Design & Publishing: 5 Tidbits of Wisdom for Anyone Just Starting Out

I like to believe that I have it all figured out—at least when it comes to design. 


That may not be true,  but as a graphic designer with a publishing initiative, I’ve definitely learned a few things along the way. Graphic design and publishing go hand in hand. When an author writes something, they want it to look appealing and catch the reader’s eye. They look to the heavens and watch as the designer of their dreams descends in a shaft of light to sweep away their writing to the top of the best-seller list.


Well, that’s sort of how it goes. There are so many design opportunities within the realm of publishing that it can be overwhelming to a student who is just trying to figure out where to begin. Let this list be your guide to launching yourself into the vast world of design and publishing. Venture if you dare.


1. Know what you want to do.

Find companies around who are hiring and see what the demand is for. Does a newspaper need someone to help with layout and design? Does a city-wide magazine need help re-branding? Or is there an online newsletter that needs someone with the right touch to spiff up their website? The choices are endless. Designers can also work with publishers to design book covers as well as the interior layout of a book. Knowing what you want to do helps you narrow your choices and specialize your portfolio.


2. Speaking of your portfolio: Curate it for the job you want.

As a new designer, your portfolio is most likely a conglomeration of art made for your high school gallery, some college projects that turned out just okay enough to toss in, and maybe some other projects done in your free time. Make new things based on the job you want to fill. If you are hoping to land a job with a publisher who needs help with their books, fill your portfolio with projects you have done that focused on layout. Posters are also a good option, as they can make great book covers as well. However, if you’re looking to help a company re-brand, showing off your overall design knowledge can be a great boost! Be sure to specifically showcase certain areas, like typography, layout, logo design, and color. It can be beneficial to look up other designers’ online portfolios to see how they present their work. Creative Bloq put together this amazing list of design portfolios you can peruse for inspiration.


3. Network, network, network.

However clichéd it sounds, networking will always be your best friend after high school. Do your absolute best to never burn your bridges. This task alone can be daunting. If you’re anything like me, the very thought of going out and actually talking to other people is scarier than that huge final project that’s worth 40% of your grade, and which you’re supposed to be working on right now. But meeting new people is almost always beneficial and can land you that great job that you might not get otherwise. Even if you aren’t networking in hopes of getting a job from that person, keep up the conversation and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. They may be a great source of knowledge to help you in other aspects of your design-y life.


4. Never stop learning.

This has been one of the most powerful lessons in my life. So I had an assignment to make a cool poster, right? Well, after being taught the basics in class, I found tutorials on how to make awesome text in Illustrator and cool backgrounds in Photoshop. This definitely helped me to be ahead of the game in my classes (and at work) just by being able to take my work the extra mile. Online tutorial sites and YouTube videos are your best friends. This designer’s blog has proven very helpful for me time and time again. There are so many talented people out there to learn from. Take every opportunity you get to increase your skills!


5. Be willing to take on new projects, even if they scare you.

Or even if they don’t, but they just don’t seem interesting to you. In my job, the more projects that I say “yes” to taking on, the more I am expanding my skill set (woo, jump start on #4!). I also learn about what to expect in the industry. Whether it’s a massive project with a tight deadline or a hard-to-please client, it always turns out for the better in the end. And if everything doesn’t go right, learn from your mistakes. However silly or unprofessional you might feel at the end, people are generally forgiving and are willing to work with you to help you achieve your goals next time (especially as a student who is just breaking into the industry). I now know what types of projects I enjoy working on and can best apply my skills to.

(A note: Don’t take on a project if it is just plain above your talent. Know your limits, and if you genuinely can’t do something, don’t be afraid to admit it. However, this gives you something else you can learn how to do on your own — yay tutorials!)

Everybody is different and every job has its own needs. Using these general guidelines has gotten me so much further in the start of my career than I would have been otherwise. Whatever you do, always gather new inspiration and challenge the conventional design rules. They were meant to be broken.


Don’t be afraid to venture into a new workplace and get the job of your dreams. If you’re like me, freelancing sounds very enticing, and knowing how to set up your portfolio as well as making connections in all different fields will get you farther than all the design talent in the world. What good is it if no one knows how talented you are?!


Work hard — and good luck!