As designers, we can sometimes feel lost in our design career and it applies to all of us from Junior to Senior levels. We either have no idea where we are going or get lazy and lost in our comfort zone.
If I've based the advice purely on my self-experience, it'd go like this
Systems over Goals.
Set up systems, constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone, and it'll lead you on a clear path to success. You don't need specific goals since goals are often changing, either due to the environment we live in or the skills we gain along the way.
This's been my path. I didn't have specific short-term goals, I just wanted to be the best designer I can be. I pushed myself to do better with every project and it's always led me to a better place.
However, whenever I give this advice, I see most people looking at me with confusion.
They are looking for a more specific, step-by-step guide. Something more actionable.
I don't want to selfishly advise you only what worked for me. After all, everybody is different. I have seen different approaches that worked for many other designers I interacted with.
One of the most common ones that I have seen success in among others goes as below;
Setting a specific, clear goal
I know! It goes against what I wrote above, however as I said, everybody is different and I'm open to suggesting different solutions as long as I see enough people see success with it.
OK. Then comes the question;
"but Oykun, I don’t know what goal to set!"
There are many reasons for this situation and mindset from a lack of experimentation and reading to networking, observing and more…
There are many ways to discover your goal such as exploring your interests, strengths, and values, as well as gaining experience in different areas of design and experimenting with various design projects to determine what resonates with you the most.
These would be the better ways to discover goals for some, however, these require self-discovery as a designer and it takes time and effort.
Let’s keep it simple for now:
Don’t overcomplicate by trying to find the one and only grand goal and purpose in life. It is too much to take on!
All you need to do is to look at designers you aspire to and reverse engineer their journey.
I will give you a 2 step formula!
Step 1: Make a list of designers you aspire to and choose one.
I need you to be careful with who you are aspiring though. Don't be fooled by the glamorous life they present on social media. Look at their background to see where their experience is coming from, read their writings to see what they are sharing, study them...
Step 2: Research their journey to reverse engineer.
Do they work at a company you are sympathetic to as Senior Product Designers?
If that’s where you see yourself, set your goal for that specific company and role, then start researching what it takes to get a job there!
Let's say this person is a Senior Designer at Apple.
I. Find them on Linkedin, and look at their career journey.
Where did they work? Agency background? Find that agency's website and projects they did.
Find more designers in the same role on Linkedin, and study their journey as well.
Find the similarities.
Place yourself in this roadmap, but do it honestly.
II. Find their work on Dribbble, Behance, and more...
Study their portfolio.
Look at their designs before and after joining that company.
You will start seeing areas you will need to improve.
III. Follow them on social media, subscribe to their newsletter.
Start interacting with them.
Learn from them.
Discover the way they think and approach design, not only what they do, but WHY they do.
Read the books they recommend to get a better understanding of the mindset they have.
IV. Research the interview process for that specific role.
There are countless articles, and YouTube videos you can find that share tips for specific roles.
Consume them, practise them, learn them.
V. Don't be afraid to reach these people to ask direct advice.
But, don't just ask a vague question like "I want a job there, can you help me?"
It is too broad!
Ask direct and simple questions such as "What is 1 thing I should include in my case studies to get an interview at Apple?"
You will be surprised how kind people are.
VI. You see! You are already following a specific direction. You don't seem lost now.
OK here is the catch;
As you accumulate all this knowledge, you have to be disciplined and work hard!
I don't mean missing dinner with your family and working long hours, no! Fewer but quality hours with focus.
Work on your weaknesses. Is it technical skills? Find resources to study and practise. Is it soft skills, same...
If this is the path you are going for, you can also have a look at the Twitter Thread I wrote about interviewing tips
OK, let's test this approach with a different example;
Let's say, you don't like that corporate path and aspire to be a solopreneur.
I. Find solopreneurs who build similar products to your ideal ones.
II. Find out the skills they possess.
III. Spot your weaknesses and study them. Marketing, Coding, Copywriting...
IV. Reach out to them if you need to
V. Keep building your product as you learn
Anything is learnable!
Reverse engineer the good examples!
Again, I would argue that the self-discovery approach would be a more reliable way for some. After all, everybody is different. However, that route takes time, effort, and inner strength... It is a more philosophical approach. I can deep dive into that in another article if you are interested. Not to worry though, you will be getting better at that as you follow the simpler path we deep-dived into here : )
OK! This is the simple way to start exploring your path.
As you see, you can not just sit and expect your goal, your purpose in life to come to you from the blue sky.
You have to look for it.
When you find it, you have to work hard for it.