7 more questions asked by noob designers

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August 21, 2015
7 more questions asked by noob designers.

Back in 2012, I wrote an article entitled 7 Questions Asked by Noob Designers, Answered. A lot has changed in the past three years in the design world, so I thought it was time to revisit those questions, and see if there are others that new designers might be asking, that need answering.

Below you’ll find seven more questions that new designers may ask, along with answers. Everything from applications and workflow to finding collaborators and working with clients are covered.

1) What applications should I be using?

This question isn’t all that different to “how long is a piece of string?” There are a ton of great applications out there, with more being released all the time. Adobe’s Creative Cloud is still considered the gold standard by a large portion of the industry. If you plan on working for an agency, you should at least become familiar with Photoshop, Illustrator, and their Edge suite of web design and dev apps. Bohemian Coding’s Sketch has become a disruptive force in the past year or two, with a lot of designers opting for Sketch over other options. As far as actual coding goes, there are tons of options out there. A simple text editor is the application of choice for a lot of developers. If you’re comfortable coding by hand, then you don't need much beyond a text editor that includes syntax highlighting.

2) What is responsive design? And how do I do it?

Responsive design has become the default choice when it comes to modern web design. It incorporates a few different concepts:
  • a fluid grid that adjusts based on the size of the screen a site is being viewed on, using CSS3 media queries;
  • images that resize in relative units so they don't display outside of their containing element;
  • different style rules that are implemented based on media queries.
Responsive design was first described by Ethan Marcotte in 2010 in an article on A List Apart, and later in a book titled Responsive Web Design released in 2011. Closely related to responsive design is mobile-first design and progressive enhancement. For more information on how to learn responsive design, check out some of our previous articles on the subject:

3) Do I really need a contract with clients?

It might feel like a contract is overkill for a simple website design that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. And there are certainly designers out there who have never had a contract who haven’t gotten burned. But I would wager that for every one that hasn’t had a problem, four have had a massive issue with a client. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to have a lawyer draft up a formal contract for every client. That would be overkill (though very large or complicated projects might warrant this). But you should have some kind of written agreement about the work to be performed, when it should be completed, and what payment is expected, agreed upon by both parties. One other thing to address: who owns the completed website design? Does the client own the website design and all of the code? Just the design? Do you reserve the right to re-use elements in other projects?

4) How do I figure out what to charge?

This is probably one of the most difficult questions you will ever have to ask yourself as a freelancer. Calculating a fair rate is something that almost every freelance designer struggles with at some point. In most cases, freelancers undercharge for their services. This can result in getting stuck with a lot of mediocre work. But at the same time, if you charge too much without the skills and experience to back it up, then you may find yourself without any work. There are freelance rate calculators that can help you determine a rate based on your expenses and income requirements. But those don’t necessarily take into account the market for your services. Your rate should represent your market value. If you’re a new designer, you likely can’t justify the same rate as a designer with ten years of experience. Likewise, if you’re an individual working solo, you aren’t going to be able to justify the same rate as a team might. The best way to figure out what to charge is to consider both your expenses and your market. If the going market rate is too low to meet your income needs, then you’ll need to figure out a way to either bill for more hours or to make yourself more valuable.

5) How do I find a good team to work with?

Finding the right team can be a huge challenge even for experienced designers. If you’re lucky, you already know other designers, developers, and related creatives, either from school or other means. If that’s the case, then you can contact them either for direct collaboration, or for referrals to others. But if you don’t already have some creative contacts, there are other ways to find people to collaborate on projects with. One way is to check out portfolios on sites like Behance when you’re looking for help on a specific project, and see if there are other freelancers who appear to have the right skills. Another way, if you prefer to work with people locally, is to look into any Meetup groups for designers or developers in your area, and then attend. See if there are any Facebook groups or pages for creatives specific to your area, too. Other business-centric networking opportunities may exist in your area, too. Check with your chamber of commerce or other local business groups to find them. As a final option, consider asking around on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. You might get a lot of responses from people without the requisite skills, but you may find a few that are just right.

6) What workflow should I use?

Finding the right workflow is a personal choice. Start out by researching what other designers you admire do. You may find insight into their workflow by finding interviews or blog posts they’ve written. From there, start experimenting. Try out different workflows and see what seems to work best for you. There are tons of possibilities, and even if something doesn’t seem like it will work for you, you may find that it leads to something that will. Workflows are a very personal thing, and generally aren’t developed overnight. Take your time, keep experimenting and refining, and eventually you’ll find something that works for you. Of course, some projects may demand a specific type of workflow due to the nature of the work or the team you’re working with.

7) Should I focus on a niche?

There can be big advantages to focusing on a single niche. Becoming an expert in a particular industry can mean that you’re able to get more referral business, as well as command higher rates. Of course, depending on your location and how comfortable you are in finding and working with clients outside of your local area, focusing on a single niche can limit your potential client base. If you decide you want to focus on a niche, consider your own interests and hobbies outside of design. If you’re a musician, you might consider working with musicians. If you bartended in a past life, consider designing sites for bars and restaurants. If you have some inside insight into an industry, it can give you an edge over other designers.

Conclusion

As a new designer, you’re sure to have tons of questions when you’re first embarking on your career. One of the best bits of advice I can offer is to never be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be scared to admit when you don’t know something. That’s when search engines and more experienced designers can become your best resources and tools! Featured image, via Jeff Sheldon

Cameron Chapman

Cameron Chapman is a freelance writer and designer from New England. You can visit her site or follow her on Twitter.

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