How did you become a designer?

“No longer in the mood. I'm doing sausage design now. ”Why it is so incredibly exhausting and nice to be successful as a designer at the moment.

There are trade fairs on the subject of "lifestyle design" and at REWE you can train to become a sausage designer. There are still many unskilled but cheap graphic designers pouring into the market. Oh yes, and customers can now use tools like GIMP to design things themselves if they want. Most of them already have InDesign. And by the way: If you don't know your way around Snapchat and Instagram as a designer, you'll soon be unemployed anyway. So much for the horror scenarios that haunt the industry. And yet there are designers who are very successful right now. I took a closer look at these copies.

There is no one single recipe for success as a designer. But Annika Lyndgrun has found 7 points that all good designers make - and how you can easily imitate them. #designer # self-employment @gudrunwegener

The bad news first: There is no silver bullet like "The 10 hottest tips to be successful as a designer now". Our job has become so divided that it is impossible to keep up to date with the latest developments in every design discipline. And yes, the path of the designer was sometimes less strenuous. “The” designer no longer exists. Full stop.

And now the good news: The path has become more exciting! There is no longer one designer biography, you can have several. Simultaneously or one after the other. Anyone who is a trained children's book illustrator is now also a lettering professional for system catering. Those who studied industrial design now advise companies on product development. The knowledge about this has never been as accessible as it is today and yet some colleagues are simply carried away by this wave of change and have to give up the profession of designer.

I took a closer look at the designers in my environment. I wanted to know what the really successful ones do differently among them. After some thought, inquiries and research, I noticed the following points from my colleagues, from which I will cut a slice for myself.

1. Successful designers stay open-minded and curious

Probably the clearest observation I've made: Successful designers always approach new developments with openness and a certain basic optimism. It seems as if they have a kind of constant curiosity about everything and everyone. For example, they attend events on the subject of Instagram marketing, even though they are anything but a “digital native” in terms of age. This enables them to objectively decide whether and in what form this new topic could be of interest to them. Even if you decide not to include the new topic in your portfolio, you can say something about it if a customer asks you about it. Or they team up with younger designers who have mastered the topic.

To do: Make a conscious decision to choose an event or webinar on a design topic that you haven't had anything to do with before, but that you find interesting. Determine how often you want to visit such events, e.g. once a month.

Tip: Good sources for events are XING or Eventbrite. I have had very good experiences with Skillshare for webinars.

2. Successful designers like what others do

I've had networking evenings behind me that turned out to be real “chicken clubs”. There was joke and blasphemy. On the contrary, the good colleagues always talked about how great they found someone or which colleague's project they found very exciting at the moment. That has to do with this basic curiosity. Through this positive exchange, you always stay informed and learn new things. Often they even used the exchange to get feedback from a design colleague on their own work. A good countermeasure against the creative “lice” that threatens if you always work alone.

To do: Set up a regular time for exchanges with colleagues, e.g. one hour per week. This can also be phone calls or Skype interviews.

3. Successful designers have a clear positioning

I know a design office that has developed its own design language. You look at a poster or a website and think to yourself, "I'm sure they did that again". Another example: I am known among my customers for unconventional, pleasant and very open communication. That's why there are always fresh flowers and my customer's favorite cake on the conference table when he comes to visit. Sometimes even "Alfie", my office cat, is there.

To do: What are you known for What do you do differently from others? Once you have found this "quirk," cultivate it. (And live with it if some don't like it.)

4. Successful designers have a clear technical or technical specialization

I know a very successful colleague who specializes in paper engineering. For example, he implements the complicated mechanics of pop-up books. He is known like a sore thumb in the publishing world. As you can see, this very successful specialization is much more sharply defined than when you say you are a print designer.

On the other hand, I myself have concentrated on my conceptual strengths: I like strategy, target group work, design systems and cross-media work. My professional specialization is therefore corporate design.

What you need to know: Every decision - no matter which one - has consequences. With the paper designer path, you can work alone and the design work is handcrafted. You need a team on the path I've taken. So either permanent employees or freelancers, who in turn are specialists. My everyday life has a lot to do with personnel, accounting and planning. As a designer, I only work on the design concept; the individual media are designed by others.

To do: Think about which path is best for you in the long term. Do you want to become a typography specialist for EPUBs? Then attend appropriate training courses. Would you prefer to work on larger overall projects? Then think about who you would like to work with in the long term.

5. Successful designers know their target customers

And mostly know where to find them. For example, a colleague of mine is a lone fighter who specializes in UX / UI design. I always see him more on design networks, because that's where he meets the agencies he wants to work for. On the other hand, I tend to go to trade fairs and events where I meet executives from medium-sized manufacturing companies.

That also means that I have to know something about the customer's world. In the B2B area, I should know the most important manufacturers in the industry. If I sell jewelry, I should be able to guess which fashion brands surround my customers. Here, too, the basic curiosity that I find so typical of successful designers helps.

To do: Think about which customers you can help with your offer and define age, occupation and position, marital status ... as much as possible about these people. Then research events, but also offline platforms where you can meet your customers.

6. Successful designers know exactly which customer problem they are solving

The graphics amateurs or the free online tools usually solve superficial problems such as “I need a simple landing page quickly” or “Shit, I don't have any business cards for next week”. Successful designers, on the other hand, know what real added value they provide. You can also get to the point in a conversation with one sentence.

For example, with a suitable corporate design, we ensure that our customers' preferred customers feel attracted to it. A designer who specializes in forms ensures shorter processing times in the offices.

To do: Formulate in one sentence what the real added value of your work is. Is it about saving time or does your customer have a clear head for other things through you? Are you a fashion or jewelry designer? Then describe the feeling of someone wearing your pieces.

7. Successful designers seriously care about customers and their problems

Also a point that a customer does not get so quickly with instant solutions from the Internet. A successful designer delves deep into the customer's world. He tries out the product he is supposed to promote or takes part in a factory tour. In this way he recognizes the actual need or comes up with design solutions that are much better than those originally assumed.

To do: Think about what you can actually do to understand your customer or his product even better. Maybe you will become a test buyer or go through the entire ordering process of a user online.

Tip: In this way you will find many things that you can do for your customer in addition to the actual order. Write these things down on a list and address them after the job has been successfully completed. The vast majority of customers look forward to service providers who keep a keen eye and think for themselves. And you can turn it into a new assignment.


You see that the things that I have observed here are less of a tool or a piece of knowledge. The successful designers are more characterized by a certain attitude towards themselves, the customer and their own profession. It would of course be easier to attend a course on Facebook marketing and - zack - you are fit again for the world out there.

Constant reflection, on the other hand, is quite a strenuous journey. And it's the nicer one too.

The article was last updated in October 2018.
Photo credit cover picture: rawpixel // Unsplash

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