How to be a Design Superstar!

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Bono Glasses by killkenny
That’s right everyone just wants to be a Design Superstar? Oh really? No the fact of the matter is, when all else is equal, Superstars get hired, and boring designers don’t. The main difference between the two? The Superstar has the ability to sell his/her brand of design and if you want to be a Superstar, correction, a hired designer, you should seriously consider doing the same.

A designer’s guide to self-branding

Of all the professions out there, I think there is no other one that can benefit from “self-branding” as much as a design professional. That is because it is a profession that is almost solely driven by talent. The equation is very simple, in design it’s not about how many certifications or affiliations you have, but what gets you ahead is the quality of your portfolio as well as your plain raw talent.
Before we go on, you might like to take a look at the basics of “self-branding” or what Tom Peters calls “Brand you“. Smart guy that Tom, he has been talking about it since 1997. Briefly, in a world where the consumer product market is so saturated and most products are essentially the same, the only proven way to get ahead is by branding. Not only just about branding of products but a holistic 360 degree effort including everyone else in the process including the design agencies used to create such products.
Drawing similar branding parallels from the consumer product industry, we are our now well past the new millennium and into a knowledge economy driven by talent. Competition within the talents for the top job is very high, and logically the only way ahead is by the talent branding themselves in some way. You see the crux of the matter is, every single positive influence adds up to putting you ahead and a personal brand is one big factor.

1) Do a SWOT analysis on yourself.

Remember the design methods class you fell asleep in? Well its a pity, especially since no one told you that a SWOT analysis could and should be done on yourself. Just like a company and its ability to generate revenue, I encourage designers to see themselves as a “business entity” that can generate income as well.
Therefore you need to identify your own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities (to apply your strengths) and Threats (to your weakness) as a designer. So that when faced with the question of what are your strengths, you should never have a problem. Finally it is always good to have a short, medium and long term plan for yourself and career. It shows prospective employers what you want to do and that you have a vision for your future.
After you have listed all these points, you now have a list of keywords that can be the bases of creating your own personal brand and brand values.

2) Get a hair cut.

No seriously. I believe you are what you design. Many people get insulted when they are told they need to dress like a “designers” to be taken seriously. They figure that its a rude comment and encroaches in their personal style and space. That is further from the truth. Just like a consumer has only 3 seconds to size up a shelf of products, your prospective employer will size you up in that same amount of time.
In any case its pragmatic. Simply, that first impression is the most important. You will be surprise of the amount of control you have if you understood the stereotypes people associate with designers, and by looking like one you can use that to your advantage. Just don’t turn up for an interview in a beanie.
So carefully use your Strengths you have identified in Point 1 to style your own look. Your hair cut, sense of dressing, your watch (for guys), shoes (guys and gals) are all clues to a picture that you want to paint of yourself. It’s all part of your personal brand and something that should be part of your physical presence when you walk into a room. Remember every single positive point counts.

3) Buy your name as a dot com

I cannot begin to tell you how important this is. Not only for identity protection, but what you want is to turn up at the top of a Google search if a prospective employer or employment agency is doing research on you. As the Internet gets more and more integrated in today’s business world, the chances of you getting Googled is very high. I know I do it all the time.

4) Re-Brand your Portfolio

Now that you have identified your personal brand “keywords” and objectives in your design career, its time to “re-brand” your work. Just like a company’s branding initiative, you need to ensure that the documents you leave behind reflect your personal brand as well. Your portfolio, name card, resume, and perhaps that website design needs to reflect this through and through. This is especially important if you are putting your portfolio online.
On a slightly different but related note, do you then create a personal logo or monogram that reflects this personal brand? Personally, my feeling is don’t do it unless you spend some serious time working on it and that it looks good according to everyone who sees it. Most of the time I find personal logos or monograms very ugly and not well considered. A clear name card with just your name in a suitable font is good enough. But at the end of the day if you decide to create a personal logo, do ensure it reflects your personal brand values.

5) Start a blog

Now that you have a website that show cases your design work why not start a blog? The reaction on this, at this point in time, is mixed. There have been instances that people were fired when employers did not like what was written on their employees blogs. But these cases are rare, and if you keep your blog away from office politics you should be fine.
A great reason for starting a blog is to have your “voice” behind your work. Many times you can’t tell a designer’s personality by just looking at the work. But if you are able to share your thoughts, you will be better positioned as many employers often feel that they just don’t have enough time to determine an employee’s personality during those few interview sessions. Another great reason for a blog, is that it allows you to connect with other designers through the posting of your thoughts and by responding to comments left on your blog.

