The evolution of my career - from junior designer to founder

Over the last 12 years I’ve seen so many changes in the design industry, my career and what I do as a designer. I guess at the heart of all it I still just make things for a living. And as designers we create things - we look at disparate pieces of data, connect the dots & make “something” within those constraints to solve a particular problem. And at our core we are creators and makers.

Whether it’s an app, a button, a website, an overall user journey, a poster, a dribbble shot, a new business venture - it fuels the maker in us. Perhaps it’s the inner child - I can’t tell for sure, and I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself it’s definitely challenging and it’s fun.

That moment when you realise an idea and create something out of nothing, something you are proud of and believe in, and when you present it to the world it starts to provide value to others. That’s the thrill.

It’s been over a decade since I started.

If you have a few years of experience where you will be a decade from now? If you’d ask me then I’d truthfully have no idea. Definitely not where I am today, didn’t think I’d run my own business, help thousands of designers, create my own products etc.  vs. designing for fortune 500 companies and being a Creative Director. (which did happen)

12 years in and I’m still not bored. The work has changed so much in many ways and in some ways it hasn’t at all. Just still making things for people and for myself.

The “things” have changed, but the people have not.

The point of this post is to share a bit about how I got here and how I’ve progressed. And perhaps you can see parallels with your career and learn a thing or two about the skills I picked up along the way. Back then a decade seemed like a long time, now at 32 it feels like it barely scratches the surface. 

Years 1-2 Milk moustache designer/developer Worked mainly on microsites and portals. Did heaps of flash development around 80% with design. Freelanced for 1 of those years while juggling university. When I made $40 an hour I thought I’d finally made it! $3 subway lunches were the norm as I tried to save.

Learnt flash development, animation principles, basic design principles, web 2.0 stuff, basic html/css, how to be proficient on a Mac and Photoshop. Got influenced greatly by traditional design and brand design. A great appreciation for GOOD typography. (Still carry this with me today, albeit it is a bit more in vogue with digital designers)

Years 3-5 Solid designer, can hold my own

Did 5-10% flash development only in year 3, eventually flash died. Worked more on larger portals and ecommerce sites that generated 10’s of millions a year. Hitting the semi big time as far as clients were concerned. Worked my way to a mid-weight designer and between years 4.5-5 became a senior designer.

In these years I learnt how to design and present to clients better. How to understand the language of business and how design can solve problems. Design was not just about winning awards and making cool shit.Although I still cared about that stuff it became less and less. I became a leader through my actions and lead by example.

Years 6-8 Design Honcho - leading but actually designing less

Did a lot of creative direction and art direction during this time, and as you may have guessed I became a Creative Director. Worked a lot to get to this point and really put in the work. I was able to lead teams and work on complex design problems. Redesigned responsive sites, mobile solutions and cross discipline designs for large corporate entities (billion dollar companies) and large household brands. One of my favorite accounts was the Nintendo account. Some of the corporate jobs were fun and challenging in the beginning. The budgets were good - but it was getting a bit stale, I was not on the tools as much as I’d like and more so in meetings.

Learnt about user centred design, UX, user testing, design thinking, prototyping, marketing metrics, got better at the craft side of design, how to present well to clients, how to manage clients, how to lead and inspire a team, how to take onus on the quality and production of the work, how to build team morale.

Years 8-12 Freelancer to Founder/Maker  – I can do whatever the f*ck I want

This was the time I really put it all together. Everything I’d learnt during those agency years into my own business. I’ve helped these huge brands achieve great milestones so why not apply what I’ve learnt into my own initiative? In the beginning I did a ton of freelancing. Built a name and a brand around myself on Dribbble, Verse, a email list and to a smaller extent on other social channels.

I really got to do the type I wanted to do from a craft, and visual design point of view. The problem solving remained the same but the output was work I could get excited about. During this stretch I did a TON of self initiated learning. Consumed books, videos, ebooks, podcasts and courses around life, running a business and design. Iit helped in my opinion, to create some of my best work to date. And most of all it’s paved the way for what the next 3-5 years is going to be like. I can’t wait to evolve again in my career and keep trying new things.

Here I learnt how to write, how to market, how to sell, how to build a community, how to improve my visual design, how to teach, deep marketing principles and how to operate like a startup.

And here where are. That’s been my journey so far as I write this to you. There were a ton of nuances that were missed but that’s the gist of my journey so far.

Wherever you are with your experience and career, your journey rests on you and your ability to go after it. Define what it is that you want and go after with your heart. Perseverance and hard work will create the results.