I’ve been a designer for ten years and counting, and I’ve learned so much over the years. So, today, I wanted to share some tips for new designers!
From learning the rules of design to just practicing whenever you can, there’s truly a lot to learn as you become a designer. Don’t worry, though; these are all lessons that most designers have learned, and as creatives in a space that’s always changing, we are constantly learning new things.
Keep reading to learn all the tips for new designers!
Learn the rules and principles of design.
Definitely take the time to learn the rules of design! Now, this is something that I was lucky enough to do because I actually went to school for graphic design and media arts. So, I was taught basic design principles and everything like that in my intro classes freshman year.
But I think a lot of people are just jumping into designing without learning those rules first. While, yes, you do want your designs to look nice and everything, you also really want to make sure that you’re following basic design rules.
So things like alignment, hierarchy, and white space, are all things that you should really take the time to read up on.
Luckily, there are lots of resources out there. You could go to the library even and take books out on this. You could go on Skillshare or even YouTube. There are tons of educational resources out there.
Then, once you understand those rules, you can start to break them. I see a lot of people breaking them before they understand the rules, and that’s something you can kind of tell once you have studied the rules and know them! Be sure to take the time to learn those rules first.
Do lots of passion projects.
Next, take the time to do a lot of passion projects. This is something I did a lot when I first started, and I’m so grateful that I did. By doing those passion projects, I was able to try to find out the design style that I best wanted to do and the one that aligned most with the way that I designed.
With passion projects, it’s almost like a dressing room. So you can pretty much try on all these different design styles while you’re doing these passion projects just to try to find the one that fits best for you.
There are also tons of passion projects on Instagram, different accounts that will showcase various fake clients. You can definitely do those; I did a few of them when I first started. If you go way back to the beginning of my Instagram account, you can see them!
However, I would definitely recommend, instead of doing those, if they’re not really posting ones that are interesting to you, then you can instead do ones that are actually aligned with the type of clients that you want to work with.
So if, for instance, you know you really want to work with real estate agents, then you should do a whole bunch of passion projects for fake real estate agents. Then the cool thing about that, too, is that you get to decide the style for what you’re showcasing, which in turn, can help you attract clients who probably want a similar design style to that.
Don’t be afraid to be different.
Don’t be afraid to stand out and be different. I feel like a lot of designers lately tend to design in the same exact style. It’s all very minimal and editorial lately, or it’s very rounded and almost y2k. I feel like that style is still kind of in right now.
Just try to be careful. Don’t be trendy. If your design style is super colorful and different, then really showcase that. Don’t be scared to be different just because you see other people that are successfully doing very minimalistic styles.
I have found that I definitely tried to be minimalistic when I first started, which is crazy to say now because my design style is very much not that. The second that I switched to showing just the type of design that I really wanted to showcase, that’s when I started to see success.
Figure out workflows and processes sooner rather than later.
I also recommend getting your workflows and processes figured out sooner rather than later. This was a tip that I was given when I first started my business, and I’m so grateful that I was. It really allowed me to work through how I wanted my timelines to look with clients and the order I wanted things to happen.
So that when clients did decide to work with me, I had the answers to all of their questions as far as the process goes. I think it just helped me to feel like an expert but also look like an expert to the client, even if it was one of my very first clients.
My advice for your processes is to write down every single step of every type of project that you offer and then go through and write what tool is going to help you do each of those things and work from there.
Once you decide what tools you want to use, definitely start with a monthly subscription before deciding it’s a good fit and switching to annual!
Get off Pinterest and find inspiration elsewhere.
Another tip that I feel a lot of new designers need to hear is to get off Pinterest for inspiration. I feel like there are always some people, whether knowingly or unknowingly, who will see something on Pinterest and then create something a little too similar to what they saw.
So I highly recommend not even using Pinterest at all, even in your projects, if you can swing it. I don’t use Pinterest at all anymore. I actually completely removed it from our processes early this year. I actually think our designs have been way better ever since.
