A Grant-O-Man Guide to Self-Taught Design


First of all, I just want to say that I haven't done a lot of writing, and this is purely from my own experience as a designer. However, I think my journey as a self-taught designer and artist can speak to those in similar situation— someone who went to a liberal arts college with limited curriculum focused on design or diverse fine art practices, but is still passionate about the design and art field. I want to tell you how I come about understanding more and more what I want to do professionally as someone currently working in the design and art field. And again, this is from my personal experience.

A Little Bit About Me

I graduated from University of California Berkeley as a Cognitive Science major and an Art Practice minor in 2015. I am currently working at a Marketing and Design Consulting startup called Edison's Co after working at a few other startups and UC Berkeley as a graphic designer. I also freelance for fun on the side to further my practice.

Where My Journey Started

I'd never had imagine myself becoming a designer prior to college. It wasn't until the second semester when I was looking for my first part time job did I realize that it is a possibility for me. Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I stumbled upon Rescomp's open position for Publication Designer. Intrigued by the creativity-filled job description, I was inspired to make creativity a main part of whatever career I end up with. That was the first moment when I ever lay my hands on Adobe illustrator, which surprisingly became the most used tool in my current career. Even though I did not get the position at Rescomp at the time, I eventually ended up working at Cal Dining as a Graphic Design Lead after two years of jumping around student orgs including Daily Cal, Science of Wellness, Berkeley Project where I did graphic design and Shengkee Bakery where I worked as a cashier.

When My Design Journey became serious

It wasn't until my Junior did I really see myself becoming a professional designer. As I also gotten a chance to work at a social media startup, Sobrr, the summer before my Senior year, I get to experience a different realm — the tech industry, through which I start to learn about how the tech world operates, and where I started to diversify my practice and learning more skills on my own.

The following points are the recent getaways/mental note I have with regards to where my career is taking me:

1. Slowly figure out exactly, very specifically what you want to do in one sentence even if it's going to change

Now, this may sounds a little bit too extreme when you first hear this, since the 21st century millennials might be used to hearing "don't limit yourself", "explore while you can", which are in fact, all great tips. What I am really suggesting here is that what you want to do should not just be "I want to do graphic design", "I want to do UIUX" etc, etc. What I am talking about is really figuring out for yourself something much deeper like "I want to make technology accessible to everyone", "I want to help small business achieve their dreams", "I want to help out the community I belong to", or "I want to bridge the gap between the poor and the wealthy". The difference between the two is that the former only talks about skills but doesn't describe a purpose like the second one. Now you may say, "you don't have to focus on one purpose, do you?", and of course, you don't—since just like any other thing, it may always change. However, as a designer/freelancer in the business world, you will have a much easier time getting your feet around connecting with people and truly finding something that you like to do if you are clear with your "professional purpose" when you face new people. You will also find it much easier to do what you do and not feeling like you are confined to one task or one skill. For instance, if my professional purpose is to "bridge the gap between the poor and the wealthy", I may be working in a non-profit as a content designer, photographer, or videographer, or in a for-profit organization that aims to battle the pricing market by overseeing the whole online production line as a web designer. It doesn't matter what specific skills you use, but it matters that they match your purpose and that you feel a sense of fulfillment working towards it.

2. Use resources around you

Having to sign up for classes and spend the large amount of money always seems like a big commitment to me. While classes are definitely a place to get professional assistance and guidance, there are many other ways to enrich your knowledge-thirsting soul. For me, one of them is to invest in design and concept books from the bookstore— whatever that you enjoy looking at the most (or even reading). Look it up online, and buy it on Amazon (because it IS cheaper) and look at it once in a while as it will surely help you with your creativity at your "darkest" moments. Hopefully in the near future, I will be writing up reviews of books that I find helpful for me as a designer. This is particularly useful if you, like me, started out your design career relatively later in your college career.

3. Keep searching for new opportunity, but don't forget to do best at what you're given

Design trend changes every year; new challenges are presented at new position all the time. Especially when you have the privilege to do so, make sure that you always think about how you can take your career to the next level— how you can transform your duty lists as a response to what the world demands. At the same time, don't fall into the trap of feeling like you always have to do something different and new. Often time, doing what you do best is the most efficient way to contribute to the society.

4. Scrap Paper Is Your Best Friend Great ideas comes and goes, make sure you always have a pen and paper (or any electronic devices) nearby when ideas hit you. For me that's often during shower, which is deemed a little inconvenient since it's not quite feasible to put a pen and paper in a shower (yeah, who would've known). However, the point is the importance to seizing those moments of enlightenment and transcribe them onto paper as soon as you can.

P.S. The header photo is taken at my makeshift studio aka my apartment room aka the basement. That is all for now. I will make more of these posts when inspirations come. I will also try to post more regularly as a way to document my design journey with you all. Thank you for reading! Follow me on Instagram.

#art #design #photoshoot #knowledge #selftaught #designer #guide #advice #freelancing

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