At Matcha Design, we’ve come a long way from where we once stood. I started my graphic design career as a mail boy in the 1980s at a design firm in Hong Kong. I had no training and no experience – but what I did have was a deep passion for design and an unquenchable curiosity about the ability to communicate through design. It has taken me decades to get to where I am today as the founder of an award-winning company, but I haven’t forgotten where it all began.
Though it’s impossible to be the best in every aspect of design, I appreciate the hard work it took to get me where I am. Now, I have the honor of teaching design principles to and leading a new generation of aspiring creators, and I’d like to give back by being more intentional about my teaching approach. If you’re a young and aspiring creator with a zest for design, this is for you.
1. There Are Two Types of Beginning Designers
In my experience, there are two types of beginning designers: arrogant ones and teachable ones. So what’s the difference between the two?
Designers that are full of themselves tend to feel like they’re untouchable. Their designs are too good to warrant critique. Sometimes they feel this way because they’ve graduated from a prestigious art school or have been recruited by a renowned agency. Sometimes they’re simply arrogant. Whatever the reason, they think their designs are perfect and find it offensive that anyone would think otherwise. They’re not very easy to work with, especially where critique or reiteration requests are concerned.
On the other hand, you have teachable designers. The problem is that they are all too aware of the fact that their designs fall short of so many good ones out there. It can be a discouraging place to be in, to have such a passion for design coupled with feelings of inadequacy. There is much to learn, so how will you ever measure up and acquire the knowledge you need to do the job well? This group, specifically, is the one I’d like to speak to.
2. Remember Why You’re a Designer
For a moment, put aside how you feel about your design. Why did you become a designer in the first place? Chances are that you did it because you’re passionate – you want to be a good designer, and your goal is to communicate well and please your clients by speaking to their target audience and creating something they will love.
Your heart is in the right place, and that’s important. Hold onto that because it’s going to carry you through a lot of discouragement.
3. How is True Confidence Earned?
There are three elements I’ve found that will build your confidence if you feel like your designs are lackluster: work, experience, and, most of all, grit.
Think back to everything you’ve done in life up to this point. Walking is a good example – did you just decide to walk one day, then walk, and that was it? No – you had to keep working at it. It took a great deal of time and effort.
No matter where you’re starting out, chances are that you know more about design than someone else does. Start with those clients, and do your best. Absorb and learn what you can, of course, but it’s important to also put it into practice. Build a portfolio and experiment with design software to see what you can do. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Going back to the example of walking. Do you need to think hard about walking now? Probably not – it’s effortless to you now. In the same way, you’re going to find that basic design practices that took you a long time when you were starting out are getting easier and easier – which gives you time to expand your skills even further!
The glue that turns work into experience is grit. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. You need to know how badly you want to succeed at this – and you have to keep getting up when you fail. You can do this. If you keep at it, you’ll probably surpass the arrogant designer because you’re going to keep moving forward no matter how many times you fall. The tale of the tortoise and the hare isn’t just a parable for children!
4. Graphic Design is Not Art
You can become familiar with creative graphic design applications – and even become an expert on them – and still not be a good graphic designer. Young graphic designers sometimes get so excited about the tools available (and the nice elements they can add to a design) that the design becomes more like a piece of art than a graphic design. Graphic designers should remember that it’s all about communication – so simple, clear, and straightforward is the goal.
5. Hone Your Communication and Problem-Solving Skills
The reality is that working with clients (and on a creative team) requires constant communication and problem-solving. Not only that but there is a large element of problem-solving and communication to the designs themselves – for example, web design. Sometimes, you’ll add an element to a website that looks slick and perfect, only to learn that the page loading speed has taken a hit. So what do you do? You re-iterate. You try new things.
You’ll also need to maintain constant communication with your client, and they may ask you to tweak or rework some aspects of the design. It’s important not to let pride get in the way while communicating your process to the client. Sometimes, they suggest something that will not work, and you must find a tactful and polite way to explain why it won’t work.
More Design Tips at Matcha Design
I am grateful for the start I was given when I was just a mail boy at a design firm, and one of my goals in creating the Matcha Design blog was to mentor and encourage other young designers who are in the same place I once was: untrained but full of passion for design. For more design information, please check out the Matcha Design blog, or you can contact us. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
About the author: Chris Lo is the founder and CEO of Matcha Design.