Design Career Advice from 99U

When I first graduated college, everyone and their brother was aimed and ready to assault me with career tips and advice. Most of it involved really helpful comments along the lines of “Journalism? You’ll never get a job!” For those of you who want something a little more substantial when seeking design career advice, I recommend checking out 99U, Behance’s education arm (which was acquired by Adobe last December). On the website, creatives will find in-depth articles like “10 Tips for an Awesome Coffee Meeting” and videos from design greats like Paula Scher on doing something new.

In addition to a vast library of online content, 99U has published a series of books that are chock full of design career advice. Book one, “Manage Your Day-to-Day” features 20 essays from the 99U brain trust about making sure every minute of your day is packed with productive creativity. The second book, “Maximize Your Potential,” offers insights on building your dream career. In May 2014, the third book, “Making an Impact,” focuses on the designer as entrepreneur with tips on starting and managing your own creative business.

Jocelyn K. Glei of 99U

The editor for all three books is Jocelyn K. Glei, who had some interesting thoughts about creative employment. HOW caught up with her to ask for some design career advice and insights. Here’s what she had to say:

What are some design career trends you’ve noticed in recent years?

JKG: One thing that’s changed is the how much of our jobs are driven by technology. The pact of technology affects everything we do. This comes into play when discussing workflow in the first book. The second book was developed out of a statistic from a study conducted in 2008 that the average person changes jobs every four to five years. We change jobs so much more quickly, and technology is changing the way we think about our careers.

It used to be that you would pick a career and stay for 20, 30 or 40 years. Today, jobs can be outdated in five years. Job titles like “community manager” or “app developer” are new. None of those roles existed five or 10 years ago, but now they’re in-demand positions. So how do we think about a career and build it when we know that this is the job landscape? Whole industries are being interrupted. Seismic changes are happening all the time. The pace is only going to stay the same or become more rapid. The question is: How can you be much more adaptive in your career so that you can adjust to a landscape that will change all the time?

"Manage Your Day-to-Day"

Are there specific technological advances or tools that are impacting our industry more than others?

JKG: It’s just the internet. (laughs) Beyond that, there are a million changes that are all a result of the internet, from way we communicate on a daily level to the way we run and structure our businesses. It’s less about specific technology and more about the pace of the changes. Everything has shifted so much that we’re going to have to constantly try out new skill sets. We have to be spend much more time in the  constantly learning phase than we ever had to before. Think about Twitter and the impact it has on how we’re viewed professionally. This wasn’t a think five years ago, and now, you need it to present yourself and network.

What else have you noticed while editing the 99U book series?

JKG: One thing that’s interesting is that a lot of the roles that used to be filled by many people now fall to one person. The individual creative is more empowered to make a difference with her ideas. Today, a single person can have an impact on the entire world. Larger organizations of 50 to 100 people used to have different departments for administration, finance, marketing, etc., but today, those departments collapse into a smaller team. Creativity is great, but you also have the outside impact of having to manage all these other layers. Everyone has to wear 17 different hats throughout the day, and the challenge is that you constantly have to be switching between these roles. It’s a less hierarchal way of working. We all have more tasks and things to shift through. In some ways, designers say, “I’m also going to do this and this and market myself.” The books are available to help answer the question, “How do creatives manage those shifts?”

"Maximize Your Potential"

Now the big question: What are some things designers can do to better manage their days?

JKG: One of the easiest points is the idea of being focused in a distracted world. The way that we work now is chaotic. There’s one workflow change in particular that passively happened but we haven’t adapted to: shared calendars. This is one of the side effects of a world where anyone can add things to your schedule and you end up having a million meetings. This creates these crappy 30- to 45-minute blocks of time. Sometimes you have a project where you need to focus for two or three hours. Instead, you’re trying to figure out how to accomplish something in little 30-minute sprints. As is the case in any meaningful creative work, you need more focus time.

In “Manage Your Day-to-Day,” Cal Newport suggests the idea of focus blocks, where you build larger time slots into your calendar or shared schedule. Perhaps its the first two to three hours of the day, but you have time carved out for deep focus during projects where you need to really sit down and dive in. The important thing is to respect that meeting time with yourself. It’s easy to push it the time slot or let it slip. You need to block it out and respect the time like any other meeting. This means fully disconnecting from everything else, including e-mail, during that time. Often this involves a physical retreat from your workspace or finding somewhere to hide from outside world.


Want more eye candy to boost creative inspiration? Check out The Best of Print 2013, to see some kick-ass projects and read about graphic design from greats like Steven Heller.

The Best of Print 2013