I find my inspiration in many other places. I get a lot of my inspiration, actually, from travel, so one of the things I try to do a lot when I’m designing is implementing those feelings of travel.
You know when you’re traveling to a new place, and you get so excited because you see something new almost everywhere you look? I try to bring some elements of that into my design, so that’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from.
Then also looking at architecture, the colors of things that you’re seeing out even in nature, and other things like that. I love going on hikes and seeing a lot of the fun waves of how a waterfall falls, how it moves down boulders, and stuff like that.
Just trying to like look at other things besides stuff that other people have already created. You can even get inspiration by visiting places in your neighborhood or city, by going out to different restaurants and just feeling what other brands feel like when you’re in their brick-and-mortar store.
In order to definitely get rid of Pinterest, though, you have to get really good at asking the right questions during your strategy calls so that you can still nail down the visual aspect without having clients straight up show you exactly what they like.
It definitely takes a little bit of work, but the sooner you can remove Pinterest from your process, the better.
Simple design is always better.
I think it’s also important to remember that simple design is actually better for communication. I think that’s just something to remember, too, when you’re designing for your clients.
I see it a lot with websites, especially on Showit, people will get very over the top. Don’t get me wrong, you can add really fun aspects and waves and hover effects and stuff like that, but definitely try to err on the side of less is more!
It’s always better to start with something simple, too, I find, and add some fun flair. Then, if the client says something like, oh, I wish there was more of this, then you can try to strategically add it in a way that it’s not taking away from the design.
Sometimes too much just means that people aren’t going to actually get the message.
Be as reliable as possible.
Another of the best lessons I’ve ever learned was that when you’re new, to really try to be reliable! So when you’re first starting out, I found that referrals are going to tend to be your best resource because once you work really well for one client, they will tend to just push you out to their other friends in the business realm, which can help you get more clients as you grow your network.
Even now, we still do the same exact thing but try to go above and beyond in very little ways. So what I mean by this is obviously if you’re giving them a five-page website, don’t all of a sudden be like, actually, I’ll give you ten pages for the same price, but instead, try to build on what you’re already offering them without telling them that you’re going to give them something extra.
An example of this is sometimes we’ll go above and beyond with launch graphics. So if we tell them they will get three launch graphics, maybe instead, we’ll make six. Or we’ll give them to them in multiple formats, like story format, Reels format, and an Instagram portrait format, so that they have a few different ones to work with.
Try to go above and beyond in small ways! However, don’t let people push your boundaries when you’re new, but definitely still reach your deadlines because that also goes along with being reliable.
Create your own website early on.
Another one is to build your website sooner rather than later. I know, especially as a designer, your website is where you’re going to do a lot of your selling!
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have social media, but so many new designers just post their stuff on Instagram, and then they’ll have a link in bio sort of thing where they’ll just write, “get in touch with me to learn more.”
But, the sooner that you have a website, the more legit you look, even if it’s just one page with a few examples of your work and a testimonial and your pricing and stuff like that.
Be intentional with everything you do.
I also recommend always being intentional with everything that you do. Be intentional with what you put out for your business. So when you post things on social media, just be very intentional about what you’re posting and make sure it’s all aligned with your brand.
But at the same time, this can also go with what you do for your clients. So have a reason for every single thing that you do design-wise, with your projects.
I learned this the hard way back when I first started designing. Obviously, I was thinking through the strategy in my head, but I never really thought to explain it to the clients. And I would just be like, yes, here is your first draft.
Of course, they would have tons of edits because they didn’t understand why I did what I did. So I ended up starting to do Loom recordings. I still do this even for my websites, where I will walk through literally every single page of the site, and I’ll be like, I put this here because of this. As you can see, as we scroll down the site, these lines are like drawing the viewer from section to section.
I’ll say things like that just to really show them that I truly did think through every single design choice that I made. It also positions you more as an expert because you’re having a reason for everything that you’re doing.
