How I Gained Respect as a Designer

With each week that goes by I’m always excited about sharing my experiences with you and this week’s lesson is no different. Gaining respect as a designer is very important when it comes to reaching your goals as a designer. Without the respect and support from others, you not only run the risk of simply falling through the cracks, but it can leave you feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

This week I’m thrilled to share with you a few tips to help you gain respect from your peers and clients. By earning and staying respected, you’ll be able to stay relevant for years to come. I hope that once you read this lesson you’ll have the motivation and confidence to continue to push forth and reach your goals as a designer.

My Experience:

“Nobody will ever take you serious until you hit your thirties.” “Whatever you do, please don’t try to create your own business until you are at least five years out of college.” “I think you have the skills, but don’t you think you may be a bit young?” Believe it or not, these are quotes from actual conversations that I’ve had with peers and teachers early on in my career. I’ll admit it. Hearing this type of career advice so early on was a bit eye opening. However, I tried not to let it affect me too much, but deep down I sort of believed it.

The truth is, when I graduated from college I had no desire to start a business, write blogs, build communities or educate. I really just wanted to design and focus on my craft. I figured my portfolio would pave the way for me for years to come. It turns out I was wrong. In order to gain the respect from my peers and the industry, I needed a bit more than just a great portfolio. I needed to give them all a reason to respect me. Let me be clear, it is not like I woke up one day with an epiphany around this, but when I look back on my career, it’s evident you can’t just rely on your portfolio alone to get you places.

When I think about my journey, I’m really proud of my accomplishments. I graduated the same way as most designers. I had a portfolio full of student work, a resume with an internship and a dream to become more. Today I can stand proud and say I’ve done more than I thought I would  in such a small time (at the time of this writing I'm not even 30). Now I’m not writing this to brag. I simply want to paint the picture that I too had doubters and my own obstacles to overcome along the way.  Although I may not have liked hearing those words years ago, I respected them and used them to motivate me to achieve many of my goals. Those words taught me that I had to actually work hard in order to make things happen. I could not just rely on my craft. I had to prove that I deserved the respect of others.

What I’ve Learned about Gaining Respect:

You need to add real value: The best way to gain respect in the industry is by adding real value. Always create your best work and own it. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Timeless design will always win out over a trend. If you’re not being true to yourself, it will show. Designers and clients will respect you when you deserve it. If you have work that is pretty vanilla, you’ll get the same in return. If your work offers true value and is polished, you’ll earn their respect.

Be sure to stay educated: Nobody knows everything and school can only teach you so much. By staying open minded to new ideas and others’ insights you will gain respect from your peers. By wanting to stay educated it shows that you are eager to improve on yourself. Everyone likes to surround themselves with hard workers who want to achieve great things.

Don’t sell yourself short: As you’ve learned from my experience, age doesn't matter. Don’t sell yourself short. Yes, you may be young, or you may be trying something new as a designer, but you should still be confident in your abilities. Experience is great, but sometimes what you don’t know can be a great gift. If you’re eager to learn you’ll be able to fill in the gaps pretty quickly. Think about how much opportunity awaits you and go get it!

Always try to do the right thing: You’re not perfect. Nobody is. So if you make a mistake own it and expect your blame. We’re all human. If you want to be respected, respect others in the process. Your time is valuable and so is everyone else's. Always try to be dependable and respectful of others’ time. Yes, your portfolio is important, but your character is far more important. If you can’t be trusted or you’re simply not reliable, nobody will respect you and why should they?

Give back to others: It is important to be a team player and to give back whenever you can. Never hesitate to share your knowledge with other designers, it is simply how we all learn. Don’t just take, give. If you have a contact that you think can benefit someone, share it. Giving back and staying humble is very important. One way to make things really hard on yourself is to have a bad ego. You didn’t get here alone, so be sure to give credit where credit is due.

Engage with your network: Focusing on your network is a great way to earn respect as a designer. Like I’ve mentioned before, we’re all in this together. Staying connected with your network no matter how big or small gives you great opportunity to build a following of supporters who not only respect you, but are more likely to help you gain respect from their peers as well.

Give us a reason: It’s easy to get stuck focusing on your skills, but sometimes you have to step back and look at the greater picture. What have you done recently to contribute to the greater community of designers and yourself?

My Takeaway:

You may feel like it is impossible to break into the industry or gain any respect as a young designer, but the truth is as long as you are not selfish about your needs and treat others the way you would like to be treated you can gain the respect you are searching for. Most designers are more than happy to help you. We’ve all started off in the same place. We know what it is like. The important thing is to respect yourself first. Have a portfolio that is worthy of our time, be professional, show us your potential, be a hard worker and except challenges along the way.

The great thing about respect is that once you’ve earned it, all you really have to do next is keep it. By keeping the above in mind it’s easily to maintain the respect you need to accomplish your goals. If you continue to be respected, you’ll likely always stay relevant to the industry. If at any point you find yourself struggling to gain respect from the design industry, or find yourself feeling left out, ask yourself: What have you done lately to earn it?

Communication and feedback is important to me, so I’d love to continue the conversation with you all on Twitter. What was your experience like when you were trying to gain respect from others in the industry?

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