5 Tips for Design Students

Posted by on September 5, 2009 in the Graphic Design category

Header image property of Pixabay

Being a graphic design student can be very frustrating and tough at times, but very rewarding. After my four-year education at Moravian College, I have compiled a list of things I wish I would have known at the beginning to give my education something extra.

1. Take part in an internship (if available)


An internship can help you understand your field first hand. It shouldn’t be something you do just to put it down on your resume as experience. Yes, it is a bonus, but what you learn from it is its real value. You gain valuable skills, not to mention hands-on experience.

An internship is a great way to get your foot in the door early in your design career. An internship can offer you experience in the ‘real world,’ contacts with other designers, and possibly a job either in the same place, or in a the practice of a company’s contact.

Being able to test the waters of your possible career is a great way to know if you even want to be in that field. Real experience is the best measure 
of whether or not a career is for you.


How to Get an Entry-Level Job or Internship
AIGA Job Internships
AIGA Guide to Internships

2. Make connections


“It is not what you know, but WHO you know”

–this old quote is true in most area of business, whether you like it or not.

The more design professionals you get to know, the larger your circle of potential clients/employers grows.  Following my first bit of advice and getting an internship could allow your connections to grow very quickly.

I highly encourage you to create an Excel document (or Word, or even a sticky pad) and make a list of each and every contact you know. Make sure to not only put down their name, but also all of the contact information you can find, and any notes about them as well.  This will aid you in making connections, contacting these individuals, how they can help you, and create a mailing list.

Here are a few tips to making connections on the Internet:

  • Join Twitter – not only is it one of the fastest grown websites ever, but it can help increase your connections almost daily.
  • Join Linkedin – not as quick and user-friendly as Twitter, but more closer knit (which can be more important) connections.
  • Have a website of some sort to let people visit to get to know you better, view your work, and contact you. Nothing fancy, DeviantArt now has a simple portfolio-builder on their site, that is free and very user friendly. Check out my site on there that only took about 15 minutes to make.

Here are a few tips to help making connections in the ‘non-internet’ world easier:

  • Look professional and carry yourself well (dress for the job you want)
  • Always wear a smile on your face
  • Be confident and outgoing
  • Be honest


Using Twellow to Network on Twitter
Find a Job using Twitter/Networking Twitter Strategies
10 Ways to Use LinkedIn

3. Learn how to write well


Graphic and Web Designers need to know how to write well. Print based designers will most likely need to come up with some of the copy for their designs. Web designers are usually given a copy from the client, and will have to either use Lorem Ipsum, or think of real copy to put into their designs.

I admit that writing is not my best attribute. Nonetheless, designers still need to grasp basic writing skills to survive in the business world.

Cover letters, resume’s, business emails, copy for a design, contracts, and design proposals are just a few of the many things for which you will need to have strong verbal skills.


Book- “Letting Go of the Words” by Janice (Ginny) Redish
20 Tips on How to Write for the Web
19 Books to Improve Your Writing Skills
Tons of Online Writing Resources

4. Learn basic sketching skills


Knowing how to draw, sketch, paint, and everything in between, is vital to becoming a great designer. I don’t consider myself a great artist by any means, but I know I would be far less effective as a designer if I was never taught traditional art.

At the very least, take the time to learn sketching. Sketching is essential in every aspect of art. Whether you are creating a new website, a poster design, or a five foot sculpture, sketching should always be one of the first steps to designing.  Having your idea laid out can eliminate time-consuming issues later on. (Such as designing a pamphlet’s columns in the wrong order.)

Sketch your ideas whenever you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a piece of printer paper or a napkin at a coffee shop.  Artists pull inspiration from every where, so sketch things that inspire you from your every day life. Every one of my design professors insisted we carry around a sketchbook 24/7 and use it whenever we come up with ideas of inspiration. I never really understood why they wanted every student to do that, until after I graduated.

Graphic design fundamentals are equally important as traditional art fundamentals. Learning about color theory, grid-based layouts, typography, and design history are all lessons that you should grasp before even starting up Photoshop.


50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design Theory
Drawing Lessons
Learn how to Sketch, Draw, and Paint

5. Take marketing/management classes

marketing-imageMarketing classes are not always obligatory for graphic design majors. However, knowing why consumers buy things, when they buy them, and what sways their decisions are very important concepts to grasp when creating design. Also knowing HOW to market your ideas as a designer can be the first step to jump-starting your career. You have to be able to market yourself, right?

Advertising is the single most important component of the marketing process. Advertising is what 99% of graphic designers will create design for, so understanding marketing techniques is essential to creating successful advertising.


Marketing Basics
The ABC’s of Effective Advertising
Marketing Tip of the Day

Written by Lee Gustin

Lee is the creator/designer/developer here at LeeGustin.com. He is a developer at W! Creative who loves learning new things about design and art.


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  • Hagi

    as a design students I find your post extremely helpful, thanks a lot 😀

  • http://www.tjdzine.com/blog Tanay | TJDzine

    Awesome Article. I am a design student myself, and found all the points very helpful. I think the second point about making connections is especially important.

  • http://www.leegustin.com Lee Gustin

    Thanks for the comments. I agree that making connections is the most important thing you can do as a student.

    If anyone has tips to add, please feel free to comment!

  • http://blog.yellowdoggdesigns.com Mark

    I am not a design student but these are good tips.

  • http://freelance.weborglodge.com Chris

    Great tips that could be applied to a lot of industries. I like #1. Important because the reality is not what you read in books. #5 is vital if you’re freelancing or selling anything whether it be services or something on eBay.

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  • http://fullfx.antzfx.com Anaska

    Lee, every word in this article is true. I would like to add a sixth point.
    “6. Take part in Competitions (or even Spec Work!)
    As a student, it is important to acquire some experience in design. So, participate in all the competitions that come to your way. Also, never shy away from Spec Work. After getting a degree, you can stand for or against Spec Work.”

  • http://andrewnoddings.co.uk/ Creative Graphic Design | Tony

    Great Post. This will give every aspiring graphic designer all the things they need to do as upstarts on their way of getting themselves known and gathering experience.

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