Acknowledge your skills
Acknowledge your skills
This is my first article of the BIA (Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced) Attributes series, and it aims at helping you acknowledge your skills in graphic design. Just like any other job, when you start fresh as a designer, you are going to be a novice. After some time, you are going to progress to the intermediate level. Finally, slowly but surely, you are going to enter the final stage: the advanced or expert level. But in order to go up the experience ladder, you first need to be able to acknowledge your skills. Simply put, you need to understand what you can and can’t do. You need to stay true to yourself so that you can stay true to your clients and the rest of the community. In the following article, I’m going to tell you how it is possible to be your own judge and acknowledge you skills.
How to be your own best judge
In graphic design, your entire career depends on you being able to acknowledge your skills. But judging yourself is a human challenge after all. It’s not easy! Luckily, it’s something you can teach yourself. You can start practicing by following some of the following ten tips:
1. Embrace the natural course of events.
You can’t grow a tree if you don’t plant a seed! Just like so, you can’t grow yourself as a designer if you don’t start at the beginner stage. There is nothing to be ashamed of when stating you’re a novice. Don’t be afraid to recognize that there are many things you don’t know yet. As a matter of fact, being a newbie is like an umbrella. It protects you from mean and useless criticism. Clients are likely to understand that you’re on a learning curve and they will support you. When you get to the intermediate level, you need to recognize the things you still need to work on. And if you consider yourself to be an expert already, you need to admit that you’ll never be perfect! Ever! There will always be new things to learn. Doing so will ensure you stay fresh and reinvent yourself.
2. Put yourself in your client’s shoes.
Think about what other people see in your works. What do they appreciate? What do they dislike? If more than one person thinks low about one of your designs, start improving it as soon as possible. Most clients create expectations based on what you tell them. If you tell them you can design a TV set they’ll believe you. Now, try living in their shoes when they realize you provided them with a product which could never work as a TV. As a designer, you do play with illusions but you can’t sell illusions to clients. Once you acknowledge this, you’ll be able to address and correct your flaws. If you are honest to your clients, it spares you later embarrassment for a failed project. Not to mention that you can definitely gain a lot of helpful advice and respect.
3. Don’t cover up your lack of knowledge.
If you lie about what you can do, you will only make more harm than good because this way you will forward skip yourself. It’s a great thing to accept challenges but you still need the reality check radar switched on all the time. Sometimes you might be pleasantly surprised that you actually know more than you think, but it might go the other way around as well.
4. Understand your limits.
Don’t take a new type of project unless you know you are completely up for it. It is acceptable—and frankly, quite common and normal—to learn new things along the way. But it’s s a really bad choice to start learning a completely new type of design during an on-going project. For example, you should not enroll yourself in a web design project if you don’t have a clue about web design. Learn things along the way brings unnecessary stress. You might not reach deadlines, your final product might not look professional, and of course your client might be very unhappy.
5. Observe other designers.
I am talking about both great and not-so-great works. Exercise your designer judgment by noticing obvious mistakes. Challenge yourself to spot details that could have been done better. Ask yourself if you can recognize what specific technique or graphic tool a designer has used. See if you already know how to work with those tools and if not, learn them.
6. Let your portfolio do the talking.
No matter how hard you try to cover up your experience level, your portfolio is your clearest mirror. Honestly, it won’t even matter if you have over ten years of design experience. If your portfolio shows Comic Sans and Papyrus typography, or if you use the Drop Shadow where it doesn’t make sense, people will be able to tell that you are not actually as skilled as you should be after so many years of work. Keep revising and improving your portfolio every time you feel you’ve reached a new experience level.
7. Don’t call yourself a design guru, super star, Shaolin, etc.
I have come across many so-called experts whose work and portfolio really disappointed me. Even if you think you are a design guru, some modesty will help you keep your feet on the ground. Instead, leave those great attributions to the people who enjoy your works.
8. Don’t stop researching and learning.
This goes for any of the BIA levels. Even if there is not such thing as perfect, we can at least strive to be as close as possible. This includes brushing up your skills, following along when watching tutorials, reading as many design news as you can, buying design books, learning new techniques and exploring new types of design.
9. Record the time you need to wrap up different projects.
This way you will be able to tell when you’ve advanced on the experience ladder. For instance, if you used to struggle three days to design a business card, after designing quite a few, you will soon realize that the time has shorten significantly. It is all because you improved your skills.
10. Interact with the design community.
This is something you should do as early as possible into your graphic design career. Both novices and experts have something to gain from the design community. It can be helpful advice, gratitude gestures or beautiful praise of their work. Interacting with the design community helps you keep going and design better.
The biggest downside to not knowing where you are on the experience ladder reflects into a failed project. No matter how cold blooded you think you are, a failed project affects you. A failed project not only ends up with a disappointed client and possibly a payment refusal. It also affects your ego, self-respect and self-esteem. Take your time to acknowledge your skills and strengths. You’ll be able to tell which experience level you are at and improve accordingly.
If you like the BIA series, make sure you don’t miss my second article: