Ask DN: How to begin a career in design?

almost 8 years ago from , Designer & Front-end Developer

I'm still in high school but I'm interested in a career in design (primarily UX/UI design but that is flexible). I've made websites for clients and done free work for friends and family for experience. I love to make good shit. I'm also from Melbourne, Australia and 17 years old.


  • Do I need to go to university for design? Did you go?
  • Where did you get your start as a designer?
  • Should I start as a freelancer or join an agency?
  • Should I find a mentor or get an internship?
  • Is design the best career path in your opinion?
  • What other work would be more fulfilling?

My Work


  • Philip WeberPhilip Weber, almost 8 years ago

    Welcome to the design industry!

    Things to research

    I’d recommend focusing on the underlying concepts behind design and the design process. It’s tempting to dive into learning specific tools or making things that are just visually interesting.

    Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles for Good Design have really stood the test of time, and I think the books Universal Principles of Design and The Design of Everyday Things are amazing if you haven’t read them.

    Design school

    Design school was really helpful for me because they guided us through applying the design process to a wide variety of projects. Showing other designers your work, getting feedback, making it better, repeat. If you skip design school, finding a mentor would be crucial.

    Design career

    I love working in design. It’s quite possible to find work that is fulfilling and pays you a respectable wage.

    Agency, freelance, in-house

    Agencies will work you quite hard, but it’s good way for young designers to get a lot of experience under their belt. Freelancing is running a business instead of just working for one. It’s for people that are more entrepreneurial at heart, and you end up spending a great deal of time on things that are not design. Another option for a UX designer is joining an “in-house” design team at company that builds software products (think Mailchimp, Slack, Google, etc).

    7 points
    • Laurens SpangenbergLaurens Spangenberg, almost 8 years ago

      To add to Philip's points, I'd recommend reading on about design that's outside your field, meaning graphic and industrial design, as well as reading on some of the old masters: Dieter Rams, Kenya Hara, Paul Rand, and Massimo Vignelli.

      I'm assuming you're self-taught, and learned UI design from the web. Don't make the mistake that design is only about solving problems and to make something functional. Minimalism is a philosophy, not a fact. Go on to make something wonderful, meaningful, functional. And always question things.

      Design School

      I'm a first year university student that just turned 18. A few designers here have suggested me to not go to university, but that decision is all up to you and the work you want to. That said, I personally find design school useful for myself right now, but your experience might be different.

      1 point
  • Vinay ChilukuriVinay Chilukuri, almost 8 years ago (edited almost 8 years ago )

    Brother, UX and UI are very different. If your 17 year old self wants beauty and inclined to aesthetics, you might be more inclined to UI rather than UX (if I understand correctly).

    I come from a Cognitive Science background and it has helped me immensely as a UX designer but not much in terms of designing gorgeous UI. If it is UX that you are concerned with and not UI/UX, then ask yourself how interested you are in Psychology. If the answer is yes, please take a few classes in a University because User Experience is all about designing for human behaviour.

    If it is only the interface and the aesthetics that you are concerned with, I would still ask you to go to a University because I believe you need to be visually aware and visually literate to aesthetics around you and I think a University kind of provides you the safe haven to experiment and refine your style.

    Design is problem solving at the core. The career path comes later. How inclined one is to the problems around us and wanting to solve them defines the urge to be a designer. Forget the interface. There are a lot of people who cannot use an interface that is designed based on the best practices / great looking aesthetics.

    The question that you will have to ask yourself is: What motivates you? Is it human behaviour or aesthetic beauty or both?

    My 2c. Take whatever works for you. Cheers.

    2 points
  • Helen . Helen . , almost 8 years ago

    Great to see younger people like yourself interested in the Design industry and making an effort to understand more of what's required.

    To answer your questions, I didn't go to University, let alone finish High School. I decided to pursue my dreams of being a HairStylist so I dropped out to work in hairsalons, then stumbled upon UI/UX Design by chance. I was hooked on Starcraft 2 when I was in my late teens so I would dedicate my time to just gaming when I am not working at the hairsalon and my brother told me I was wasting my Life away and took away my Starcraft 2 account, forcing me to learn web design and winning contests on 99designs to improve my skills before I got my account back. The more I got into it, the more I fell in love with UI/UX and changed my career path to be a designer.