6) Join design networks

Get out there and market yourself! There are tons of great portfolio networking sites like Behance and Design Related. Just sign up, post your work, make friends, ask and respond to comments. Don’t forget that discussion forums on design are a good way to network with other senior designers as well.
Finally, don’t underestimate traditional non-design social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook as a means to share your work and network with other design professionals.

7) Win design awards

While its not the end of the world if you don’t win any, I always say you have nothing to lose by entering, and winning one gives you eternal fame an glory. Well not entirely eternal, but it is a great marketing tool for yourself and a confidence booster to be able to know that your work has been recognized by your peers.

8) Don’t oversell

At the end of the day, you need to be careful of all your different tools that you can use to sell yourself. The important thing to do is not use the wrong tool for the job and worst still end up by looking like you are overselling yourself. For example, don’t bombard people on your social network with every single job you did in your 15 year history as a designer; leave that for your resume. Don’t stick all your beautiful high resolution images on your portfolio website making it hard to navigate, just leave that to your face to face meeting instead.

9) Do good work!

Always, I say ALWAYS do good design work. Even if you hate your job or your boss or the project, make sure that it is the most beautiful design you can make it be. A good reputation is hard to build, and it is just too easy to lose.

10) A different take?

I like to close this post by getting you to check out a few tips at Fast Company’s 2004 update of Tom’s Brand-you Article as a different, more corporate, but relevant take on this issue of Self-branding.
———-
As you can probably guess becoming a Design Superstar is not easy and requires a lot of hard work. It does not happen overnight nor is it something you become. What it is, is that it requires is time before it can happen. Simply because with time, you will do good work, acquire more knowledge, build an interesting portfolio, rinse and repeat, again and again. Best of luck in your design career!

39 Comments
  • Colin King

    December 2, 2007 at 4:46 am Reply

    Dropped a card for you :). This is quite a comprehensive post full of good info, could use it in almost any area not just design.

  • DT

    December 2, 2007 at 6:40 am Reply

    Hey Colin,
    Thanks for your comments and for visiting! I’ve dropped you a card as well. Please keep in touch.

  • Jacob Cass

    December 5, 2007 at 12:26 pm Reply

    Hi, you have yourself a new subscriber ­čÖé Nice post.
    Also I tried to digg your post however it said that the URL doesn’t exist for some reason. You may want to check up on that. I also run a design blog ­čÖé

  • DT

    December 6, 2007 at 11:50 am Reply

    Hi Jacob,
    Thanks alot for the heads up. I have spend the entire night last night trying to figure this out. I’ve tried a manual (non-java script) button, and even manually typing the submit, and you are right it somehow does not detect my url.
    It works with stumble upon, facebook and other sites but somehow my site does not talk well with digg.
    I’ve called my server host Media Temple (who assured me that they have multiple sites on digg with no problems) and help from my web designer friends but no luck. No one can explain this strange thing. I wonder if this site has been banned from digg, but I find it had to believe as there are hardly any digg posts. Perhaps this bug is causing problems.
    I’ve emailed digg but no reply. I will continue to try to fix this. Thanks again.
    Edit: Hey Jacob, I’ve got a reply from digg and they have fixed the problem. Please go ahead and digg away!

  • Design Guru

    December 8, 2007 at 1:46 am Reply

    Web designers are the most free people. We are usually paid for a design per hour and have flexible schedule. We just realize our ideas observing how our collegues become “office rats”.

  • Jacob Cass

    December 11, 2007 at 2:15 pm Reply

    Good to hear. Item was dugg.

  • Ann

    December 12, 2007 at 11:42 am Reply

    You have some great points. I have to go make a hair appointment now.

  • DT

    December 17, 2007 at 4:37 pm Reply

    Hi Ann,
    Best of luck!

  • John

    December 25, 2007 at 8:19 pm Reply

    Very interesting subject. And my opinion.
    It seems to me be a star it is necessary to have more experience.

  • interaction design

    January 4, 2008 at 12:44 am Reply

    Intersting post you made, so when will we see you on the big stage?

  • DT

    January 12, 2008 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Hi John,
    You are correct in that experience a key ingredient as well. Unfortunately many try to take a short cut with design. Thanks for visiting and please keep in touch.
    Hi Interaction Design,
    Unfortunately I would not consider myself one, YET! But I have studied the many superstars out there and one thing they are good at is marketing their personal brand. This is what this article hopes to encourage.

