Not so glamorous

I keep meeting young people with slightly wrong idea on how things work in design industry. The motto “I’d rather be homeless, than work on something I don’t love.” is dangerous and ill-advised.

This is partly (or mostly) our fault. The Internet is full of success stories and even though many of us already discuss our own failures — unfortunately, mostly in a closed circle of trusted friends — it is as equally important to share our general career paths and bits from our everyday life at work. Here’s my attempt.

First things first. The most important concept, far more important than doing what one loves is one’s own survival. You cannot do what you love if your existence is at stake.

There’s a quality of life threshold under which we cannot be professionally happy — no matter what we do. If we’re not able to buy food, secure a home, cover utilities, transportation and medical services, we cannot devote all our time to perfecting Photoshop skills and avoid client projects. Secure money first, then upgrade the repertoire.

Accepting only attractive projects means rejecting jobs that we don’t like doing. For that to happen, a simple condition has to be met — you need more requests coming in than you can accept. Are you at that stage?

Here’s another secret. Every project has its challenges. Every project. In reality, no job goes without a hitch. It’s up to us to learn how to accept difficulties and develop necessary skills to bend, get around and stick to the problem, until it surrenders. Web design is a service industry, not a form of art. The service world is neither perfect nor just. Dealing with it is a part of your job.

Achieve proficiency

  • Focus on one niche field (in the beginning, mine was CSS)
  • Deliver high quality work (even when you’re “not paid” to do it)
  • Be patient and gritty (especially for a first few years)
  • Write (own blog is always the best choice)

My glamourous career

  • 4 years of intense self-education
  • 8 years to founding Creative Nights
  • 10 years till the first international stage appearance
  • 12 years till participating in a book
  • 300+ blog posts and articles (an embarrassingly small number)

My main computer, an SSD equipped 2006 (!) MacBook Pro is idle-less 50+ hours a week. That’s sans workshops, meetings and other off-computer work. I still run Adobe CS3, because I don’t need any of the new features.

I usually check and answer e-mails only twice a day and rarely participate in chats and Skype calls on short notice. However, I’m obsessed with tracking my time. At Creative Nights a typical setup includes RescueTime for gathering stats, I Done This for less formal reports and On The Job for per project tracking. Having all these numbers is gold for project estimates.

The office shelf currently displays 130+ books, magazines and papers on writing, user experience, typography, web standards and general design.

That’s all

I have no secret moves, no shortcuts. All I have is years of experience working with and learning from talented people, an old computer and a shelf full of books.

Happy New Year!

Links of interest

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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