Where the design community meets.
Get ready, this is a long comment. I got sort of carried away, but I hope some of my rambling helps you. Please excuse any typos/grammar errors—this is just far too long to proofread ;)
First of all, don't tell people you're 18. Since this is a pretty good community and I want to help you out, I'll go ahead and be a tiny bit hypocritical here and tell you that I'm 18 as well. When you're doing freelance work, if a potential client sees that you are 18 years old, it can quite feasibly end up being a turnoff for that potential client—regardless of how nice your work is. The excuse many people give for giving their age is that it makes them feel like a young-gun, an up-and-comer, an impressive person (now please don't think I'm saying this is you—it likely isn't—but a lot of young designers make this mistake). That doesn't work. Just let your work speak for itself, do your best, try to be nice to people (even when they are complete assholes to you), and hustle like hell. You'll get far in your career that way.
Ok, on to the next thing. Branding isn't just a visual identity, or your portfolio, or even just what people think of you. It's a combination of all those things, as well as every interaction you have online and in person, and how you treat people and respond to problems between you and your customers. A large portion of a personal brand is built upon your ethics, your personality, and the way you interact with the industry and your customers (in the corporate branding world, this is called corporate social responsibility—but in this case let's just call it personal social responsibility). Be friendly when you're writing copy in your portfolio—add some personality and don't try to be overtly professional in the way you speak and present yourself. Professionalism will get you far in life, but personality and charisma can get you that client that makes your career. Treat clients the way you'd want to be treated. This seems obvious, but it's something many designers forget to put into practice.
Next I'd say do what Pasquale said (he's a cool guy so heed his advice—I've never met him or really interacted with him but he knows his stuff and he's respected in the industry) and find what you're good at, then make it a point to show people that thing. As a rule of thumb, the work you showcase is the work you'll get. If you show art in your portfolio, you'll get client who want art. If you show paper planes in your portfolio you may not get many clients, but the ones you do get will ask for paper planes. Show people what you're good at, even if you don't have a lot of that work. Don't just show work for the sake of having a larger, more expansive portfolio. But don't only show people what you're "good" at; show people what you love to do as well. If you are insanely passionate about paper planes, put some damn paper planes in your portfolio, or blog about paper planes, or just send paper planes to people you admire and see if they take notice of you. Passion is infectious, and it is very noticeable.
The last thing I'll leave you with is that you should make sure to put yourself out there. I forget where this quote is from, but a designer said in an interview or something a couple years back that you need to "show up every day". Keep showing up. Every single day you have to hustle like hell and make sure people know that you exist, that you're out there in the world. That you're doing what you love, and you want to help other people by doing whatever that is. Post some blog posts—they don't have to be long think-pieces or even related to design—just post some cool stuff that you like and share it with people who also like that stuff. Make sure you network with other young designers—they are going to be your peers for your entire career so it's important to start these relationships early on. Feel free to email me any time.
Basically, just put yourself out there in the world; show people what you're good at and what you love to do, that you're passionate; be responsible, ethical, and kind; and be charismatic, make sure people know that you're a person, not just another business.
Comments like this are the reason I stick around DN.
I actually abandoned DN for over a year because I couldn't post or comment without being ridiculed or insulted by someone. But with the change in ownership and the new community guidelines, it felt like the right time to come back and try to get involved. If I'm good at something and I can help someone out, I may as well share what I know.
I think I'll stick around here for a while this time ;)
:) ...and we're quite glad to have you back!
Devin, you've got no idea how much this means to me. You're an incredible human and your advice will no doubt be helpful, to not only me, but many others starting out. Thank you again, and please never stop being awesome.
Glad I could help!
Great reply. I started back when I was 16 and while it was "cool" to tell people my age, it was a little braggadocios and also hurt me when acquiring clients. Once I started pretending to be older, people were much more likely to accept me (and that included not telling people my age unless they asked).
I think most people who start out at a young age run into these issues. I know I definitely did, and it got me into a lot of trouble because I thought I knew best (spoiler alert: I definitely did not know best). I started similarly when I was about 15 (so, granted, I only have three years of professional experience), and stopped using my age as an excuse/bragging point after a year of failing to get clients and struggling with ageism—which is another problem in our industry, but I won't get into that here. Like you, once I stopped publicly advertising my age, I started getting clients, job offers, internships, the works.
I guess the moral of this story is to stay humble (even though if you're young and talented and passionate, that can be a hard thing to do). Some of the best and most talented people I know are also the most humble.
(Also: props on using the word braggadocios in your reply. Good word!)
Just registered to say this helped me a lot! Yes, I was doing the mistake of revealing my age, and your article stopped me from doing that! I'm 18 as well. By the way, I don't have a portfolio right now. I've worked in a start-up (actually it's bad start-up organized by people with money who don't know the project management) and they forced me to make websites within 5 days or a week. I knew it wasn't a good timing to develop the quality prioritized websites but they bragged me into doing them, which results the quality of the website to be very bad (very very bad). I quit from them. As I'm not even satisfied with the websites I've made, I created my own website which includes a warming header, my brief bio, my design approach, my skills and my contact information. Is that enough based on your experience? Or what shall I do to increase the demand of a client wanting to hire me?
I'm glad I could help you out, Kaung! I went through the same phase of revealing my age all over the place a couple years ago and then I was so frustrated when I couldn't get clients or work to build a portfolio. Then I realized a few things, and hopefully my realizations can help you as well:
1) Forget about your age. Yes, if you're young and very talented, people will take notice and you'll feel great about yourself when they do. But your age is holding you back. Ageism in our industry is a pretty big problem (we need to fix sexism and racism and every other major problem before we can turn our attention to this, though), but you don't have to let it drag you down. Act like you're 26 years old and you've worked great jobs. Act like you know what you're talking about, even if you're not an expert yet.
2) Make stuff for yourself. Experiment. If you find something you like but you think it can be better, do a little case study about how you'd make it better. Work on side projects. Just do what you do best. That'll get you noticed.
3) Network with other people inside and outside of our industry. That's just about the only sure-fire way to get noticed. Talk to the people you admire in our industry and keep talking to them. Eventually they might look at your profile, click through to your site, maybe they'll like your work, and maybe they'll turn into a valuable connection.
4) Just keep iterating on your portfolio, keep doing work for yourself, keep experimenting and posting your findings. The bulk of your portfolio will come along more naturally after you do this, because potential clients will take notice.
Hope this was helpful for you! If you have any other questions, I'll keep my eye on this post today.
"Show up every day". That. There. Put yourself out -write, create things, get known.
This is the most helpful thing I have ever read on Designer News.
Hah, I'm glad you think so! :)
This thread makes me so happy I came back to DN. It can be a great community when everyone comes together to make things better instead of creating more friction.
Yeah! Seeing stuff like this makes me want to get more involved in the community.
I appreciate this long comment. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of revealing my age, and now I'm debating on removing it from my site, even though I'm not really looking for clients. Like you said, I experiment and build my own things. I just wanted to be honest with people, not seem like a big-shot.
Even if your intentions are good, sometimes being completely honest isn't the best approach. Not all young designers who give out their age are trying to brag, but many surely do.
My advice would be to remove it, because being that young in our industry usually does nothing but hold you back until you decide not to let it be a factor in your professional life.
I can definitely relate. I'm 18 years old, and working at a large software company (~400 employees), and have worked my way up over time. I started here as an intern when I was 16, and at 18 was hired in full-time.
All of that was really great advice, and totally accurate. Well done, Devin.
Where the design community meets.
Designer News is a large, global community of people working or interested in design and technology.