    I actually started as a freelance designer from building up working relationships with contest holders and other random forums and was a freelancer for 3 years before working for a Media Agency, then moving onto Lead UI/UX role at a Fitness App company. You should ask yourself if you have the financial means of supporting yourself should you want to be a freelancer, and if you have the determination to become a recluse at times to meet deadlines.

    There are many great ways of learning more. My brother was my mentor, but he had a policy of only checking my work to provide feedback and making me google to find everything else. The internet is your best friend for learning things.

    Is Design the best career path? You can ask everyone that, but everyone have their own view based on their passion and surroundings. What could be the best path to a designer who works at an environment that allows them to be creative isn't automatically applied to a 9 to 5er who has to do bitchwork for the higher ups. In my opinion, I love what I do, so it doesn't feel like work to me :)

    Feel free to reach out if you'd like to chat more about this, and good luck!

    1 point
  • Christoph Hellmuth, almost 8 years ago

    For getting to know the basics and learning in a quick pace I can highly recommend a online course like https://www.bloc.io (the deeper experience where you will learn everything you will need in your future job and can explore if UI or UX / Mobile or Web design is interesting to you) or http://trydesignlab.com/

    1. You can find there easily a mentor. And I at least always help students out even after the course is finished.
    2. You get a structured overview over the digital design field with hands on projects.
    3. You get your first portfolio pieces together and get also to make your own portfolio site as part of bloc.io

    In my opinion, after 45 mentored students on both platforms, it is really the best way to get started for beginners.

    If you need more help: A.) I can offer you a 15 -30 min Skype call, where I can give you some free guidance. B.) I also do private mentorships because I enjoy helping people getting started and avoiding all the mistakes I made in my 7 year design career

    1 point
  • baked potatobaked potato, almost 8 years ago

    In my experience, university, at least in Western Australia, is a terrible waste of time for studying design, but the best possible thing you could do for networking. I never did formally study design; rather, my education has been done entirely at my own pace and in my own way.

    I got my start through a job posting for someone to make business cards. It was the worst job I've ever taken on, but a hell of a lesson was learned from it. I've since been freelancing on the side of my day job.

    Anyway, I'd like to share some resources for you: If you can afford it, sign up for AGDA. The network there may be able to help you, however UI work would make you something of an outlier. Perhaps a stint at a Startup Weekend event may help you out. Subscribe to Aus Design Radio. It's a lovely podcast. Same for For The People. Both are by guys in Sydney.

    1 point
  • James Taylor, almost 8 years ago (edited almost 8 years ago )

    G'day from another Aussie in Sydney!

    1) Not necessarily, but it shows commitment to something and might teach you the theory of why, instead of just creating pretty stuff. I did go to uni, studied Industrial Design @ UTS.

    2) Worked as an industrial designer in house, transitioned into a user experience role and here I am now a few years down the line.

    3) Freelancing is great, but you'll learn so much more working with others more experienced than you (I certainly did, and still do!)

    4) Definitely find a strong mentor (either where you work, or someone you aspire to be and can meet regularly to talk goals etc.)

    5) I love it. It pays excellently, I create cool stuff and work with awesome people.

    6) You could look into development too I guess?

    Give me a shout if you wanna chat more.

    1 point
  • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, almost 8 years ago

    Didn't go to university, hasn't really hindered me. I did however do a vocational course (City & Guilds graphic communication in the uk, not sure if there's an equivalent in oz) part time, that helped a lot!

    First design job was in a technical publication department of a manufacturing firm. Weird route in but I got a lot of experience.

    Didn't join an agency until I was five years in; I worked in house at various companies, that experience was invaluable as I learnt a lot about my craft and also the culture of business.

    With all of my roles I had people I looked up to, directly and indirectly associated with design. They all helped shapes me into the designer I am today.

    Design is an amazing field to work in, you get to solve problems, try and meet business needs, think about how people will use / consume your work and on top of all that you get to play with the aesthetic and creative side. I couldn't do anything else and it's a great industry to be part of.

    Whilst there are set routes to get into the industry, there are many other paths you can take. You also don't know where you'll end up, and that is exciting!

    Best of luck and let us all know how you get on

    0 points
  • Martin RamsinMartin Ramsin, almost 8 years ago

    Hi Matthew,

    If you can pay for education: we have great mentors (also in Australia) and a job-ready focused course at CareerFoundry. Any questions just ask right here.

    0 points