So, I'm 18, new to this world of design and have a small portfolio. Set up my website blakehawksworth.com but know it could be stronger. Any help you could provide me would be endlessly appreciated. Thank you in advance for being the best community in any industry.
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.
If you're actually asking about branding, and not surface-level design nitpicks about type & layout (which I'm sure you'll get plenty of here):
What's positively unique about you? What can you do, that nobody else can do? Leverage that.
I totally agree with Pasquale. Whatever your bread and butter is it should be the center of attention and the rest of the branding should be defined and built around that focal point. From the logo down to the colors and everything else in between.
Thanks Cyrus. I know all the frivolous design things will come after I know who I truly am, but I simply wanted to push something out there and get feedback, like this. Is that a bad trait or should we wait until something is perfect before showing the world?
You're welcome Blake. Well, what I would say to that is to think of your portfolio as a Minimum Viable Product. Is there enough in your portfolio to the point where It's good enough, serves it's purpose and can be built upon later. You should be able to add to it without totally starting over. You'll feel when It's good enough and that feeling will happen more frequently as you progress.
Thank you Pasquale. You're correct, I'm asking at the fundamental branding of 'me' not just my website. I'd like to think my website design will evolve as I evolve as an individual and designer too.
I think perhaps what makes me unique is that I've grown up with a strong interest and experience in very structured industries, finance, business etc. These gave me the skills of rigorous thinking and time management that perhaps art students don't have? I'm clutching at straws, but what's your thoughts on spinning that into my niche?
A background in finance/industry is a huge advantage (I'm speaking as a designer who works almost entirely with Fortune 500s).
On the business side, a lot of decision makers view creatives as wishy-washy, artsy people who don't "get" business. There's a lot of interesting, valuable work to be done on the line between good business and good design.
If you can show business folks that you understand them, you'll set yourself apart from a lot of other designers. They'll respect the rigor you bring to your work, too.
I would first like to say that you clearly have a sensitivity to visual design. I appreciate the tone you're working towards with your portfolio. Now, the irony of the situation is that men at the age of 18 don't tend to take the advice that comes their way. They learn things the hard way. It's the natural order. I'm now 27 and I possess a substantial and ever growing list of things-not-to-do. I recommend to you a healthy dose of humility. The phrase, "through my extensive experience in the business world", screams, "I am full of shit". Much of your writing conveys a similar bravado. Be humble. Be proud of your work, but let it speak for itself. Your portfolio, while demonstrating some of your undeniable talent, feels like the travel blog of a rich kid with more free time than is good for him.
Brian, thank you for your response and advice. I've never aimed to give off an arrogant bravado in my work, writing or personal brand. The fact it may come across like this is nothing but a shock, so thank you for the note. I am a humble teen, the only conceivable reason for being on this very post asking for all of your help. As for travel, that is a huge part of who I am at the moment, trying to see the world and hopefully develop myself as a designer because of it. I accept it should take a backseat role on my portfolio, but it has been funded by me, working undesirable jobs, to get the money to go. Thanks again for your time and advice!
The way you're responding to the feedback you're getting here tells me you're on the right track. Keep it up! One thing I'd like to add is that you should take everything anyone tells you with a grain of salt. No one knows the truths of your life like you do. You can collect all the critique and advice you want, from all the brilliant people in the world, but ultimately you are the one who gets to decide whether or not to listen to it. The people who seem older and wiser than you may have a few experiences you don't, but everyone you know is, for the most part, figuring it out as they go along. You just get better at hiding after a while.
Yo dawg, I applaud you on wanting to stick out. Branding is great for that. But my advice is going to be a bit different because of your age.
Go out and create things. Many things. Beautiful things.
Work with amazing people you can learn from, learn how to take feedback and improve your work. Constantly ask people how you could improve something.
Focus on one or two areas that you want to excel at, don't try to do everything.
Write. Write about your process, write about your day, write about your dog, I don't care, but just learn to articulate your thoughts eloquently through writing.
Take risks, you are 18, do things people normally wouldn't. Bring back skeuomorphism for all I care or grunge design or anything that is not the normal "I designed a flat ui with only icons and a giant image". Design t-shirts. Design hardware, anything but redesigning an existing product to fit your personal aesthetic.
Go to art shows, gallery openings. Mixed media, sculpture, photography, museums, Design can be art if you let it. And stay away from just browsing on dribble all day. Influences can be found in graffiti, Van Gogh and Gehry.
Then after a few years when you have all these amazing projects and great articles and people who respect you because they know you listen and value their feedback you will find you have already created a phenomenal brand which is just you being awesome.
One more thing, on "branding yourself". A brand is more than a logo. A brand is personality, integrity, expectation, etc etc. That is something that is always growing and evolving but something you personally control and direct over time.
I would suggest writing up a core brand values list of who you are, reference it often and expand it over time. If you start to find what you are doing if "off-brand" then realign who you are. Ex. If you always want to deal honestly with clients and set that as who you are, and then some day notice you do something sort of shady like fudging timesheets, then rethink it.
Caleb, thank you for your advice, it really resonates with me since I've recently seen a talk all about generation-z and what age really means. I do agree that age isn't something that should be front and centre on my site and definitely shouldn't be the basis of my brand. Thank you for the idea of core values, I need to do that for sure.
Take this advise from Caleb, it's extremely important. Even if you don't know what you want to specialize in, you can still create a tone and personality with what you are trying to achieve and then build upon that.
Right now, from what it looks like, you're trying to discover that by trying various skills and not limiting yourself. Which is great also, and nothing to be ashamed off. Use that to show all the diverse projects you are working on and show what you learned from each one. Once you discover what your bread and butter is, you can always shift your brand towards it after.
This has been very helpful for me as a 17 year old guy entering university in September.
Thanks for everyone who participated in this thread.
Work hard and keep growing! That's all it really takes.
On another note, I see a lot of young(er) people say things like "I'm # years old..." but I don't really suggest doing this. Not sure what the purpose is, maybe it's like a badge, like hey I'm still young and have already accomplished this much or have these skills. But in my experience, appearing too young makes some people dismiss you or not think you are capable of what they need. And I mean that for clients and employers both.
I speak from experience, I'm 27 but have fought the battle of being the "young guy" at my previous jobs. Which was made worse in that people think I still look like a high school kid (though I've finally beaten that by growing a real beard for the first time in my life).
Word of advice:
Your age literally has nothing to do with your skillset, talent, or ability to do good work. It will only bring you down; don't mention it at all.
Make sure to be ambitious. I like this thread because everyone is telling you to be positive to be happy with your work and remain consistent. Another thing to keep in mind if the ambition of your work. Take one big projects, design well know brands, and most importantly, establish a voice an opinion. If there is one thing we designers like its a well thought out discussion about the craft. In that case it sounds like you are off to a good start!
few things (in addition to the other comments): Try lots of things, find out where your passion and what people need overlap and build you personal brand around that (blog about it, design concepts around that, etc.)
I'm going to go a smidgen against the grain and say that I think it's more important to let your work define you. In time, worry about your brand after you've built up a reputation for quality work and bringing your unique stamp to what you deliver.
A potential big-money client isn't going to care so much about your cool personal logo or pictures of you in sunglasses on the homepage. They're looking for a taste of what you can/will deliver... especially if you're younger and haven't built up your client/professional network yet. To be honest, I think your current site has its priorities wrong... showcase your talent... and THEN tell them who you are with a click in the menu... not the other way around.
Focus on networking. Focus on the deliverables. Let that speak for you. If you're concerned that you don't have enough work to show... reach out to friends, family, friends-of-friends. Take on any small job you can get your hands dirty with!
Good luck man!