Feeling lost: what am I missing?

Hello, I recently finished studying and I am now looking for a job, but saying I feel lost seems like an understatement.

My situation may be a little different from the usual one: I actually studied a completely different field till I was 25, so I’ve been studying graphic and web design just for a couple of years (I am 27 now). I followed a course which I hoped was fast yet complete, but in the end it was just sloppy and mostly unhelpfull.
I had to learn most things on my own and now when I look at other designers (way younger, more prepared and faster than me) I think I’m still missing soooo much. So I keep studying and studying to keep up with my colleagues. The result? The stress is kind of killing my creativity and I am unable to improve my portfolio. Sure, I am learning new skills, but am I doing the right thing?

I don’t have actual friends in the field and my colleagues are always on their own, that’s one of the main reasons I decided to join this community. I don’t know with whom to talk about these things!
Could someone maybe tell me what I am missing and/or if there is something I should definitely improve or prioritize? My current skills are the following:

  • Photoshop (good knowledge)
  • Illustrator (average knowledge - currently studying)
  • InDesign (average knowledge - currently studying)
  • Fireworks (basic knowledge)
  • HTML5 and CSS3 (good knowledge)
  • I know how to use some Jquery libraries
  • SVG (basics)
  • UX and UI (average knowledge - currently studying)
  • Bootstrap (average knowledge)
  • Wordpress (average knowledge - currently studying)
  • SEO (very basic knowledge)
  • Logo Design (basic knowledge - currently studying)
  • Perspective (basic knowledge - currently studying)

I have no knowledge whatsoever of: history of graphic design, designers, typography, product design, printed products, 3d, motion design, video making or editing, php, mysql, javascript, AdobeXD, After Effects, Invision, e-commerce, color matching, composition, icon design, and I guess I could keep going…

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Get every book about typography - (imho) it‘s the key to graphic design.

also, they Motion and 3D design. Find what you love and stick to it! Doesnt Bean you cant do everything else also, but be an expert at what you love the most.

edit: also, the learning/studying part never ends when you’re working in the design industry.

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There’s a lot going on here to dive into, and I feel for you. It isn’t easy being in the design industry and it certainly isn’t any easier when you start later than most.

One of the most helpful ways this community and other designers can offer you advice is by looking at your portfolio. Do you have a website we could see?

I also think you need to recognize two things:

What can you do?
What do you want to do?

The goal is to have the answers to those questions line up. You want to be able to have the necessary skills and experience to obtain a job related to what you want to do.

Your answers to these questions will change over time as you gain more experience and find new avenues of design that you like.

There was a reply posted earlier about learning typography.
I’m not sure why he removed it. I agree entirely.

I have a passion for typography, analyzing typeface aesthetics, and Typography history.
Mastering the use of type could greatly benefit your career, as well as save you countless hours as a designer. When requires to recreate a piece for a client, or match an existing brand, it helps to be able to take a glance at a piece and say “That’s Adrian Frutiger’s Univers Black” granted, you don’t need to know the creator. But a quick ID on typefaces is ever helpful.

Learn print media, and how to properly set up your design for either digital or offset production.
Unless you plan on exclusively designing for web, there’s a pretty good chance your work is going to be printing in some way.

Otherwise, just keep up with your studies, keep practicing and portfolio building.
Just keep moving. After 13 years at this I realize it’s easy to stop moving. You’re still designing, sure - but you’re not changing and adapting.

Always. Take your meds.

Everyone has meds, right?

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i didn’t really mean to delete it. nevertheless, it was full of typo’s due to autocorrect!

what i basically said was: typography is the key to graphic design.

i absolutely agree with you Biggs!
Stuff that also comes in handy: Knowing which typefaces can be combined, knowing what message and emotions a typeface conveys etc.
Even though researchers claim people do not like to read anymore, we now read more than ever!

Ok. I’m done glorifying typography now. Thank you for your attention. :smiley:

I undeleted it :wink:

I know exactly what you mean and there’s no easy answer. The course you picked did not live up to your expectations, so you learned on your own. That shows a willingness to do what is necessary to learn the skills you need. This is the key. You never stop improving, learning new skills and adapting to new software or situations.

When you look at younger designers you think you’re missing so much? I can guarantee that most designers don’t have the range of skills you have listed (I certainly don’t). There will be things even now that you are better at.

I have been at this 35 years and I have some typefaces that are older than you lolz (I found one today from 1987). I’m still learning. I get better at what I do every day.

