Three Big Mistakes that Can Make or Break Your Design Career

The name says it all. If you’ve come here, we mean no offense – there’s just a few career killers that we probably all have been guilty of at one point or another. These concepts definitely apply to interface designers, but if you’ve arrived at this post and you aren’t an interface designer, don’t check out yet – there’s probably a few things here you can apply to whatever field you are working in. Also, realize that these are not the only mistakes you can make. So, with that said, let’s get started.

Mistake #1: Waiting

You’ve done countless hours of studying. You’ve visited hundreds of tutorials and spent hours in classes and conferences. You’ve heard, read, and practiced the best practices, and you know Photoshop shortcuts like the back of your hand. You can quote every line of jQuery, and you could reproduce every Flash site on the FWA. You can type 90 words per minute. You know a lot. So, you’ve made a few interfaces, and you’ve posted your stuff online on Behance, Flickr, or even your own online portfolio. This is the important part, ladies and gentlemen: now what?

The mistake most people make is simply sitting back and waiting. Even if your work is top-notch, and you eventually are hired, there is no positive motion that happens as a result of waiting. So, what do you do? Now what? This happens often with freelancers at the beginning of their careers. They get a little bit of work under their belts, and then sit back and wait on customers or employers to come their way; this is one of the worst steps for your career for many reasons. First of all, you are not guaranteed that anything will happen. Secondly, most clients and employers would much rather see someone who is active in their field and informed about the latest aspects of that field than someone who is, essentially, a “has-been.” In most other occupations, a “has-been” is one that is from years past; however, in professional media, a “has-been” can be someone who is just a few months out of the loop. So what are a few ways to stay active in interface design?

  • Do mock jobs
  • Involve yourself in a community of other designers and developers, and offer advice or help.Note: A good way to do this is through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Also, by leaving comments here on the Fuel Network sites! Be sure to follow FYI on Twitter @fuelinterface, and feel free to follow me personally as well @jcutrell
  • Take old designs and improve on them.
  • Work for free (for non-profit companies, friends, etc.)Note: Be sure that working for free will not affect the quality of the product you release!
  • Explore new facets of your occupation, or cross over into another practice to supplement your interface design skills. For instance, try out typeface design or art illustration.

Mistake #2: Ignoring The Garmon Principle

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of The Garmon Principle. Considering it was invented about 30 seconds ago, you’re probably not the only one. Chris Garmon is a good friend of mine that recently sat me down and changed my thinking about all of my professional media work. Garmon isn’t necessarily a design professional, nor could he write more than a line of HTML.

I showed him an interface idea I was working with at the time. I was very excited; it used some jQuery effects and Ajax loading that I had just learned, and the CSS and HTML were both on-spot. It was designed with intentional design theory, and it was ready to have content infused. As I showed him the product, his face disfigured a little bit, and he said, “it’s not really that great.” In the back of my mind, I thought, “Oh yes it is. You have no clue what it took to make this do that, and that do this. And the jQuery is cool, and the black and white theme is really in…” But then I realized, you know… it really isn’t that great. In fact, it’s nothing but a waste of time. Then, Garmon went on to tell me what I have come to know as The Garmon Principle.

The first thing you should do is close your laptop, put away your cool bag of tricks, and think. Think, “What would be the perfect site for this? What would it look like? If there were no boundaries, what is the coolest thing, or the most functional way, to make this happen?” Also think, “What will make this worth existing as much or more than the next guy’s interface?” Once you have decided what the best possible solution would be, figure out how to do it. If there is something in your original idea that just simply isn’t possible, then amend it. “Re-idea,” if you will. But never, ever, EVER sit down and start doing things simply because you know how to do them. Because the truth is, no one really cares how much you know about coding or development. The people who are looking at this site aren’t thinking about what it took to make it, or how many advanced lines of code you wrote. They’re thinking about how it is now, as a whole.

All Garmon was telling me was that the concept is far more important than the method. The function trumps form. It is easy for us, as designers and developers, to get caught up with our practical coding knowledge; but the truth is, it’s not a bunch of little things that make a site good. It is, almost infallibly, one thing. Now, what that one thing is, you have to figure out before you ever type a single line of code or push a single pixel.

Mistake #3: Spreading Too Thin

This is the most often committed mistake in every professional field. Without going into too much detail, we can understand this concept fairly easily. In international trade, different countries trade a limited number of goods that they have the comparative advantage creating. For instance, the United States isn’t nearly as good at producing bananas than a tropical island would be, and the tropical island isn’t at good at producing commercial aircraft as the United States is. Therefore, for a certain number of airplanes, the United States can trade the tropical island for a certain number of bananas. The reason this works well is because each country is doing what it does best, thus being as productive as possible.

The same concept can be applied to people! If you are really great at designing ecommerce or photo gallery sites, then don’t be afraid to focus solely on ecommerce or photo gallery sites. By doing any other kind of interface design, you will be taking away time from the thing you are best at, and therefore you are not being nearly as productive as you could be. This can be detrimental to your career; If you were free to focus on what you do best, you would produce your best possible product.

Note that this doesn’t mean, however, that you completely ignore every other practice surrounding your field. Sometimes, other practices supplement your practice. An example of this, for many designers, is photography. Practicing some in photography will increase your knowledge and understanding of color, 3D space, composition, and many other important concepts that cross over into your practical knowledge of design. The important thing is that you focus mostly or completely on what you are best at.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can be a lot more successful if we avoid these three things. What are some other mistakes you’ve learned from? Comment here, or tell us through Twitter!

 

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