8 ways to succeed as a designer

Sporting the tagline ‘a better world through creativity’, it’s no surprise that Cape Town’s annual creative extravaganza Design Indaba regularly explores how design can make a difference on a global scale.

Last week’s three-day festival certainly didn’t disappoint on that front, and we reported on five ways design can change the world.

On a more personal scale, Design Indaba also has no shortage of insight and inspiration for working designers. Art director Kate Moross closed her motivational talk with some quick-fire tips for design success…

01. Share your work early

Sharing work early avoids any unwelcome surprises later in the design process

“I’m not a dictator: I’m a collaborator,” was Moross’ soundbite of choice when explaining why, for her, it’s essential to get clients involved in the creative process as early as possible so you can shape the outcome together.

It also helps you avoid any unwelcome surprises later in the process. Don’t be precious: work with your clients, not just for them.

02. Hire people, not skills

When you’re picking your team, make sure they’re the type of people you want to hang out with

Moross sent a ripple of laughter through the Design Indaba auditorium when she illustrated her advice for investing in the right people for your studio with a Richard Branson quote: “It’s better to have a hole in your team than an asshole.”

“Make sure you want to hang out with them each day,” she went on, affectionately describing the Studio Moross crew (herself included) as a “bunch of freaks”. 

In short, when you’re spending eight hours a day (or more) with your colleagues, don’t pick them because of their knowledge of Illustrator shortcuts.

Wise words from Mr Branson

03. Create, don’t copy

Having another designer’s work on screen as a reference is a no-no for Moross

Moross draws inspiration from all manner of diverse places (see point six, below), but other designers’ work is very rarely one of them.

“I don’t like people in the studio to have any visual references on their screens, only in their minds,” she smiled, before musing: “I guess that means people with photographic memories can’t work for me.”

04. Fire your clients…

Don’t be a slave to your clients

Linking back to point one, Moross won herself a little cheer from the Design Indaba audience when she insisted that life is too short to be working with difficult people who refuse to collaborate.

In practice, only you will truly know when that time is right. But the message is simple: Don’t be a slave to your clients.

05. …but don’t burn too many bridges

Great relationships spawn more great relationships

Don’t get too trigger-happy, though. Counterbalancing the advice above is Moross’ insistence that great relationships spawn more great relationships – and she traced a string of jobs back during her talk, following the chain of cause and effect.

“Every job is connected,” she points out. And once you cultivate a strong working relationship, word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful referrals you  can have.

06. Make your own culture

Culture is what you make of it – broaden your mind, and soak up the world around you

“I don’t read magazines. I like taking pictures of drinks cans and going to Disneyland,” chuckles Moross (she visits every year, and finds rollercoasters a great way to de-stress).

What’s the lesson here?  Simple: Broaden your mind, and soak up the world around you. Culture is what you make of it, and the less you rely on the conventional design world, the more original your work will be.

07. Work for good causes

Different types of project are also essential

As well as striking for a healthy work-life balance, Moross insists that it’s also essential to take on different types of projects. 

Her advice? “Do some work for love, some for money, and some for charity.” While most designers balance passion projects with bread-and-butter commercial work, she laments that the third in the list is not as common as it should be.

08. Be yourself

Refusal to conform makes you unique

Moross spent the first section of her Design Indaba talk discussing how she doesn’t confirm to a world of binary classifications – she is proudly gender-fluid and “lives life in the middle”.

Refusal to conform makes you unique, and uniqueness – mixed with talent – is a potent combination for anyone in a crowded creative market. The message here is simple, but all too easily forgotten: be yourself.

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