5 Ways to Level Up Your Design Career


One of the most exciting aspects of being a digital designer is the sheer number of possible career paths within the industry. Whether you are a beginner in the field or a seasoned professional,there are steps you can take to reach the next level in your career. 

Create a Career Plan

While you may have an idea of your dream design job, identifying the path to get there can be tricky. Career plans are a way to translate the road from your current position to your ideal job into concrete steps. 

Before you create your plan, it is essential to get input from more experienced designers. You can approach senior colleagues at your work and ask about their career paths. You can also join an industry focused association like the American Institute of Graphic Arts to connect with other professionals.

If your career plan involves advancing in your current company, your direct supervisor can provide valuable insight.

Your career planning should begin with an inventory of your current strengths, skills, and experience compared to the typical requirements of your ideal position. From there, you can create a plan to close any existing gaps. 

For example, you may find that your design skills are suitable for a management position, but you lack experience leading a team. In this case, your career plan could include leadership training and taking the lead on an upcoming project.

Find Mentors

Mentoring is one of the most effective strategies for career development. Mentors can provide accountability and invaluable advice for advancing in the field. Most importantly, mentors can connect you to a wider professional network, which will increase your chances of finding your dream position.

Finding the right mentor is the most difficult part. Some professional organizations have their own mentoring programs that connect members. You can also join an online community where designers come together to share and comment on each other’s work. Industry-specific Meetups are also a great way to meet professional designers in your area. 

Mentors are a great resource, but you will only get what you put into the relationship. Make the most out of the time with your mentor by asking questions and working actively towards your goals. 

Expand Your Skillset

Design is a fast-paced industry. For this reason, continuous professional development is a must. Digital designers can expand their skills through short-term learning programs focused on areas such as UX, app development, or animation courses.

You can also use professional development courses as an opportunity to build up your portfolio. You can upload final projects showcasing your new skills onto your personal website or a portfolio page such as Behance.

Choose a Specialty

Many designers start their careers as generalists. After gaining some experience in the industry, you may notice that you prefer certain types of projects or clients more than others. In this case, focusing on a specialty could benefit your career.

You can specialize in one or more of the following areas:

Industry: Choosing a niche based on industry means that you would focus on projects in closely related fields. Common industry niches include healthcare, education, or technology. 

Client type: Rather than working within a specific industry, you could pitch your services for a particular client. This could include clients with international customers, small business owners, or e-commerce firms.  You can gain a foothold with these clients by having a very strong understanding of their specific pain points. 

Program: You can choose to focus on a specific design software or stack. For example, you could specialize in the Adobe suite or web-building tools like Squarespace or WordPress. 

Service: You can narrow your focus on a specific product. Many designers specialize in course design, webshops, or email marketing. 

Challenge Yourself

Getting to the next phase of your career will require you to work outside of your comfort zone. Challenging yourself is hard work, but it can also be fun! You can stimulate your creativity with mock design projects. 

For example, you can create your own take on an existing ad campaign, or create a prototype for your dream client. 

If you’re all out of ideas, try a 30-day design challenge. The Daily Logo Challenge is an ongoing campaign that will send design briefs to your email. You can even share your creations on social media with a community of designers.

Companies like Adobe, Dribble, and Behance also publish creative challenges on a weekly basis. 

You can also draw inspiration from trying out other mediums, such as painting, photography, or ceramics.