is branding & business visioning
for creative entrepreneurs.

Along with speaking to our people about branding and finding your niche I’ve also been making my way around the local universities. A pattern I’m noticing across the board with senior design students is that they’re all freaking out about transitioning into the real world. Their professors are sharing horror stories about botched print jobs coming out of their paychecks, 80-hour work weeks and painful due-paying to be had. I’ve got a lot of compassion for these kids - because it wasn’t that long ago (was it really 8 years ago?!) that I was in the same boat.

Braid Speaking to Students

So here’s some advice I’ve been sharing with students lately:

1. Be nice. It’s kind of a given that students right out of school aren’t going to have the best design skills. You’re being hired based on potential and personality. So be nice.

2. Be consistent. Now as I review student work I’m not necessarily looking at the work itself but how the portfolio is put together. Are all the boards trimmed nicely? Is the work presented in a consistent manner? Are the creative rationales well designed? The way a portfolio is put together says a lot about the designer.

3. Typography. Typography. Typography. At my design school there was a heavy emphasis on typography. Before we touched a computer we spent semesters drawing type with pen and ink. I feel like many students treat type as an afterthought - rather than crafting a piece of copy it’s as if they just haphazardly hammer it out on their keyboard - and it makes me sad.

4. Don’t default to black. It’s an epidemic. I feel like every student uses the color black as a default - especially when it comes to typography (see #4). I’m not saying black is bad - but be intentional about your color palettes.

5. Design students get jobs. It was my college friends who were English, sociology and psychology majors that were waiting tables and working at record stores.

6. These days it’s not about just having great ideas. These days you have to be a triple threat. You have to be able to wear at least 3 of the following hats to be hireable: design, write, communicate, coordinate, code, craft, illustrate, and ideate.  

7. You have more to learn. Elsewhere. I remember upon graduating a lot of my classmates started talking about grad school or freelancing. But trust. You have more to learn - outside of a school setting. Get a job. Get a mentor. Work hard and keep learning.

Our part-time graphic designer Kristin shared what she learned about being a design student over on my blog here. And if you're currently a design student or wanting to learn more check out Larry Hefner's blog here for lots of practical tips.

Do you have advice to add for design students? Let us know over on our Facebook.


Last week Tara and I shared our inspiration boards with you and how we reveal them along the way on our projects, way before they are complete. Lots of designers and creators want you to pay no mind to the man behind the curtain, but we like being transparent about what influences us. And what influences us could be anything from other design trends to interiors to fashion to photography. So that opens up another conversation about inspiration-gathering. Though we’ve spent years and years honing our craft, our creative process doesn’t exist in a vacuum and we are inspired by outside trends.  But when does inspiration cross the line into imitation and how do you avoid it?

We have worked with a lot of students and new designers who have a hard time finding the balance between inspiration, imitation, and their level of taste vs. their skills. Here is our advice to them. But mind you, if you’ve been working for years as an inhouse creative where you have to go out and hunt and kill your own inspiration, or even in an agency where perhaps imitation is a big no-no and a constant worry – these tips might help as well:

1. What do you like?
From color combinations your obsessed with to artists and authors you admire - it’s important to identify what you like. (We think Pinterest is a great tool for gathering these things.)

2. Why do you like them?
Once you figure out what you like determine why. Find common threads and uncover patterns. Stare at a composition of a beautifully designed room or a badass layout design and break it down into it’s elements. Identify the colors, textures, scale, grid and typography and then mentally piece them back together to see how the whole piece was created.

3. Practice by imitating.
We think it’s okay to imitate. I spent a good amount of my time in design school pretending like I was David Carson and Art Chantry. Should you post these pieces in your online portfolio? Probably not. But emulation can be a great way to hone your craft.

4. Find inspiration elsewhere.
When you limit your sources of inspiration you run the risk of becoming a copy cat. You will start to find your style when you diversify your influences. And don’t limit your sources of inspiration to within your industry either.

Mind the Gap: Your Skill Level vs. Your Taste
5. Mind the Gap
Ira Glass, public radio host of This American Life, has this great quote on the creative process for beginners:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you...”  

And that takes us right to the 10,000 hour rule.

6. Practice for 10,000 hours.
I recently read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and had a major “a-ha” moment when he said it takes 10,000 hours to become successful at any given task. A big part of becoming a master at your craft and creating your own style is to practice. If you don’t quit before 10,000 hours you’ll start feeling more comfortable with your craft.

Here are a few other really great reads about inspiration and imitation:
• Jessica Hische has a very articulate post on inspiration vs. imitation - a must read for every student and designer (new and old) out there.
• Becka Robinson at Life As An Artispreneur prefers to shut herself off from outside influences to avoid the risk of unintentional imitation.  
Erin Loechner talks about the fine line between imitation and inspiration on Decor8.

What are your thoughts on inspiration and imitation? Any advice for young designers or students?


Braid Creative & Consulting is branding and business visioning for creative entrepreneurs. The Braid Blog is where we share weekly insights and resources for creatives.

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