? Besides design, what are your other passions and interests?
- What do you do for fun – that’s not design related? Was it your childhood dream to become a designer?
- If you have the chance to choose another profession, what career path would you choose?
If life gave you a second chance, would you even need it at all?