  • Ryan McMaster Design

    February 5, 2008 at 4:01 am Reply

    Nice article. I had almost forgot about doing a SWOT for my business. It really does work and gets you thinking about what’s next!
    Thanks for the read!
    Ryan

  • accessible website design

    April 15, 2008 at 12:51 am Reply

    I like #2 a lot. Being a designer you have to wear the appropriate outfit.
    Nothing too formal, but just the right amount of style.

  • Boiler Room

    May 4, 2008 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Great read, some very insightful information.

  • Rose Vrekic

    May 17, 2008 at 12:32 pm Reply

    Great Article!
    I’m very new at this (I’m 25 and just starting! Oy!) But this article is an awesome jumping off point. I have one question though, how does one build a portfolio if no one will hire you (because you don’t have a portfolio, lol)? I’ve lost most of the work I’ve done so I have nothing to show…how do I get started?

  • DT

    May 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Hi Rose,
    Well that is the reality of design. The way to do it is to think up fictional projects and create some work. There is unfortunately no two ways around this as a portfolio is one of the only ways to show case your work.
    All the best and thanks for your great comment!

  • Jacob Cass

    May 17, 2008 at 10:39 pm Reply

    Hi Rose, I actually wrote an article all about “How and Where To Get Paid Design Work For Students” – there are some great tips in there regarding your portfolio.

  • Rose Vrekic

    May 18, 2008 at 6:51 am Reply

    Thanks Jacob and DT, great advice. I’ll try to come up with fictional projects, I guess it’ll pay off in the end when those fictional works inspire someone to hire me ­čÖé And I’ll be checking that link too! Thanks guys!

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  • Niels

    July 14, 2008 at 5:52 am Reply

    Great article, time to get a haircut, haha.

  • DT

    July 14, 2008 at 5:42 pm Reply

    Hi Niels,
    It help sometimes! hah-hah-hah…

  • Parvez

    July 17, 2008 at 12:23 am Reply

    a very good post, thought-provoking and a well-researched post

  • Louise Cochrane

    May 14, 2009 at 5:55 pm Reply

    I never thought of doing a SWOT analysis on myself! What a good idea…
    As far as appearance is concerned, I can totally see how this would apply to a designer selling themself to a client. Fashion and style is part of design, so it makes sense that the designer’s appearance should reflect that.
    I’m still a student designer, so info like this, while it may seem obvious to more experienced designers, is helpful!

  • Jye

    June 6, 2009 at 9:37 am Reply

    An informative list for newer individuals to the design scene.
    I disagree with the point you made about “Get a hair cut”.
    I have quite long hair myself (male), which can sometimes be a bit messy, but it doesn’t affect my position in any way. If anything it would tend to show a client that you are a bit more laid back, which in turn can be a good thing.

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  • 8womendream

    October 17, 2009 at 12:57 am Reply

    This is a great idea. And it’s so true about appearances and first impressions, although it probably shouldn’t be.

  • Next Day Flyers

    November 5, 2009 at 2:51 am Reply

    Great tips, I am surprised at how many designers do not have their own websites, let alone a website using their own name as the domain name. Its really the best way to brand yourself online quickly.

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  • Martijn Meerman

    September 16, 2010 at 1:00 am Reply

    I’m a Dutch media professional who ‘rolled’ into design actually. My evolution got from words to visuals so to speak. Your item on self branding is right on the subject. The problem of most designers (or creative people in general) that they are to modest about their (great) work. That’s the point more ‘assertive’ people get the credit for your work. So: come on creative komrads! Get on the barricades and claim your compliments ­čÖé

  • Prince Pal

    April 29, 2011 at 10:00 pm Reply

    Awesome Article.
    If a design follow all steps strictly, he can establish his own brand easily.

  • Graphic Design Forum

    May 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm Reply

    good one. helpful article.

  • yogesh

    January 2, 2012 at 7:20 pm Reply

    Im not a good Web & Graphic Designer. This is my 6 month in this field. Sometimes i think that this field is not for me or this is hard for me.Im Totaly confused. Pls suggest me what should i do or how can i get interest in this field.

  • Anthony Rooney

    February 2, 2012 at 11:02 pm Reply

    Love this article, its a really good read for anyone starting out in the design business (just like i am). I’ve passed it onto my fellow classmates to read. Came across it as i’ve just set a blog up myself as part of an assignment i have, i’ll be posting in it very soon so please feel to drop and leave a comment ­čÖé Best of luck, Anthony Rooney

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