Career Focus: Design

Cerebra Submitted by on the 4th of February 2016

Last month, we celebrated the incredible work done by community managers at Cerebra and across the world. In February, we’re turning our focus to the design team. We’ll look at a case study in which design informed one of our most successful ever projects, we’ll spend some time at the Design Indaba, and hear from some of the best about how this profession can affect all of us and the work we do.

Today, though, we’re addressing those of you who want to become designers. Firstly, you should know that this is one of the toughest and most demanding jobs in any agency. The hours can be long, the briefs can be stressful, and the clients don’t ever know as much as you do. However, that’s also what makes it so incredibly rewarding. Nothing can convey a message or idea as well as an expertly executed design concept.

To become a world-class designer takes time, effort and talent. Below, we’ve listed several attributes, skills, resources and tips that could help you get there.

The top 3 personal attributes you will need

Outside of the obvious professional skills such as knowing how to design (duh), being a team player, and someone who can handle pressure, these are some of the key human skills that every designer needs to offer:

  1. This may seem obvious, but creativity means a lot more than being able to come up with something out of nothing (although that’s a big part of it). Importantly, it also means being able to adapt to various, often very strict requirements and guidelines. Major brands are extremely demanding when it comes to corporate identity rules and a good designer needs to work within these.
  1. Time is a valuable commodity in this industry. Spending too much of it experimenting, changing your mind or pursuing your own interests over those of your client will end up costing the business money. Understanding your brief, your client and your own skills will ensure that you produce top-quality work in the allocated time.
  1. Communication Skills. In design, perhaps more than almost any other creative role, being able to communicate with your team and your client is an incredibly important skill. The reason for this is that few people understand the technical side of design, and often don’t know how to convey their needs to a trained designer. To succeed, you will need to express yourself and understand others without becoming frustrated.

3 ways to learn the skills you need

While being born with the creative gene, having a good eye, and paying attention to detail are key to becoming a designer, there are several core skills you will also need to develop. Trial and error is the best way to learn, but the following options are also worth considering:

  1. Tertiary education. Whether you study a degree in design at university or pursue a course through a private advertising school like Vega, Red & Yellow or AAA, you will receive a solid introduction to the profession. You will be exposed to the theory, case studies and practical work that will build and mould your skills while forming networks that could get your foot in the door at your dream job.
  1. Online courses & tutorials. With technology and trends always changing, it is essential that you keep learning. You could take a short course or two through an online institution or subscribe to some YouTube channels where new software features and design techniques are constantly being showcased.
  1. Internships and mentorships. Many agencies, including Cerebra, offer internships to recent graduates and people looking to kickstart their career in the industry. These programmes offer incredible exposure and give you hands-on experience with the work you’ll be doing. If you’re keen to join Cerebra’s intern programme, keep an eye on our Facebook Page for updates. Beyond that, you should also seek out local experienced designers that inspire you – there’s no harm in asking for a little guidance.

3 online resources you should follow

There are literally thousands of amazing resources that deliver the latest news, information and opportunities to designers. The below are just a small sample recommended by our team:

  1. Sites like the Creative Bloq, Fast Company (also see Fast Co. Design) and Design*Sponge are filled with insightful and inspiring articles about the visual arts, while Graphic Burger and the Creative Market offer awesome resources such as images and fonts. Behance is a social network that allows you to showcase your portfolio and browse and interact with others. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
  1. YouTube channels. Again, there are too many too mention. For a small taste, take a look at Matt Borchert, Teela Cunningham’s Every Tuesday and The Photoshop Surgeon.
  1. As one of our designers pointed out, you really shouldn’t limit yourself to design resources – inspiration can come from anywhere. Stay on the lookout for amazing content, whether it’s a great article about someone inspiring, a tutorial or a completely irrelevant but fascinating video. Always keep learning.

The top 3 things you should read or watch

Design textbooks may be a good way of laying the basic foundations, but they are quickly outdated due to constantly changing technology and trends. It’s your responsibility to keep up, and there are thousands of great and inspiring works out there, but the books and documentaries below are a great start for anyone interested in pursuing a design career:

  1. The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher. Exploring one’s mind is the first step in becoming a great creative in any field. This sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious book tackles the concept of visual intelligence, priming the reader to think critically about design while being an example of brilliant design in and of itself.
  1. 79 Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut. While it’s never enough to rely on one source for inspiration, Bierut is one most respected design writers of our age and should not be overlooked. This collection, spanning decades of essays, asks and answers questions that every designer should be thinking about.
  1. Helvetica, directed by Gary Hustwit. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. Even non-designers were taken in by this incredible documentary. By highlighting the significance of visual culture, Hustwit forces viewers to take a closer look at everything around them. Who knew a simple, clean font could be this fascinating?

The top 3 Cerebra eBooks you should be reading

Cerebra has published a wide range of eBooks covering various topics in our industry. While each eBook is worth reading, some of the most important to designers include:

  1. The Social Identity. One of the hardest parts of creating work for a brand is understanding who that brand actually is. The Social Identity is one of our most popular eBooks ever, and for good reason.
  1. 8 Social Incentives. While our latest eBook doesn’t focus on design, it delves into the fascinating psychological tools available to marketers that can be used to sway consumer decisions. This is invaluable information to anyone in the industry.
  1. The Content Marketing Sacrifice. It is critical to understand the balance between brand relevance and audience, as design plays arguably the most vital role in achieving this.

As you can tell, there is no single rule for becoming a designer, or even becoming one of the greatest. It will always take patience, persistence and talent, but it’s up to you to get there.

If you think you’re already there, and you’d like to join a team of incredibly driven and talented people, then get in touch with Cerebra. We’re always looking for the best, so check out our careers page.