I recently had a chance to sit down with one of our team members Lindsay Grauvogel, and here’s what she told me about being a young designer.
I’ve been a designer for six years. I’ve worked for some of the biggest Fortune 500 corporations to some of the smallest non-profits. In my time at ThoughtForm I’ve learned a lot, but here are three things I wish I had known before I started.
1. Learn to embrace silence.
When I graduated and started at ThoughtForm, one huge difference between the classroom and the real world that I encountered is conference-calling. The gaps of silence I experienced on my first conference calls were really unnerving. I couldn’t read body language or see the client’s initial reaction to my work. I instantly felt this overwhelming urge to fill the silence—so I did. And I sounded like a babbling idiot.
I quickly learned to embrace the gaps of silence on conference calls because I realized that clients were just absorbing what I was presenting, or thinking about responses to questions I posed. They just needed space to think. I have to admit I still find those gaps of silence a little unnerving, but I’ve learned to just let them be. My advice to young designers would be to practice presenting your work over the phone to someone and learn to embrace the silence.
2. Learn to play it back.
I quickly learned that assumptions are our worst enemy. “Playing it back,” which is simply repeating what you hear a client or colleague say, but in your own words, is the best way to avoid the miscommunication that results from making assumptions. Falling victim to assumptions on my first few projects in the real world made me acutely aware of the value of playing back the directions and requests I heard from my clients, and even my colleagues.
A perfect example of when playing it back would have been beneficial is when a colleague asked me if I had created a table for a client. (We often created process illustrations of people in various situations around an office.) I said yes, and she asked me to send her the file so she could send it to the client. I sent her the file of the table — an illustrated conference table. You know the kind: Flat top, four wooden legs, a table!
Well, it turns out she really wanted a data table that the client could populate with figures to use as a comparison tool. We had a good laugh, and the client got the data table file they requested, but it just goes to show that even if the request or feedback seems crystal clear, playing it back can eliminate unwanted surprises. So my advice to young designers is to use every opportunity you can to start refining your playback skills — it will only help you.
3. Remember: you’re networking even when you don’t know it.
Networking is not solely contained to official events held by professional organizations. Every time you meet someone you’re networking. You have no idea who they might know or how they might be able to open doors for you, and vice versa. Believe it or not, I made one of the most valuable networking connections of my life by way of pushing boxes of medical files on a cart across campus. In all weather.
My freshman year in college I worked part-time as a student helper for a woman named Sue. I did all kinds of tedious tasks for her. Filing papers. Making copies. Stuffing envelopes. Pushing boxes of files on a cart across campus to the storage facility. None of these tasks were particularly enjoyable, and all of these tasks were seemingly unrelated to getting a coveted acceptance letter into the fiercely competitive graphic design program. But it turns out, Sue was the key to my acceptance into the design school and my start in graphic design. She knew the dean of the School of Design and, unbeknownst to me, she sent him a recommendation letter on my behalf. To this day, I can’t be sure if that letter was the tipping point, but I am absolutely sure that it didn’t hurt my chances.
So my advice for young designers is to remember you’re networking even when you don’t think you are . . . you just might be meeting one of the most valuable connections in the most unlikely of people.
Adapted from a talk Lindsay gave to students at Robert Morris University.