Tips for design graduates
Now that I've been on both sides of the fence, applying for design jobs and selecting an applicant, I thought I should share some of the things I've learnt that can help you stand out amongst a sea of other graduates. Mostly it's about being yourself. There's no one else out there, with your exact ideas and thoughts. Most importantly, put yourself out there. Don't leave that cool app idea in your head. Show the world. Never stop learning, a critical aspect of being a digital designer. The digital world is an ever evolving beast. If you can't keep up, you will be left behind. This can be a shock for designers with a print background.
If you're fresh out of uni, chances are your portfolio is filled with uni assignments. Consider that your degree has probably been churning out graduates for several years with the same assignments in their portfolios. So even if your magazine article layout has the most harmonious font combination ever conceived, your interviewer has probably seen hundreds of the exact same thing. So what can you do? This may sound ridiculous, but... you have to invent projects. Yes, during your degree if possible. Freelance is great too. Redesign well known apps and websites. Do some guerrilla user testing and explain how you identified certain problems and the steps you took to solve them. Do setup your own website myname.com and although designing your own site should be your goal, you should consider using a service if you seem to be procrastinating forever. A good product that's been completed is better than an amazing product that never gets finished. Explore prototyping apps like Flinto and Invision to demonstrate your concepts as journeys and not just static screens. The hypothetical end product is supposed to be navigated through, so there’s no reason to limit the portfolio to static screens. This takes the screen out of context and dilutes the overall design. So get in the mindset of designing journeys, not static mockups.
ABL. Always be learning
As I touched on before, the digital realm never stops changing, from a hardware or software point of view. New operating systems come out with new limits and possibilities. A new device forces you to rethink how your apps will be interacted with by a human finger. We are gradually making the transition from designing GUI's to NUI's and that means we all need to be reading and learning. Constantly. Blogs, articles, books, tutorials, adding new hard skills and soft skills to our skill set and tool set.
I recommend trawling the web for the latest news and approaches. Be aware of the radical ideas that are currently throwing our industry into furious debate. Understand these topics and develop an opinion on them. I'll soon write about my favourite sites for design news and articles.
But some key topics you should be researching right now include:
Animation in interface design. Those Flash skills have by no means gone to waste. Learn to use animation to ease the mental load on a user and add personality to your experience at the same time.
Design without research to back it up is just guesswork. And in the digital realm user research is something every designer should be extremely familiar with. User testing, workshops, task flows, there’s a lot of research methods to utilise in your next project. Get to know your user's problems, define them and solve them beautifully. By the way, that’s pretty much a definition of UX.