Fig. 24 A Guide for Designers

Dear Design Student, Part Two

A collection of post-graduation life lessons you won’t learn in school, as told by our design team.

Written by The Scenery September 18, 2017

This post is a continuation of a two-part series. To get caught up or re-read part one, click here.


Catie Burton Designer

When you leave school, your work stops being yours.

While in school, the work you do is for yourself. You are your own client and anything you decide is law. While it’s a blessing to be free to create things to your own taste, it doesn’t teach you how to work, collaborate, and take critique from clients.

At the end of the day, the work you do for clients isn’t yours anymore. Instead, focus on what you can do to work with clients to find the best possible solution.

Problem solving matters more than the visual output of your work.

Be curious, because learning and problem solving will always be more important than your work. Being a designer is about solving problems, and a hard lesson I’ve learned is that functionality doesn’t always equal beauty. Dive deep into problems and try to create the most value.

I’ve always valued the best part of projects: the weird limbo of poking holes in your work. You learn the most in this realm by re-evaluating what’s working well and what’s not. Making mistakes the first time around is a learning process which helps you in the long run.

It’s okay to not know.

As a recent grad and a human being, there are a lot of things I don’t know—and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer or try to feign knowledge. Instead, express that you are willing to learn and experiment until you know.

What inspires me

Inspirations of mine include the wonderful Sachin Teng, Bailey Sulliven, and Nick Slater.


Lauren Landes Designer

Trust who you work with.

People are people. Your bosses and coworkers are people you’ll be working with every day. They help you achieve your goals, overcome challenges, and grow, but they can’t do that unless there’s a foundation of trust.

When you’re fearful and insecure about your work (i.e. don’t trust your coworkers), you won’t hear other people’s perspectives because you’ll be afraid people won’t hear your own, which blocks solution-finding. If you aren’t listening to multiple perspectives, you’re doing a disservice to both the project and the end user.

On top of that, if you don’t trust someone you work with, you’ll most likely try to control them or try to ignore them. Neither is healthy. If you notice yourself trying to dismiss or override someone on your team, it’s time to take them out to lunch and develop some good, old-fashioned empathy.

Design in a vacuum is boring.

As creative people, we have to understand context—all the information on the periphery—that most people overlook. We’ve got to immerse ourselves in every instance of a correct solution, and understand the people we’re creating for. Additionally, there are wonderful, beautiful devs out there who are going to build what we design (they make our dreams come true). It is equally important to step in the demilitarized zone between design and dev to empathetically balance both sides’ vision and goals.

Which leads me to my next point:

Be a sponge of the world.

Learn about the things around you. As designers, we must develop a diversity of thought about the world around us. When creating, we’re doing so for people who have a wide variety of thoughts, ideas, and preferences. We should aim to feel what they feel.

That empathy helps us understand the web development experience; considering and anticipating their frustrations will make their job and the end product better. Empathy helps us connect to the end user and create a better product for them. When we frame things differently and understand that the financial investment app we’re building could one day help our parents plan for retirement, it becomes more meaningful and puts our work in context.

What inspires me

I love any artist that is clearly inspired by nature (see Atelier Bingo, Heather Day).

Yesterday, Ryan sent me this and I just can’t get it out of my brain. We have a lot of discussions here about crossing the blurry line between art and design. This project is a perfect example of something functional being turned into art—a big design concept with even closer attention to detail and even bigger impact and feeling.


Sam Parker Project Manager

Build your hype fam.

Most successful people have gotten where they are because of relationships. Being connected with people can come in handy when you’re job hunting, and is also a great way to learn from peers and mentors. Sometimes young people are intimidated by this thought. Remember, the people you want to network with have all been your age. Find someone who has the job you want, and ask if you can take them out to coffee. Most people are well-intentioned and will say yes.

Write your own copy.

In my experience, the best designers are also great copywriters. Design—in its simplest form—is the process of articulating your thoughts and ideas. If you can’t communicate about your work, what good is it? Copywriting is a lost art, and simultaneously a much-desired skill. Honing your copy skills will make you more hireable and give you another fun creative outlet to play with.

If you hate your job, leave.

It’s hard to know when you’re going through the typical ebbs and flows of work (no job is ever perfect) and when your job is toxic. Once upon a time, I worked in a toxic environment that cost me my psychological and physical health. After getting an ulcer, I realized I needed a change.

When you are ready to leave, have a vision for where you want to go. In my situation, one of my mentors told me, “Always be running toward something, never away from something.” She was right. Instead of running from a bad situation, I pursued the next chapter in my career in a positive way.

What inspires me

Spreadsheets, mountain climbing, cooking, and Beyonce.