Resources to grow your design careerWritten by Kyle Schruder RGD, Creative Currency, and Amelia Nash, School of Visual Arts — Masters in Branding
From tips on getting ready for an interview to books on having the right mindset, designers share resources that have helped them to build their careers.
Andrew Boardman RGD, Creative Director at Mangrove in Winnipeg, MB:
I became a fan of the Rolling Stones at the tender age of 12. (The band was brilliant up until Undercover.) I'm also a fan of becoming a rolling stone, which gathers no moss. As a designer, creative director and educator, the call is to stay open: to new practices, new people and new possibilities. In pursuing a creative career, I advise my students to stay open—to seek unconventional opportunities, to create a unique portfolio and to think of design as a means for doing good.
- When applying for a position, write an unusual cover letter that tells the reader what you truly value and why you really want to work with them.
- In your portfolio, showcase at least one personal project.
- Consider sending your application to studios and agencies you admire, even if there are no jobs posted. You never know.
Lastly, two books that might put you in the right career path mindset. Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren is a classic that presents imperfection as an inherent part of our work and world. And check out a new book called The Creative Act: A Way of Being by the inimitable music producer Rick Rubin—it encourages us to stay on the creative path with a beginner's mind.
Akriti Kapur RGD, Senior Designer at Watt International in Toronto, ON:
Being new to the country and adapting to a different job market during COVID, I was on the lookout for new ways to network and make connections. Below are some things that helped me.
- The RGD's Creative Directions Conference helped me a lot by giving me the opportunity to have my portfolio reviewed and connect me with industry leaders. Receiving constructive feedback and interview tips really boosted my confidence.
- Having an up-to-date well-crafted Linkedin profile will help you get noticed by recruiters and other professionals. I also recommend sending a small note to people who you want to connect with.
- I often listen to Podcasts by Martina Flor where she talks with international artists about their challenges, pricing, career growth and so on.
- Adobe portfolio and Behance are great platforms to build your portfolio on. If you're new, focus on five decent, well-thoughtout projects that show your range of skills. Even as an experienced designer, I always put passion projects in my portfolio, focusing on a new skill I've learned or a project that demonstrates my creativity.
- Be well-prepared for interviews. Try practising answering possible questions in front of a mirror so you’re more at ease for the real thing. Even if I didn’t land a job but had a good interview, I always connect with my interviewers on LinkedIn afterwards.
- Having a mentor with whom you can discuss your career checkpoints, goals and success is very helpful.
- Attending design conferences and events helps to keep you aware of current market trends and make amazing connections.
Ashley McCarthy RGD, Creative Services Manager at RouteThis in Hamilton, ON:
I’ve spent the majority of my design career working in-house, which comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. My career path progression in this space has been the result of experience and determination.
When I first heard Emily Cohen speak at the RGD’s DesignThinkers, I felt she truly understood the dynamics of an in-house environment. I was inspired by her honesty and approach to creating a healthy, high-functioning, more efficient creative services team through process, documentation and communication. These are important aspects to consider because being a successful ‘client-side’ designer requires more than just a killer portfolio. You can find Emily’s resources in a variety of formats from her IG account, her book, her past RGD talks are available to RGD Members for free.
My best advice would be to keep trying. Keep applying. If you are early in your career and you’re interviewing, but you don’t get the job, be persistent with asking for feedback. Also:
- Keep polishing your resume and portfolio as much as you can to keep it fresh. Make regular edits.
- Create a brand identity for yourself. Sign up with Catchafire and volunteer your skills.
- Take on side projects to diversify.
- Seek out opportunities to practise presenting your portfolio virtually or in person. And keep pushing forward.
Kyle Schruder RGD, Associate Creative Director at Creative Currency in Toronto, ON:
Below are some resources I've found very valuable in my creative career.
Networking & Interviewing:
Maybe it's an obvious recommendation, but I always share Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends & Influence People. It's one of those classic books that has stood the test of time. Unfortunately, people tend to overthink networking and interviewing situations. This book will help you learn ways to have meaningful conversations where everyone feels heard and valued. Whether it's an informal coffee chat or a formal job interview, this book gives you tools to make a good impression.
Career path progression:
I've always been compelled by promotions, advancing my career and becoming a more complete designer. One resource I've found super helpful for measuring this is https://progression.fyi. It lays out career ladders for companies like Apple, Google and Amazon. You'll gain insight into the hard skills employers are looking for and ways you can develop your overall toolkit and communication skills. Even if you need to figure out your job's path forward, you can still learn from successful organizations and reflect on your growth, development and performance.
Amelia Nash Provisional RGD, Freelance Graphic Designer:
I am endlessly hungry for knowledge and have a curiosity within me that has yet to be fulfilled, I question everything around me and am always looking for tools and resources that help me learn. The biggest resource I have is my social circle. Asking other designers for their tools, tips and tricks results in some magical light bulb moments! As well as fostering healthy relationships. I really do believe that ‘it takes a village’ and if you share your wealth of knowledge, others are more than happy to return the favour. Gatekeeping ain’t cute. Below are some tools/resources that I use daily:
I use the Muzli extension for Chrome. It’s an absolute godsend for a daily dose of inspiration!
A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. This book is all about how questioning can help with making decisions, sparking creativity, strengthening relationships and transforming business. It’s helped me immensely in almost everything I do and I often find myself going back to its teachings.
Adobe Creative Cloud. Period. Having a design background, Adobe CC allows me to do whatever I need to create resumes, letterheads, portfolios, etc. For those unfamiliar with how to use Adobe CC, Canva is another great resource.
Ashley Tomlinson Provisional RGD, Freelance Graphic Designer:
I highly recommend getting out there and meeting people whether that be online or in-person, taking the time to network/build meaningful connections during my time in school helped me exponentially in my career starting out. If you’re nervous or don’t know how to connect with someone, I’d recommend reaching out and asking about a specific role they’ve had or a project you know they’ve worked on. Being part of a larger community has made me feel less lonely while I’ve been navigating my freelance career. Don’t ever stop learning and don’t be afraid to lean into your curiosities, even if it never sees the light of day it’s so important in your growth and staying in touch with your playful side. Also remember that you’ll never know if you like a particular job/type of work until you’re actually doing it and it’s just as helpful to figure out the type of work you don’t want to be doing as it is to know the type of work you do want to do. Below are a few resources that have helped me in my journey.
- Design Matters with Debbie Millman
- Creative Pep Talk Podcast
- The Friendly Unknown Podcast
- It’s Nice That Podcast
- Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-Racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic Designers by Ellen Lupton
- The Big Leap: A Guide to Freelancing for Creatives by Martina Flor
Kyle Schruder RGD
School of Visual Arts — Masters in Branding