Design is better with friends

Just a lighthearted talk today about the connections we make as designers. We started talking about this a few weeks back in the design community and I figured I’d share my experience with you all here too.

Design is better with friends


I’ve been encouraged as a young kid to always be making new friends. It always got annoying when my mom kept pushing me door to door to introduce me whenever there was a new kid to the neighborhood.

I don’t know if it was her pushing me out in front of people, or a natural aversion to being in the spotlight, but I became quite an introverted person as I grew older.

I always wanted to leverage the things that I was talented in or knew about to try to get people’s interest in what I was doing. But I found that, as much of a cliché as it is, it’s not what you know that matters, it’s who you know.

Even more, to quote Sean McCabe again from seanwes

Design has been no different.

It wasn’t until I started running my own business and design practice that I realized just how important it is to make connections, and how much better it is to have friends in the industry.

I’m talking about doing more than “adding someone to your professional network on LinkedIn.” If you want to truly grow as a designer, you should be getting around the others in your industry and taking part of the conversations out there.

I attribute a lot of my success right now from being able to connect with great designers, product people, marketers, and other makers out there. By having real conversation with leaders, getting to know them, and building a network of people who help promote and build each other up.

There’s something about knowing and interacting with people that helps you move along the success staircase. It’s not required that you meet other people out there, but you can accelerate your path by being an active member of the community and the conversations going on out there.

Get in the conversation

I’ve met nearly all of my design friends through social media. Others have been by following them and then getting involved in their communities.

There are a handful of friends that I made by following Travis Nielsen when he was running the DevTips Youtube Channel and Slack Community. Then there are a lot of friends I’ve made by getting involved with the communities around Chris Do and The Futur. I’ve gotten around the great people within the Logogeek community, seanwes community, and those that are part of the MegaMaker community as well.

There’s a reason why these people have known my name. I’ve been present and active within their environment, taking part of the conversations that go on.

Now that I have the Compass of Design community, our conversation around design continues well past what we learn here in the articles and newsletters. There’s always a good thread of questions, answers, and resources being shared that has been helping us grow.

Start creating conversations

One of the leaders of design conversation has been through Twitter. I use twitter almost daily to participate in some of the conversation that is going on in design. But there are other places to go to start conversing with others out there.

And though that’s not an exhausted list by any means, there are place people are going to ask questions, and to start conversations. You’ve got to be ready to listen and willing to partake in there. Once you do, you’ll find that you start to make a lot of connections with others.

Start connecting with Doers not Don’t-ers

I want to emphasize that if your plan is to grow as a designer, you need to be interacting with practitioners of progress.

Not everyone is going to stick around. Building things and moving forward is a constant game of people giving up, or pivoting to something else. So it’s possible that people you were really interested in getting to know just aren’t doing anything anymore to move forward.

That’s why I try to get around people who are actively in the pursuit of something. I also strive to achieve things through my pursuit of design, so as I grow, I want to be bringing people with me.

I’ve had opportunities to connect with some great people who sadly for one reason or another, ended up shutting down some things that they were working on. And this is with handfuls of people that I’ve gotten to know.

It’s entirely okay for people to “throw in the towel” on something they were working on because it is no longer working or fulfilling them. Goals change, circumstances change, people change.

Just know that if someone is constantly giving in and is trying to pull you down with them, that it’s probably because they’re a don’t-er and it may be best to love them and the efforts that they gave, but also move on, getting in the company of people moving forward.

Be Present

Knowing when and where to be is kind of a science in itself. As you start to get further along in your design career, you start to see where people are gathering, or already have a place you go to in order to join in on what’s going on.

Even if it’s just to comment ‘lol’ at the end of a long post, or to reshare an article your colleague wrote, you want to make sure your name is one that’s being seen out there.

Play the game

They say if you make something people will show up

Though this is occasionally true, you have to know that it’s a slow start to a burning flame. You have to have patience in order to not burst into flames and go off like a light..

I’m reminded by one of my favorite songs who’s opening line is spoken “If there’s nothing left to burn, you’ve got to set yourself on fire.”

What it really takes is consistency. If you go all out on one thing, that may be enough to drum up interest, but at the end you’re burnt out and can’t continue. Therefore people will move on.

However, if you’re consistently adding a small bit to your fire, you can get that thing to a roaring bonfire that burns for a long time and starts getting its own attention. All of this done by remaining consistent and persistent.

Do things, Tell People

Make something you can talk about. Carl Lange talks about this in his article that when you make something, even if it’s completely useless, you should grab a drink, get some courage and talk about what you have made. He says it a little funnier than this, but I agree with him that if you make something, you should be proud of it, even if it sucks.

If I waited to start building my connections until I was able to do really good things, it would have taken much longer than it has by iterating in public.

Instead, I have been building things and getting out there to tell the world what I’ve been up to or am going to be doing.

People love to follow others who have ambition. It’s not that they want to be ambitious themselves, but not everyone is going to be trying to actively grow as a person, designer, or whatever they are (dog, alien, robot). In fact, somewhere close to 98% of people never really comment or hit the like button on anything online.

So as long as you’re doing something and sharing it, you’re now in the top 1% of the internet. Welcome.

As you start to do more things, more people will come to see what you’re doing and that just takes some patience and persistence as people start to join up with you.

Start reaching out to people

How many people’s newsletters are you on?

How many newsletters are you subscribed to? How many of those have you responded to?

As a creator of content, I get to interact with a decent core group of people who respond to the newsletters. They ask questions about the topics, they suggest areas where I should revise what I said (like in my microcopy article) and I get to know more about what they are doing.

I’m keeping an eye on these people and what they are doing, which as I grow, I might be able to use their services or hire them in the future for other things.

The same goes for you as a reader. As you continue to read, watch, or consume someone’s content, occasionally reach out with some takeaways. Just simple messages like this put you on their radar and start the seeds to potentially great friendships and opportunities you might never have had access to.

If you find someone doing good things too, not just on newsletters, reach out to them, or share their work! It’s truly humbling to be shared by others and I do say, I’m more privy to starting conversation with someone who shared something I made.


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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.

Compass of Design

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