Grow your Design Career: Tips from Top-tier Designers

This is a quick piece I wrote after joining the inaugural Swarm w/ Us: Designers event in 2021.

Here are five quick tips to improve your design career from our incredible speakers Nate Punzalan (SaaS copywriter at Cold Brew Copy), Rachel How (Senior Product Designer at Fave), and Stella Pangilinan (UX Designer at Summit Media).

1. Develop your own personal monopoly

Nate started with content creation, Stella discovered UX after college, and Rachel became a UX/UI designer in just three months — with no degree or background in design at all.

There’s no shame in transitioning from a totally different career or just finding out about UX now. There’s a wealth of resources out there: articles, Youtube, online courses — take advantage of them!

With enough dedication, any designer can develop their own personal monopoly: skills, tools, and tactics that make their value unique.

2. Scope with strategic questions

The work of design starts way before we move a single pixel. At her company Fave, Rachel always starts every project or brief by asking key questions.

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. Is this the right problem to solve?
  3. How much effort is required?

As a freelancer, Nate does the same kind of evaluation before taking on a client. He sets up an introductory call to ask questions like:

  1. Beyond money, what’s the how and why of your business?
  2. Why do you exist? Who do you serve?
  3. What’s the vision for your company?”

Always asking questions first enables them to get to the heart of solving user problems before proceeding with research or preliminary designs.

3. Maintain routines, rituals, and communities

Nate drinks coffee, takes nootropics, and loves to put on lowfi beats. Stella believes in timeblocking and using Pomodoro timers to get things done effectively. Rachel always writes daily to-do lists and has a physical one in front of her desk every day to keep focus.

Rachel also cites Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time in which it’s allotted, so it can help to set short deadlines and get into the practice of getting things done.

All speakers also keep strong ties to a community. Stella was an active member in UXPH, Rachel founded Malaysians Who Make, and Nate perfected his skills over years of building a 90,000+ audience on Youtube.

4. Always test assumptions

Good design boils down to making good decisions based on good data. Thus, it’s crucial to always test assumptions with real data, both quantitative and qualitative.

Our speakers emphasize the importance of always conducting interviews and research to ensure they’re data-informed. This improves chances that all decisions made from there hit the mark.

This also extends to trying to search for new concepts and frameworks, and not immediately trusting your intuition when making a decision.

5. Don’t fear Impostor Syndrome

Lastly, when Impostor Syndrome strikes, our designers all have their own ways of tackling it and soldiering on.

For Stella, challenges will always pop up, but knowing everyone faces similar periods of doubt and self-consciousness makes it easier to adapt.

Rachel comforts herself by keeping a wall of love, with praise and kind words she’s accumulated over the years.

Nate cites separating fact from feeling to stay sane and on track.

Stella even suggests that imposter syndrome is often a good signal that you’re challenging yourself to go beyond what you usually do.

In summary:

  1. Develop your own personal monopoly.
  2. Scope with strategic questions.
  3. Maintain routines, rituals, and communities.
  4. Always test assumptions.
  5. Don’t fear Impostor Syndrome.

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