You've Graduated... Part Two

This is part two of four in my graduation series which I started last week. If you haven’t already, read the first one before continuing onwards.

After you have a rhythm on how you’re going to get better at your job, you can should decide what type of Designer you are and have a laser focus on the type of job you want.

What type of Designer are you?

Before you start pitching yourself to potential employers, you should decide which direction you want your career to go in. You can change this in the future but take a few moments now to think about it. There are Designers who work on admin interfaces and there are Designers who work on communication pieces. Both of these types of Designers live in all web-based product companies. Sometimes you’re doing both.

This is not an exhaustive list, but this is the general difference between the two.

Designers who work on interfaces

These Designers work on interfaces which push and pull data to the user. Think of the web as a web form. If your user is putting data into the internet (images, text, video), they are pushing data to a server somewhere. To display it again, we pull data. Good examples of this are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Designers like this usually depend on UI kits and previously designed systems, it’s less necessary these days (more on this later) to be fantastic at visual work (although still worth getting better at, always) unless it’s an early stage start-up.

You should have a basic idea of what back-end development and front-end development entails. You should understand what an object is, what APIs are, and basic technical lingo. On the flip-side, you should also have a basic handle on HTML/CSS, understand what Javascript and JQuery are, and have a good idea of how FEDs implement grid systems. The understanding of these roles will help you communicate. If done poorly, this can severely impact the quality of your output. This is on you, not them.

Try some basic development courses online and read up on what people do with different technology stacks. You don’t need to be a developer but you need to be able to communicate with one. Shared languages are key.

From a user feedback point of view, these Designers work with User Researchers to test mental models and validate assumptions prior to and after launching. There are many rounds of iterations which go through user testing. If your company is not that large, you will be the one doing the research.[1]

Lastly, if you’re working on these type of interfaces and are in-house, your work is never done.

Designer who work on communication pieces

Every company needs to market their product. These are communication pieces. Good examples of this work are landing pages (typically with no user input except a login form), physical booth displays (environmental design), or brochures.

These Designers tend to be visually strong. Typography, layout, and art direction must all be strongly understood, and you tend to play temporary copywriter or illustrator as well. These Designers also tend to have more artistic license to try new things and push out work on a more frequent basis.

Unlike Designers who work in a product admin, the likelihood is that a communications Designer will need less knowledge of back-end development but be more well-versed in front-end development. Understanding animations and how they are implemented will really serve a communications Designer.

Designers like this do a lot of A/B testing on pages prior to launch and use data to validate assumptions after launch. It’s less typical for them to test a user’s mental model as they tend to work on pieces that don’t necessarily affect a user’s day-to-day workflow.

These pieces tend to be done by a certain deadline and work gets recycled very quickly. One of the most rewarding parts of this job, though, is that you tend to have a piece in your portfolio at the end.

These are the typical differences between the two. In the end, both types of Designers need the same base of foundational skills but their day-to-day lives are slightly different.

Seek a Specific Type of Job

You should be looking for a place where you can work on a large volume of work with tons of variety under the tutelege of a Senior or Lead Designer. This can forever change the direction of your career if you pick wisely.

I really want to stress that you are not in the position to:

  • Manage a team
  • Be the lone designer on a team
  • Be in an environment that doesn’t value Design

Management is a completely different job and any moment you spend away from practicing foundational Design skills means you’re not progressing in the right direction. Similarly, being the lone designer on a team means you’re going to stretch yourself very thin wearing too many hats. Lastly, if you’re in an environment that doesn’t value design, you’re just going to feel awful. Happiness is important too.

If this is not possible for whatever reason (I understand people have bills to pay) then find an internship or move to a market that can offer you this opportunity. Or, continue working on your own building your portfolio.

I didn’t go this route and it was considerably harder for me because of that. So if you cannot achieve this, you can still build a great career, you will simply run into more obstacles.

What next?

Tune in next week for how to prep your portfolio and the interview process. If you haven’t already, read my first post in this series.

↩︎ [1] If this is you, check out Erika Hall's Just Enough Research↗︎

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