Just keep at it - approach each job as a new challenge and look for ways to do things better. And don’t worry about finding people to talk about this stuff with - you are among friends here.

thank you! :slight_smile:

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First of all thanks everybody for the replies and the support!

As someone asked, here you can find some of my portfolio works. Those are all studies, so I did the graphic but not the code. To see something actually live I made this site with wordpress (it was for free, so it’s a zero budget work made with a free theme) and this infographic, where I made both graphic and code.

I think they are “good” works, but I always feel like I am missing something. As you suggested typography is really something I need to get a better grasp on. I like it very much and need to read/study/practice more with it.

What I like most probably goes on the illustration side of things (when I can I also study drawing) and I am starting to really like animated vector graphic. I am studying all the web stuff mostly because of job requirements. I like them too of course, but if I had to pick one it would be something illustration related.

Okay, Ciri, you surprised me. To be perfectly blunt, based on your original post, I figured you probably weren’t that talented. Judging from the links you posted, the opposite is quite true. I’d say you have talent and you’re just lacking in self confidence. You’re ready for prime time.

Don’t worry about “other designers.” Concentrate on yourself.

Figure out what you want to do (work for an ad agency, work in-house, self employment) and chart a course to get there.

Spend time networking with other designers and business owners.

It might help if you can narrow down what you’re most interested in and focus on that.

I particularly enjoyed the restaurant website layouts.
But otherwise I see a lot of cartoons and teddy bears.
I dunnooooo.

I would try to get some more business orientated professional pieces out there.
Maybe some mock pieces for a law firm (for example)
Maybe some magazine or journal/periodical items.
I know these may sound like dated or archaic pieces. But it will show your ability to work with large pieces of typography as well as demonstrate patience and utilitarian design skill-sets

I totally agree with this.

It’s not a matter of memorizing typeface names or being able to identify as many as possible (although it’s nice to be able to do that). Instead, it’s about understanding the spartan, simplicity and clarity in typography. Understanding the subtle balances, curves, rhythms, contrasts and personalities of typography can serve as a foundation upon which the aesthetic part of good design can be built.

I also had the same reaction as Steve. I looked at your work, Ciri, and you show considerable talent.

Based on your first post, however, I do think that you might believe the wrong things and might have possibly embarked on a short course of study that headed you off in the wrong direction.

Design is not about learning software programs, knowing how to code or being able to complete specific tasks. The fundamentals of design have more to do with learning how to see, think, question and solve problems. The things you mentioned are really just tools and techniques that are situationally useful. They can be learned as needed to do the job at hand.

If I were you, I’d dive into those theoretical basics you seemingly missed. Judging from your work, you have the talent, judgment and drive required to succeed at this. I think, perhaps, that you’ve just jumped over some of the essentials and headed straight to learning the tools. If that’s the case, I can understand how you feel a bit lost since you’re not standing on the firmest of foundations. Again, though, from everything I can see, you have the talent and ability to do this.

Okay, so I thought that I was doing alright design wise. I’m still only studying but I’ve made a book full of plans about what I’m going to do portfolio wise, experience wise, and work wise.
When I saw your supposedly “good” work, I was like, “that “good” is better than my “best” will be for a long time…”
Maybe I need to rethink my book full of plans and just mark down “get more like Ciri”…

I have zero coding experience–to be honest, I don’t even know what it does. Should I be doing something about that?

Um, that’s just wrong.

You are all too kind, but I think you misunderstood my first post. I don’t think I suck, I just think that my skills do not keep up with those of my peers, who - at my age - are much more prepared than I am right now. Thus, this run to acquire as many skills as I can, in a good way, and possibly in the shortest ammount of time.

I know this may sound like a crazy task, but I don’t want to be just “a designer”, but a good one. I really care about it and that is why I am so eager to learn and keep up. But I think you are also right, I probably shouldn’t compare myself to others so much :grin:

YES! That is exactly what happened. I have absolutely no theorical basis. Except for the web part, I kind of do everything by instinct. I know of course some really basic rules about matching colours and fonts, but that’s it. I do most things “by ears”, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of theorical basis… any suggestions? I am opened to books, sites, videos, whatever can help me get a better grasp on the subject. I was able to find something online, but I always feel like they just keep saying the basic stuff over and over, without really getting into the details.

I read that The Elements of Typographic Style (by Bringhurst) should be good for typography. People also suggested that I buy The Fundamentals of Graphic Design (by Ambrose and Harris) to cover the most urgent matters. What do you think? Any practical advice?

