With the benefit of hindsight and the ability to travel back in time to bygone years, our expert panel shares the professional advice they would lend to their younger selves
You don’t have to make yourself appear larger than you are. No need to use ‘we’ on your site when you mean ‘I’. The fact that you are independent is a strength not a weakness. It means that you are free of the bureaucratic quagmires that shackle agencies and enterprises. People will work with you and admire you for your personality and authenticity – so don’t hide them.
Don’t drown your work in decoration. Let your content breathe. Let every element you add to your design earn its right to exist by a trial by fire.
But also play. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to get started, you’ll get it wrong at first anyway. Don’t worry about what other people think. Make stuff. Put it out there. Iterate. Tear it up, throw it away and then start again. And do it better. Time spent making something is never wasted. It is the only way you’ll learn and grow.
Most of all, don’t take the people around you for granted. Especially the ones who love you. You can never be too busy for the people you love. And make sure they know that too.
Remember that life is just a string of experiences. Cherish each one. And, as a maker, create experiences that empower, amuse, and delight the people whose lives you touch.
Be kind, stay curious and have fun.
Aral is a designer, developer, professional speaker, teacher, and author of the Feathers iPhone app
Take trips and use all of your vacation days. They’re yours to use as part of your employment and if you don’t use them, you lose them. There’s never a perfect time to take time off. There’s always going to be a looming project, deadline or meeting in your life that conflicts. Don’t be pressured by projects, managers or other co-workers who are afraid to take their own days off. In the long run, you’ll stay more refreshed throughout the year and potentially have more life experiences to inspire your work.
Shane is a freelance designer
If I could say something to my younger self, it would be: in 2006, when a friend of yours who works at a small company called Facebook tries to recruit you to come work with him, just fucking go.
Jeff is a designer, author, speaker and blogger
User experience extends far beyond the user; the same respect, empathy, compassion, advocacy and mindfulness should be directed towards colleagues and clients. We’re all people trying to help other people. When anyone is treated as an enemy, everyone suffers.
Whitney leads UX consultancy Vicarious Partners
Elliot Jay Stocks
Remember that work can often get in the way of you actually enjoying life. Downtime is important, not just for enjoyment, but to refresh your brain ready for when you do go back to work.
I feel like I’ve finally achieved a decent work/life balance, and I’m working fewer physical hours than I ever have before. But, to get to that stage, I’ve had to put in a lot of hard work. If I’m being honest, I probably could’ve been a bit easier on myself in terms of the client work I took on and letting myself get stressed. I don’t regret working hard; I appreciate my current situation much more.
Elliot is a designer and illustrator
Specification is top priority. Don’t get too excited about a project and dive straight in as you’ll eventually get stuck not knowing where to go or how to proceed. That new project is exciting, but it’ll be even better when you understand exactly what you need to do. Also, buy shares in lots of coffee companies. You’ll be rich.
Matt is lead developer at Fuzzy Orange
Iterate more. Don’t think that when a design is all put together that it’s the last or best one you could do. Keep trying until it’s as good as it can be. And learn something with each new version.
Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB
Graphic / web designer
The advice I would give young designers who want to start freelancing on their own is, make sure you give yourself enough time to think things through, don’t rush it. Make sure to do your research, prepare a rudimentary business plan, and ask yourself: “Will I be able to make a living out of this?”.
Here is a background story of how things went for me, and how I made this decision years ago, way too fast. It’s from an old post on my previous blog.
“After I graduated I did an internship for one month at an ad agency (this is pre-internet time in 1989). I really didn’t like the job there. In the end after endless revisions, the few things I designed (in the form of a few logos) didn’t feel like my creations anymore. It just felt like I was drawing on demand, and the boss didn’t leave any room for my ideas or creativity. This is a recipe for frustration and de-motivation.
After looking for a job for months, I decided to give myself a deadline. If I didn’t have a job before the end of June (1992), I would take the jump. It was a big mistake to make a decision like that. There were some people pressuring me a bit as well, asking me when I could start. Still, my decision was really too hasty”.
Veerle Pieters is a web and graphic designer
I would’ve taken more risks in business. Sometimes I look on with admiration at what my friends have achieved with their businesses. I envy their ability to take risks, go with gut feelings and make something incredible. I would tell my younger self, go with your hunches and somehow you’ll make it work.
Andy Clarke is the author of Hardboiled Web Design
Freelance UX designer
The one thing that really helped me develop was having a good mentor: someone I had one-on-one sessions with, who gave me feedback on my work, showed examples of their own and who also guided me in how to handle all the challenges we meet in our working day - like tricky clients, disagreements within the team as well as knowing your limits and your worth.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that caring about your work is great but, in the end, work is work and no matter how demanding or frustrating it may be at times, it’s not worth breaking yourself over it. If you work hard and do a great job, people will respect when you put your foot down just as much as they do your work.
