What I wish I knew as a young designer Threesixty

Dear Geoff …

If you are reading this then I, that is the 2017 version of you, have somehow managed to send this message back in time to 1985 with some words of wisdom as you set out on your new career in graphic design. Don’t worry, there are no major spoilers in what follows. Just keep doing what you are doing and everything will work out well in the end, especially if you follow these words of advice:

Learn to love your mistakes

OK so first of all, at some point in the future you are going to make a mistake or two, you’re only human after all, everyone makes mistakes from time to time so it’s important not to get stressed out by it. The main thing is that you learn from those mistakes to turn them into something positive. Don’t let it hold you back from stepping of your comfort zone and experimenting with a new way of doing something, even if it doesn’t work out the way you hoped. Keep your best and worst work as a reminder to think differently, and as a point of reference as to how something might be done better next time.

Shut up and listen

You already understand design is about communication right? In order to do that effectively, you are going to need to understand who your audience is and what motivates them. Your clients are going to be your best source of information on this, so it is important that you ask questions and most importantly, learn to listen to what they have to say. Effective design is born from a good working relationship with your clients so involve them in the creative process early on and remember that the more communication and clarification between you and your clients throughout a project the more effectively your design can amplify their message.

Feed your passion and stay curious

I know you are buzzing with enthusiasm and creative energy right now but there are going to be times in the future when a project you are working on is just not going in a direction that you are happy with, for any number of reasons. It’s food for the soul of any designer to have a passion project that you can get away to, something that you do for no one else but yourself, it can be whatever you want, but something that will keep you inspired and motivated. Who knows, some of what you do may well prove useful for a client later on.

Unleash your inner magpie

Start to curate your own collection of your favourite work by other designers, think about what it is about them that appeals to you and ask yourself how you might use some of their techniques to improve your own work. Keep up to date with the latest design news and trends, attend design talks and conferences to network with other designers. Then around 2006, you can start to use online social networks to interact with designers around the world using the internet – a future technology that is going to change the world. Your inspiration shouldn’t just come from other designers either, think about how music, movies, books or other art moves and inspires you and how some of those concepts and techniques might help your design project. 

Hone your skills and continue to learn new ones

A couple of years from now you are going to hear about a new computer on the market called the Apple Mac Plus. It’s a ridiculous name I know, but bear with me because this is going to be a big game changer for the design industry. Eventually, the Mac will do away with the traditional techniques you have learnt so far and you will need to embrace new technologies like this if you are to survive in this industry. It’s important that you remember not to get carried away with the convenience of this new technology however, it is after all just another tool that you will use to visually communicate your brilliant ideas so, don’t lose sight of your traditional skills and continue to practice them. Keep a sketchbook with you and get into the habit of scribbling down ideas when they occur to you. Look at it as a brainstorming tool to help you record your thought processes and share with your clients.

Use both sides of your brain

Creative ideas are all well and good but you will need to use the left side of your brain to keep all these ideas organised in order to finish a project on time and on budget. Learn to break seemingly big projects down into bite-sized chunks and suddenly they will not seem so daunting to you. Accept that you might not be able to handle a large project on your own and learn to ask for help when you need it. Establish your boundaries and never promise something that you know you can’t achieve. It will only lead to you cutting corners and producing work that is not up to your usual high standards.

Don’t waste valuable time looking for an artwork or reference image on a project, you will just add unnecessary stress and interrupt your creative thought process. So while you are working organise and file your work in a structured way, so that you or one of your colleagues can find it again with a minimum of fuss.

Enjoy the experience

You’ve got a long career ahead of you Geoff, the hours can be long and the work will sometimes be hard to come by. It’s important that you continue to enjoy and have a passion for what you do. Make friends and nurture great working relationships with your clients and colleagues alike. Learn not to get disheartened when your work gets rejected or you don’t get that dream job you wanted. Work hard, play hard and remember it all works out well in the end.


See you in 2018



Geoff Cowan is a Senior Designer at Threesixty, with over 20 years experience in designing world-class communication for B2B and B2C brands. Meet the rest of our team here