Seven Things I Learned from a Freelance Designer

Today I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented freelance designer, Mason Brown. He’s a Georgia College Alumni and gave me a ton of insight on the professional world of graphic design. Here’s a few things I learned.

  1. Do something new everyday. Designers should have a love for learning. This industry changes very quickly. Everyday, a new software debuts while another one falls under the rug. No, you shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon every time a new, trendy software comes out. You can’t learn every software, that would be a waste of time. One should spend time each day to learn a new trick or perfect one of their own. His advice to me, as an upcoming designer (with nothing in her portfolio), was to spend a little time each day and design for yourself. For example, you can draw and then re-create what you’ve drawn into a vector graphic playing around with Illustrator or Photoshop. 
  2. Don’t take things personally. How to react to criticism is an unavoidable part of the creative field that one must conquer. One must learn to separate your ego from the mission. Accept criticism with a smile. It is difficult, yes, but in the end, the one making the criticism is probably correct in some way. It can be a humbling experience to accept criticism and learn from another’s perspective. An analogy that Mason mentioned was that “sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Sometimes designers can be so focused on the details that they have failed to see the overall view or mission. Don’t focus all your time on the bells and whistles of a project.
  3. Design is communication. I’m a mass communication major with a minor in rhetoric. I understand communication is an essential skill to have in everyday life. Design and communication are complementary skills. The copy in any design can be just as important as the design itself. Don’t show your work with loreum ipsum text. Even if you aren’t a copywriter, one should write something out instead of placeholder text. An essential part of design is also what the text is communicating. Someone may be more drawn to the actual text, rather than what the design communicates. 
  4. “We need to fail forward, fail fast, fail better.” This is a quote from the book Socialnomics, by Erik Qualman. A way to increase our rate of learning is to increase our rate of failure. Since Mason has background teaching at The Creative Circus, one of Atlanta’s portfolio schools, he knows first-hand that sometimes you have to put yourself out there and be willing to fail. You have to work to perfect your skills. You will learn from your failures. 
  5. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso. The goal isn’t to steal and re-create works, but that can be a good place to start out. The goal for any designer is to create genuine and authentic work. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Mason says he receives inspiration from anything, such as architecture or Dribble.
  6. Cream rises to the top.  Do your time as an intern. Early on, put in the extra hours. Mason noted that as a beginner, sometimes you have to put in 12 hours to get 6 hours of work done. The rest of your life isn’t going to be like that. Get a reputation for being a hard-worker, it’s the soft skills (e.g. work ethic, professionalism) that will make you valuable. Don’t worry about the money, that comes after you get experience under your belt.
  7. It’s worth it. The lasting impression that Mason left me was that he loves what he does and has a rewarding job. He said he could make more money elsewhere, but this is what he loves to do.  After talking with Mason today I am even more excited for the opportunity to join the graphic design field.  

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