And finally, work with and learn from as many people as possible, whether in your own field or other disciplines. That’s the most rewarding thing and how really great work happens.
Anna is a freelance user experience designer
Business partner manager
I would aim for 2005 and encourage myself to accept the equity offered by Sean Parker for the Facebook logo, rather than declining for the cash instead.
Mike is a business partner manager/unicorn at Google
Working hard is not the same thing as working smart. I thought that by working all the hours I possibly could, my bank balance would be healthy, my business would flourish and I would be more successful in my job.
In fact what I did was land myself so deep that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and I completely burnt out. Work smart; put aside hours to learn, hours to work and hours to do admin, make sure each task has a time limit and complete within that time limit. I’m getting better but still by no means perfect.
Sarah Parmenter is owner of You Know Who
Don’t stay in a job you hate. Don’t make my mistake; life is too short. If you are in a job that you do not enjoy, move. I promise you that you will never look back. If the next job doesn’t improve things, move again. There is no shortage of jobs out there and happiness is more important than job security.
Pick your battles. Over time I learnt a balance. I would let my boss win over minor disagreements so that when I did stand up for myself he knew I was serious. This approach has proved invaluable over the years and particularly with clients. Wherever possible, I try to accommodate client requests. That way, when I say no, they know I feel passionately about it.
Paul Boag is co-founder at Headspace
Freelance web designer
What I’d love to have been able to tell myself really has nothing to do with design - but the biggest piece of advice I could possibly give myself is to allow myself freedom to experiment and play. It’s something I’m trying to talk a lot about at the moment - in a society that idolises perfection we often are very self-critical and fear making mistakes.
I think we need to talk more about our process and encourage ourselves and others to experiment and enjoy ourselves. Too often, holding ourselves back for fear of making mistakes or not creating a perfect piece of work first time can be really counter-productive. We often limit our creativity and productivity, producing work that really is sub-par. I was somebody that used to let this fear control me, but since I have started learning to let go, not focus on the end result and instead allow myself to play with the work I do, I’m finding that the work I create is of a much higher standard at the end.
I’d love to tell my younger self that it really is okay to make mistakes, to have fun and to not take your work so seriously. Instead of worrying about the future, focus on the here and now and create the best work that you can and always try to improve yourself and your skill set. Determination will pay off in the end.
Carry on talking, sharing and being nice to people. Nice tokens are very much noted and great friendships can be forged.
Take the time to care what happens in your life, industry and community. Do what you can to take advantage of the help offered by many and pass on your own knowledge when you can.
The main things I think I wish I could tell a younger designer are these: appreciate all around you and appreciate your luck at working in such a fast-paced, rewarding industry; try to take the time to understand both your strengths and your flaws; never think that you are done learning and always try to improve yourself; and teach and give back what you can, when you can; lecture, speak, write, talk – just do anything you can to help others.
Even when it gets tough and you feel like you’re making no progress, just keep on trying, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Rachel is a freelance web designer
Opera’s web evangelist
Don’t listen to people who tell you that you’re wrong, without giving you a reason. Our industry relies on the web, which is a wonderous thing but which also empowers mean-spirited people to shout “FAIL!” and then scuttle back behind their keyboard. Ignore them. And always pack a mankini if you’re going to a conference or client meeting.
Bruce Lawson is Opera’s web evangelist
Whether it’s communication with a colleague, teammate, current client or prospective client, if you’re clear with your communication, your life is so much easier. Ask the right questions and listen like your life depends on it.
Gavin is the founder of the Industry Web Conference
Rather than send a message back to my younger self, I would destroy the message-sending technology immediately. The potential for universe-ending paradoxes is too great.
Any knowledge I supplied to my past self would cause my past self to behave differently, thereby either:
a) Destroying the timeline that my present self inhabits (assuming a branching many-worlds multiverse) or
b) Altering my present self, possibly to the extent that the message-sending technology never gets invented. Result: instant paradox.
But to answer your question, if I could send a message back to a younger designer or developer self, the professional advice I would give would be:
“Jeremy. When, at some point in the future, you come across the technology that’s capable of sending a message like this back to your past self, you must destroy it immediately!
But I know that you will not heed this advice. As, if you did, you wouldn’t be reading this.
On the other hand, I have no memory of ever receiving this message, so perhaps you did the right thing after all.”
Jeremy is founder and technical director at Clearleft
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