I had a great time in design school, I was constantly learning and surrounded by lots of like minded people. However, after five years of freelancing as a graphic designer, I’ve learned many new things. The following list is the top ten things that I had to learn the hard way.

1. Your diploma doesn’t help you to find a job

But your portfolio does! Of course it’s a good thing to get a design education and a proof of it, but when it comes to get money out of their wallet clients want to see what you are capable of, not a diploma. When looking for work, I never had to show my diploma, not even once.

graduation picture
Picture by ajschwegler

2. Good design takes time, don’t set too tight deadlines

When you are in design school, the teacher sets the deadlines for you and tries to give you enough time. Your boss or your client will not be like your design teacher, they will try to push you to be more productive and give you too little time to get work done. All my worst designs have been created when I agreed to work with unrealistic deadlines.

watch picture
Picture by Swami Stream

3. You clients don’t think that you are an artist

They just think you should help them to sell more. This doesn’t mean you should give up on good design, it just means that you’ll have to be convincing when you want to bring a more artistic touch to a job. I’ve been very frustrated with this when I first got out of school, but I learned to deal with it by educating my clients.

artist picture
Picture by Neil T

4. You must be able to handle irrelevant criticism

When you are in school, you learn a lot from getting criticized by your teachers and classmates. Obviously these people all have some design skills, sometimes more than yourself. It is much harder to handle critics about your work when they come from people with no design education. You can be sure that you’ll hear some insane things and have to deal with it.

angry picture
Picture by liber

5. You should backup your data on a regular basis

Most people learn this the hard way, the day their computer crashes. Usually it happens at the worst time, before a client meeting or something similar. If you think that this isn’t design-related, you are totally wrong.

backup picture
Picture by miss karen

6. Start networking, now!

Be sociable, even if you are the best designer out there, nobody will know it if people don’t get a chance to meet you. You don’t even need to attend work-related events, just join a sport team, drama group or whatever suits you, the most important thing is that you meet some like-minded people. When with people, don’t oversell and talk about your work all the time, but be sure never to miss an opportunity when you think that someone could need your skills.

handshake picture
Picture by chuck p

7. Make sure your client signs a contract

This is sometimes annoying, especially when you think that you can trust the client, but it can save you a lot of trouble. You should make it a habit to have you clients signing a simple and comprehensive contract before starting to work. If you have no clue of how to write a contract, take a look at this article by Andy Clark.

contract picture
Picture by robertgaal

8. Learning design is an ongoing process

Getting your diploma doesn’t mean that your design education is over, far from it. As a designer you have to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, software updates and industry news, or you’ll quickly lose touch.

design books picture
Picture by nickobec

9. Being a good designer is not only about talent

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”. This quote by Thomas Jefferson says it all about the importance of hard work in creative fields. As a designer, you need to read, work and experiment constantly, it is the only way to let your natural talent explode.

designer at work picture
Picture by Marcin Wichary

10. Your printer will stop working when you need it the most

Need to print your design to go meet your client? Chances are that your printer will chose that moment to die. Make sure you have some friends or working partners willing to help in these cases.

printer picture
Picture by sheffnermarc




Written by Mirko Humbert

(Visited 33 times, 8 visits today)