As it turns out, conversation is key to elegant design. It could be the conversations between members of a collaborating team who are working on the same project, or it could be the conversations that take place between mentors and younger designers who learn from them.
Conversations between designers can help to sort out practical details, and they can easily lead to discussions about various perspectives and design philosophies.
That’s because, despite the many academic texts that have established design principles and concepts, there’s always room for new ideas and novel approaches.
One could even argue that relatively new design applications, such as digital products and social media platforms, present new kinds of hurdles that can only be overcome thanks to fresh takes on how design should function in these spaces.
But the kind of conversation we’d like to talk about today is small in scope, more immediate, but it’s still a very important one, especially for younger designers and others looking to enter the field of design.
Conversations between designers can be more serious, too, covering varied and sometimes opposing design philosophies and solutions to common design problems.
Over time, these “rules” of design are updated, and it can even be argued that conversations in this field more recently have helped to nail down design best practices for relatively new design applications, such as digital products and social media platforms.
It’s these conversations, regardless of whether they take place in person or across multiple published works, that help to keep designers on the cutting edge, with an understanding of what has changed and what hasn’t.
It might sound rather simple, but sharing opinions and thoughts on different topics relevant to design help push the discipline of design into the future.
While the kind of conversation we’d like to talk about today is smaller in scope, it’s still incredibly important for young designers and for anyone else who wants to get into this field but doesn’t know what to expect.
Yu Rong, designer
Yu Rong is a talented and well-established designer currently based in San Francisco. She has worked for many different types of clients in the tech world and beyond: Apple, HP, Warby Parker, MGM Grand, P&G, Jiffy Lube, Delta Airlines, and IBM.
While Rong has achieved success in her own design career, she was well aware that many other designers, especially younger designers, may have plenty of talent but not really know how they want to use it or where they want to spend their workdays.
This sparked an idea: maybe she could find a way to speak directly to these aspiring designers about what things are really like out in the field.
This is where General Assembly came into the picture.
If you’re not familiar, General Assembly is an educational organization that provides on-campus and online learning resources in the areas of coding, design, digital marketing, among others.
The organization helps teach skills that are vital to contemporary work skills, especially in tech.
General Assembly has a large number of online communities based in different locations, as well as physical locations in Los Angeles, Manhattan, Seattle, and San Francisco.
At this point, Rong had already attended multiple design events at General Assembly and enjoyed each experience. She wondered if there was a way that her extensive professional experience as a designer could be helpful to other designers.
Rong pitched her idea for a talk to General Assembly: in-detail discussion about what it’s actually like to work for different kinds of companies as a designer.
Going to work for a major advertising agency, for instance, is quite different from working as a freelancer or as a designer for a tech startup.
Rong’s contact at General Assembly thought this was an excellent idea, and the event was officially arranged.
After posting, more than 100 people signed up for the talk, and on the day, the seats filled up quickly and even more people chose to stand.
In other words, it was clear that this topic resonated with lots of different people.
It was then up to Rong to prepare for the event and deliver on the promises she’d made for what this talk would cover.
“The organizer helped to post the event on the GA site and social media one month beforehand. On my end, I outlined the presentation in a Google Doc, and layout it into Keynote with big sections. Once the overall framework was done, I started to fill in details for each section. From there, I practiced a lot [laughs].”
Thankfully, Rong already had a wealth of prior professional experience on which to draw, which fit well with General Assembly’s emphasis on real-world application of knowledge and technique.
It wasn’t long before Rong had a solid keynote talk ready to deliver, with plenty of time leftover for audience questions.
Then came the moment of truth.
During her keynote, Rong presented many different work circumstances that designers would be likely to experience depending on the company or companies that they chose to work for.
“I presented all the types of companies where designers can work. People loved the presentation, and many of them stayed after the event and asked even more questions. Overall, it went really well and I’m glad that I helped people to get more insights into the realities of a design career.”
The sheer amount of interest in this specific topic proves just how eager aspiring designers, whether they’re students or young professionals or both, are to learn about some crucial details of the career they’re choosing.
Rong even mentioned that some of the attendees of this keynote talk were people who were in the process of switching from another career to a design career.
Knowing what these jobs are actually like from day to day is extremely important, especially for those who are migrating from a completely different industry or career specialization, which brings us to the ultimate point of this article.
The value of real-world knowledge and experience
Rong’s story is one worth highlighting, and not only because it shows that professionals can have a substantial positive impact when they choose to engage with younger, more inexperienced individuals in the same field.
Especially for skill sets that are directly or tangentially related to tech and the world of flashy startups, there’s an unfortunate trend of portraying these types of careers only via their most appealing and exciting aspects.
Rather than giving an accurate impression of what these careers actually are, young professionals are presented with an idealized version, often by those who have found great success in their fields.
But pursuing these careers is nowhere near as glossy as it might seem after only a cursory glance.
Highly successful designers, when interviewed, can give the feeling, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that success was inevitable. But this really just isn’t the case.
Success in any field, especially design, takes a great deal of hard work and dedication, and yes, the places you choose to work play a large part as well.
This isn’t to imply that pursuing a design career is all doom and gloom, but Rong and other successful design professionals like her can offer a huge amount of value to aspiring designers by being honest with them about the realities of different work environments and the kinds of demands they place on employees and contract workers.
How to get more info
As a way of closing out, we’d like to offer just a few suggestions on where and how aspiring designers can get more information about the rigors of working in this field.
As already mentioned, General Assembly has set itself apart as an excellent resource for learning skills relevant to tech and other industries as well.
The company has an extensive in-person and online network of locations and courses, so feel free to check out their website.
Popular educational subscription service Skillshare offers materials relating to graphic design, web design, design software, and many other relevant topics.
If you’re curious about whether there are design-centered social groups in your city or town (there almost definitely are, no matter where you live), then it might be worth checking out the local results on Meetup, a platform that makes it easy for groups with specific interests to get together.
If you’re more into online communities, primoprint put together this great list of design-focused subreddits. Keep in mind that many of the members of these communities won’t be bona fide professionals, just those who appreciate design in various forms.
Lastly, if you’re currently a student in a design program, whether in-person or online-only, one of the absolute best things you can do during this time is to reach out to faculty members and even other students.
Faculty members are often professional designers themselves or experts in design theory. Finding a faculty member who’s happy to talk to you about the field and give advice is incredibly useful.
Of course, professors aren’t obligated to help you out in this way, but chances are you’ll find a mentor this way, which is helpful for anyone getting ready to jump into the workforce.
We sincerely hope that this article has demonstrated the value of getting professional insights into the world of design.
Before we go, another big thank you to Yu Rong for sharing this story with us.