When I speak at conferences like Flash In The Can I am always asked the same question after every lecture: “Kevin how did you get to where you are in your career?”
This question mostly comes from students and young designers who are breaking into the career field.
I typically answer the question the same way each time.
It’s a long story, and if you have time I’ll answer it for you now.
A gesture of goodwill
It all started with a simple gesture of goodwill. (Really it did!) I was working for a dotcom company in the United States. I had the Aeron chair, the fast Mac, and the free latte machine at my office.
But one thing we didn’t have was projects. Everyday I would come to work and have absolutely nothing to do.
So after a few weeks this got really old. With permission from my supervisor I started to do pro-bono freelance for Amnesty International. I contacted Amnesty and informed them of my dilemma.
Making a move on the industry
I was bored out of my skull and wanted to make some use of my time (instead of just playing video games all day) So I build Amnesty a very funky interactive timeline to celebrate their 40th birthday.
The project was big hit, and in the years that proceeded Amnesty asked me to do more and more work (but this time paid.)
The reason I tell this story is the fact that it illustrates several important points for designers starting out in the field.
Chicken and egg
Many people suffer from the “chicken and the egg” syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by the fact that many new designers don’t have any big brands under their belt. Yet they need the big brands in order to work on other big brands. – Thus the “chicken and the egg” problem.
I tell young designers to solve this problem by volunteering their talents with national charities. There are many charities out there that are very high profile but don’t have a budget to create cool Flash interactivity for their site.
I always suggest emailing as many charities as they can and offer to volunteer their skills to help build a cool project for them. This technique is a win-win for both the charity and the young designer.
The charity gets interesting content for their site and the designer gets a high profile name on their resume and in their portfolio. Using this experience the designer can move up the food chain to other bigger clients.
New doors open
My freelance work, and even book writing can all be traced back to that one freelance project with Amnesty. It gave me the self confidence and the motivation to continue to move out on my own. Little by little I started to build more traction in my career.
I was lucky to work at large agencies like Campbell-Ewald (the agency of record for Chevrolet.com) These experiences taught me a lot about branding and building large scale websites.
I started to write small articles for online and offline magazines like Communication Arts. Each article I wrote help build my status in the web design community. Just like the freelance clients, I slowly moved up the food chain.
The snowball effect
Each writing / speaking project getting bigger each time. Eventually I authored chapters in books for Friends of Ed, and McGraw-Hill.
I co-authored a book on Flash usability called Flash 99 Good. That in turn helped me write my own book Web Designer’s Success Guide: How to profit from freelance web design.
I typically don’t write the books for the income, as anyone who writes will tell you there is very little money in it, especially if you are writing computer books. I write the books and articles (just like this one) to get my name out there.
In the era of Google, the more your name and URL appear online the better chances you have of clients finding your site.
Nothing can beat writing an article for a site that gets over 100,000 uniques a month with your URL at the end of the article. It’s like free advertising, and when you are small company like me you can’t beat that.
The vital steps
So to recap these are the steps I always offer young designers on how to build your career.
1. If you have no “name brands” in your portfolio then volunteer with a national charity. You’ll find you have a lot of creative freedom to create great work for your portfolio and the charity will benefit from your time as well.
2. Volunteer to write small articles for anyone who will take them. Many online designer portals love to get articles from web designers. You would be surprised at how fast you can build your Google link credit online by doing this.
3. After you have a few articles on your belt, come up with a book topic and email the publishers examples of the various articles you have written along with your book outline. If they like what they see you might just land a book chapter or co-author project.
If this fails why not try self-publishing a book with a company like Lulu.com. I’ve done this for my last book WDSG.
4. If you are lucky to write a book and can do public speaking… then come up with a lecture idea centered around your book topic. Then email the lecture idea to various design festivals to see if they are interested in having you speak. You may very well surprise your self.
Web Designer’s Success Guide
You can read more about how to build your career in Kevin’s new book Web Designer’s Success Guide at http://book.airgid.com
About the author, Kevin Airgid
Kevin Airgid is an internationally recognized designer, author and speaker.
He runs a small interactive studio that develops creative projects for clients such as: Amnesty, ESPN, CBC News and Lexus.
Kevin is the recipient of several national design awards and has been featured in the Macromedia Showcase, Digital Creative Arts Magazine and Communication Arts.
He is the author of several web design books, the most recent being the “Web Designers Success Guide”. He has written and lectured about web design for various organizations around the world.
Kevin holds a degree in Visual Arts from the University of Western Ontario.