Stuff You Didn’t Learn in School

Networking. Client relations. Your duty as a designer. Getting your boss to like you. They don’t teach these things in school because they’re messy, and most folks don’t talk about them because they’re personal.

Design isn’t something you learn in a book, or in four years of school, or in a talk from a design lecture. Now based out of Austin, visiting designer Seth Johnson offered advice to help point you in the right direction when it comes to handling the steep learning curve that is faced by all emerging designers fresh out of school. It ain’t easy, but good advice helps.

Seth presented four main lessons for designers to help their careers once in the field, based off his own experiences and framed around past client work:

It’s your job to tell your clients (or team) what you think they need.

As design becomes an ever-increasingly valued part of business, show your worth to your client (or you team). Design and deliver active learning experiences that people enjoy, not only solving the initially expressed need, but finding the deeper drive behind it to craft something memorable and lasting.

Shut up and listen.

Though there are many lists and articles online talking about how, as designers, we may know better than our clients, don’t forget to be empathetic to your clients and listen to them. They are the experts in their fields; sometimes your client does know best.

Make your own work.

If you don’t have many examples of work to show in your portfolio, make your own work, and don’t be afraid to make it kick-ass. Don’t sit around waiting for an assignment to fall in your lap. Do something that matters to you, that tells your story, and shows that you’re not a robot.

Never be satisfied; always be curious.

Never settle and always be curious. If you aren’t curious, you’re letting yourself be willingly ignorant. Don’t be afraid to reach outside your comfort zone and try new things. Seth stressed that there’s no substitute for getting your feet wet; that the best ways to learn are by trying new things and getting your hands dirty. Though the first few years will most likely be tough and unrelenting, the rewards and lessons to be gained from pushing on are great.

Seth also spoke on his current role at IBM Design working closely with IBM executives, teams, clients, and stakeholders to help them effectively apply a human-centered design approach to all of their offerings. In 2015, his small team directly engaged over 6,000 IBMers — educating them in new design frameworks and methodologies, coaching their teams, connecting with their users, facilitating problem solving, advancing their practice, convincing their clients, and inspiring their leaders.

To learn more about IBM’s design thinking approach, visit here.

About Seth

Seth Johnson is a member of IBM Design’s Education and Activation Team, creating and delivering active learning experiences to IBMers during a new era of design-led innovation within the world’s largest technology company. Prior to IBM, he founded a Minneapolis-based consultancy focused on improving the patient product experience for pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

A recognized leader of the national design community, Seth speaks frequently at universities, businesses, non-profits, and design organizations. He’s held adjunct faculty positions at colleges in Los Angeles and Minneapolis and is president emeritus of the Minnesota chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design. Currently, he serves as an advisor and visiting faculty member of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.

About Take it From Me

Take it From Me is an event series organized by AIGA Boston giving students and emerging professionals the opportunity to interact with established professionals in the design field. This initiative will encourage engagement and discussion through a range of events — including workshops, panel discussions, roundtables, lectures, networking events, studio tours, online activities, etc. — that address different aspects of the design discipline.

These events will provide newer designers the opportunity to ask questions, seek advice, and participate in career development focused activities, while giving established designers the opportunity to support the emerging design community. The Take it From Me series will create a structure that is self-perpetuating, providing tools and support for younger designers to develop rewarding careers and become tomorrow’s leaders.

Special Thanks

This #TiFM event presented in partnership with Lesley University College of Art and Design.

Nick Di Stefano