Blog of Sydney-based digital and experience designer Adam Furness

Top ten career tips for up and coming creatives

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I could lie and say something like "this is the letter I'd write my past self", when in truth I'd probably do what Marty McFly did and try make past me rich. Nevertheless, this might make current you a little more enlightened, and past me a little peeved future me didn't write this letter sooner. Or something. 

I hope you find this useful.   

Know your tools

Your first couple of years as a junior will most likely be spent bringing other people’s ideas to life. If you’re lucky you’ll get to work with a senior creative who gives enough fucks to mentor you, and the best way to make yourself indispensable is by being as useful to them as is practical. 

Enter the importance of knowing your tools. 

For those fortunate enough – or so inclined – to land a ‘thinking’ role straight out of study, you still won’t have a team of artworkers at your disposal and nobody but you is going to really care about your ideas. So you’ll need the chops to help visualise all your thinking and sell your work.

Don't be a dick

If it were up to me this would be a compulsory unit for all tertiary study. You may have been a child prodigy, you may have won a scholarship to the Super Important School for Obnoxious Little Fuckers but if you’re a dick, that talent will get you nowhere.

There are exceptions to every rule but generally, nobody wants to work with a talented arsehole. Be helpful, make yourself available and way more doors will open for you. Only once you’ve got the corner office and the model girlfriend, do you have licence to be a dick.

Fill your creative well

Most of what we do as creatives doesn’t begin at our desks but at the cinema, a gig or anywhere else we get inspired. Fill your life with experiences and things that inspire you and you’ll find you’ll have a lot more to draw from when it comes to being creative. Also try and find ways to collect your thoughts in a diary or online platform such as Pinterest or Evernote. Future you will thank you for it.

Make your thinking set you apart

Most good designers can make something look nice; what makes a great designer is quality thinking behind the work. At a basic level it’s usually just a series of simple choices made with confidence that answer a brief. A lot easier to write about than actually do, and it’s still rare to find people who do it consistently.

Work for the job you want, not the one you have

This is one straight from a corporate success manual circa 1986. But it’s true and it works. If you want to be something better, or just grow in a different direction, your own mindset and behaviour is the place to start.

Often this idea is spoken of just in terms of presentation, but it can also be how you act, what you put your hand up for, how you approach a challenge and how you respond to pressure. If you want to be a leader, find a mentor and take steps toward it. If you want to be a better presenter, work at it. It starts with you.

Communication is key

Designers learn ‘communication’ but rarely is it taught as an interpersonal skill. Learning how to better work with others will get you a long way – and I don’t just mean pitching your ideas.

Learning how to work with producers and account service is just as important as communicating the big idea. Often as designers the success of a project hinges on how we communicate to our biggest advocates, our internal clients.

Take the time to learn how to write a proper email, with bullet points and actions. Hand over your work don’t just dump it on a server, making sure you explain the design or technical rationale. If it’s really important, just go and tell them – David Ogilvy said something like this.

Keep it simple

While studying I admired the simplicity of Ando, Swiss typography and the Bauhaus School; then I crash-landed in a retail marketing agency and had to unlearn it all in favour of rainbow gradients, Skeuomorphism and Comic Sans. Many of us have been there and have suppressed that memory.

Much has been written on simplicity and by far more talented and interesting people than me. But I will add that if you have a starbursty detour like I did, to not forget simplicity when you find your way again. If a design is broken, it’s usually because you or your client are trying to do too much.

Help those around you grow

Great designers make their teams better. When you’re starting out it can be tempting to use those mad skillz to leave your mates in your dust. But really, you’ll all be better off if you contribute to each other’s development, whether it be sharing a cool find, new skill or actively mentoring someone.

When the team grows, you can attack bigger and better challenges; which is in everyone’s best interest.

Make the most of your opportunities

When shit hits the fan, be the guy or girl helping to fix it – don’t do this: (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ . I’m by no means encouraging designers to put up with poor management or douchey clients, just do yourself and your career a favour and bring some solutions when things get tricky. 

This could just take the form of a positive attitude, or go as far as being a complete fix that makes you the hero and that’s the point: use the shitty situation as your launchpad to hero status. 

P.S. there are only nine items in this list. Attention to detail is the tenth, and if you didn’t pick that up you still have a way to go.

Have something to add? Tweet Me @adsfurn