Not really. Libraries are usually super easy to use and also come with tutorials which basically say “take this string of code and put it there to accomplish this kind of effect”. That doesn’t mean you know how to write Javascript or that you can even read it.
That said, it would of course be preferable to know well what you are using instead of just copy and paste. But you have to start somewhere :slight_smile:

I guess that depends. You use coding to build web pages, so it’s usefull if you want to go into web design or if you want to build your own site. I’ve been told that if I wanted to find a job easily a little bit of coding (and especially the knowledge of CMS like Wordpress) would just help. The job offers I read seem to confirm this statement.

Ciri, I will recommend five books to study in no particular order.

  • The Fundamentals of Graphic Design, Gavin Ambrose, Paul Harris
  • Typographie, Emil Ruder
  • The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst
  • The Vignelli Canon, Massimo Vignelli (free download)
  • Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug

Each book is very different from the others. Some contradict the others. Some were written years ago and will seem outdated (but they’re not). Each is opinionated and will offer differing advice and conflicting viewpoints. Some are simple, practical and easy to read. Some are tedious and dull. Some pertain to specific areas of design, but the principles in them apply to all design. Some things you will disagree with and might always disagree with. Some will, on a first read-through, seem shallow and irrelevant, but their value is deeper than you might realize. Not one is specifically about technical skills, which as I already mentioned, can be learned as needed.

You will learn almost nothing by simply reading through these books; they must be studied instead. You need to pick apart the disagreements, analyze them, understand various points of view, remain critical of it all and, in the end, develop your own viewpoints from what you’ve learned through the varying and often contradictory perspectives of others.

I’ve always hesitated to use the term theory when it comes to design basics and the elements of design because, in addition to design, I come from a physical science background where theory means something different. So theory in the context of design is difficult to define, but it largely boils down to the basic principles of design that involve things like color, rhythm, contrast, proportion, hierarchy, value, hue, balance, etc.

You can easily read about these things in an hour, and they will seem obvious and simplistic, but they really are the fundamentals upon which good design is built. Rather than simply read about these things, they must be intuitively understood, which requires years of practice. A violinist, for example, could tell you most everything there is no know about playing a violin, but no matter how closely you listened, you still would not be able to play it — a violin, like design, requires years of practice, failures, corrections, criticisms, successes and the insights that come from it all.

You mentioned being 27 years old and being behind your peers. This is irrelevant. You are still young (if that makes any difference at all), and everyone at all levels is behind some and ahead of others. The point is to keep learning. I’ve been a designer for 40 years. When I started during my second year of my university education I had never taken an art or design class, and I was woefully behind everyone. I worked harder than most since I needed to catch up, then eventually got ahead of them. There’s no reason you can’t do the same because, as you already know, you have the talent to do so.

You also mentioned doing everything by instinct, as though that’s a bad thing. Good design, in direct contrast to your assumption, relies upon instinct, intuition and common sense. Both the reading materials and everything I’ve mentioned above pertains directly to developing and refining those instincts and critical thinking abilities you already have.

Finally, I’ll mention the Bauhaus. I can’t recommend a single one book about the Bauhaus (well, possibly Tom Wolfe’s highly critical essay titled Bauhaus to Our House), but this German design school that existed between the two world wars is where nearly all fields of modern western design originated and developed. Its influence permeates everyone’s daily lives whether they realize it or not (few do). Read about it and, more importantly, read about the faculty members (all geniuses) and their ideas.

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Build on a solid foundation … and not on the shifting sands of ‘what’s easy’.

When you use a JQuery libraray you and your clients, become dependent … rather than independent by using vanilla JS.

Here’s a great example GitHub:

Just-B thanks for the advice, I am definitely getting my hands on those books. I will also study something about the Bauhaus, it seems really interesting.

As you seemed surprised, I was just explaining why I can use libraries without actually knowing javascript. I was in no way suggesting that’s how professionals should work. I did that only as an exercise, a starting point to actually learn Javascript.
I think this entire topic shows that I’m definitely not going for the easy way :smile:

I feel you. I only realized that I wanted this type of work when I already graduated and spent 5 years in college absolutely nothing related to designing. I love art since I was kid but I was kinda disappointed when my parents didn’t supported me all throughout my passion, but now I’m 23 still pressured, and since I already have the proper knowledge of designing because I taught myself, but learning is second to none. This is cliche but don’t compare your Chapter 1 to others Chapter 10. Sooner or later you’ll get there, just keep on learning. Find good resources, talk to other designers, attend workshops & seminars. We learn and discover things far different that we expected.

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