Know that you will fail, but see it as a lesson.
It may be hard to hear, but just know that you will fail. We all will have bad clients. Every once in a while, it just happens; it’s just business. But you just have to take all these failures as lessons.
Once you kind of switch it to this is just a lesson that has to be learned instead of, I’m a failure, it really makes that much more of a difference. So really try to spin those failures kind of in a different direction so that you get something out of it!
Find a mentor early on.
It’s also good if you can try to find a mentor earlier on in your journey. It doesn’t even have to be a paid mentor. You could find a mentor in a position that you really want to be in.
So, for instance, I found one pretty early on who ended up starting a mentorship and helped me so, so much. But you definitely want to try to find someone who’s actually doing what you want to do.
It worked so well because my goal was to be able to be freer in my business. That’s a big part of my why; I want to be able to set my own schedule. I want to be able to take a last-minute trip one week if I find a flight deal, just because I love traveling and so does my girlfriend.
Not only is Bethany living a travel-fuelled life, but she was also an established brand and web designer that I looked up to when I first started my business. She also helped me to skip a lot of mistakes that she had made early on.
Take a course, but just for skills.
If you can’t afford a mentor, you could instead take a course, but again, only take a course if it’s in your budget.
I made the mistake of investing in tons of courses when I first started, and they were almost all on the same topic, which wasn’t helpful at all.
I took a lot of different kind of niche courses. I took one for Shopify, one for Squarespace and so on. And I almost feel like once you know one platform, it’s a little bit easier to pick up on the other. So I spent a lot of money to take these niche courses, and it wasn’t necessarily worth it!
If you do want to take a course, make sure that the person you’re taking it from is in the position that you want to be in. Also, make sure that what they’re teaching is actually something they’re still doing in their business.
For instance, if you want to take a blogging course, then I highly recommend running their site through a quick search on an audit tool, like an SEO audit tool, to make sure that they’re actually ranking for their blog posts and they know what they’re talking about and that they’re showing up on Google and everything like that.
There are a lot of people out there that are running courses, but they’re not really putting into practice what they’re teaching. So just really make sure you look into that!
Always have a contract.
Always make sure you have a contract. I am definitely the kind of person that for little tiny projects here and there, I’ve just been like, oh yeah, totally fine if I don’t have a contract, especially if it’s a past client.
But take it from me; always make sure you have one. Even for the smallest project, it covers both of you, and it also can make sure that you do get paid in time.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Don’t be afraid to say no. If red flags come up, just be honest and say, yeah, I’m not a designer for you. This is not a project for me.
Just definitely feel confident saying no too, because at the end of the day, you’re protecting your own space in your own time, and you really have to value your time, right? Make sure you try to think through how much your time is worth.
Have fun in business!
Lastly, make sure you have fun in your business. I think this is something a lot of people forget, but you started the business in the first place because you wanted to, right? Really just try to remember that with every project you do.
If you ever get into a rut where you’re really enjoying this anymore, then definitely stop. Don’t let yourself burn out and just go back to your roots and try to remember your why, remember what made you start the business in the first place.
You could even do just some fun passion projects! I found whenever I’m about to burn out weirdly, one of the things I like to do is just design website templates. I will just find libraries of photos that will then inspire me to create a website template for those photos. It’s kind of fun because I just get to design for myself, and I’ll usually create an entire website template of ten pages in a few hours just because I’m designing for myself!
Well, there you have it – all of my tips for new designers.
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KP (she/her) is the founder and designer behind Inkpot Creative, which was founded back in 2020. She specializes in Showit website design, blogging, and SEO. Over the years, she’s built custom websites for more than 50 photographers and has helped grow client’s monthly website traffic between 20% – 77.7%. When not designing, she can normally be found hiking in the mountains, working on her travel blog Volumes & Voyages, or trying to find the best iced chai in her city.