Career Advice For The Young Creative

Graphic design, Illustration, Personal Development, Web design, Web Development, WordPress

In mid January we were contacted by a freshman at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa looking for advice about getting into the creative business.

That’s a freshman in high school mind you. Not college. As someone who didn’t even start college until he was 22, I found this highly impressive. To know at that young of an age what she wanted to do professionally gives her an incredible head start.

To give driving directions to someone who can’t legally drive was something unique. I took a few days and gathered my suggestions before sending them off via email. Today I thought I’d share them with not only those hopefuls here in Iowa, but across the country (and globe too).

Get Involved

There are several ways you can gain valuable insight from those starting out or from those who are working in the industry; hang out with them.

  1. AIGA Iowa
    AIGA advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force. They offer classes, workshops, speakers, and conferences that are chock-full of what’s happening in the industry. With a chapter in almost every state, it’s the easiest way to get involved.
  2. ADAI
    An Iowa exclusive, The Art Directors Association of Iowa is another group for creatives and is the oldest art + design organization spanning over 50 years. One of their signature events is their design exhibition where professionals & students alike compete for the bragging rights to say they were top dog in their category that year. Their award books are a fantastic way to see what local students and professionals are up to.
  3. Further Still
    You can branch out a bit more to see how designers work in the fields of advertising and marketing by following and/or joining the AAF (American Advertising Federation) or AMA (American Marketing Association). Both span across the entire country.

Get Into Coding. Like Now.


You shouldn’t be expected to be both a full fledged web developer AND a graphic designer but you should have a basic knowledge of web. It will also make you more valuable. 

It may seem complicated (and it will be at first), but the more you play, the more you understand. I personally learned best by taking a few online classes at first, modifying themes in WordPress, and using an element inspector in Google Chrome to see how other designers built their sites. Yes, you can peak under the hood.

If you want a starting point, here’s a few resources to get you started.

  1. Code Academy
    This is probably one of the few web resources entirely designed to make it easy for people to get started learning to code, from nothing at all.
  2. Code School
    Experienced, engaging instructors take you through course material, step by step, in our high-quality video lessons.
  3. CSS Tricks
    Probably next level for those looking to learn. It’s still a great resource to learn not only web development, but also answer just “how the heck did they do that?”

Get Schooled When Not In School


There is absolutely nothing stopping you from learning and getting better right now. Nothing. School provides an invaluable framework to learn, but for the self-starter who can learn in front of a screen, you have the world at the click of a mouse.

Whether you’re learning to refine your drawing skills or adding motion to your graphics (next big thing in my opinion), you can take an hour or two whenever you want to learn how to do it. Just start somewhere. Anywhere!

Here’s a few I use myself:

    One of the original online resources to learn from industry professionals, there’s a fair selection to start with.
  2. Skillshare
    Probably the hottest online resource that is packed to the gills with awesome content from all-around awesome designers and developers. I cannot recommend Skillshare enough!
  3. YouTube
    You can find a lot of free content that is very solid, but you also risk getting into no-so-great design advice. Or worse, you can get sidetracked by adorable kittens.

Get Inspired

This is very open ended as you cannot point to just one source for design inspiration in the world. There are books, websites, magazines, etc…

Since this is a blog, it’s easiest to share links, so let’s stick with web resources.

  1. Behance
    More or less an online portfolio platform, Behance is a strong tool to view portfolios of creative students & professionals alike, in every field imaginable.
  2. Dribbble
    Dribbble is fun in that users post “shots” of what they’re working on. Often it’s a small snippet of a larger work which may or not be made available. Dribbble is strongest when looking for graphic design, illustration, and UX inspiration.
  3. Logo Lounge
    Logos were always my first love. They’re the tip of iceberg of every brand and so much depends on how effective these marks are. With a yearly membership you have access to thousands of logos from the new student to that of the elite designers. With any luck you might get published in one of their decorated logo books should you feel so inclined to upload your own work.
  4. Instagram
    Instagram is the unsung hero of design inspiration. Not just for selfies with your girls or making your friends envious of your dinner plans. Those hashtags? Use them! Designers and other creatives alike are posting thousands of awesome photos every single week. It’s also a great way to find friends to follow your own work and give you feedback.

These are just a few suggestions for the budding creative based on my own path. It’s also helpful to know that hardly anyone ends up doing exactly what they set out to do.

They often stumble onto creative outlets they didn’t know they’d enjoy. I jumped into my field with the background based in cartooning and ended up working mostly in branding, campaigns, and publications. All of which I enjoy, and hey, I still get to do illustrations.

Learn what you can and you’ll inevitably land on your passion if you haven’t found it already. Also get used to the fact you’ll always be a student of the trade. Be sure to engage with your peers and working professionals. A high tide raises all ships, and no one got to where they are now by themselves. You’ll find the really good ones are more than happy to pay it forward.


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