Marketing yourself as a designer

06 August 2017 | Compass of Design

Darian Rosebrook

13 min read

Marketing yourself as a designer

It doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Marketing is that topic that gets you added by a bot to all those lists on Twitter, or followed by fake accounts on Instagram, or shunned completely by your friends on Facebook for asking them to try your new (insert thing here). Why do we need to add it to our design career?

Honestly, marketing is a must have when trying to make it out there in the world of design.

In order to get work, regardless if you’re a freelancer or if you are looking to get employed by a company or agency, you need to implement some tactics to get your name out there. You have to be discover-able, and you aren’t going to do that without some effort.

The game of marketing is a hard mix of strategy, design, and user experience. And just like your design process, with marketing, everything starts out with a goal that someone would like to accomplish like: Getting more subscribers to email lists, converting viewers to paid customers, opening a global discussion on issues in the world. The way you are going to effectively market yourself as a designer is to set goals.

What are your goals when learning design?

Goal setting, though everyone has something to say about it, is important to putting a campaign together. How do you know where to put your efforts in making things if you don’t know what you are making them for?

You have a reason why you’re choosing to learn more about design. Maybe you have just finished a design program, class, or tutorial and need to start building your skills and presence to be hired.

Whether that’s true or not, you want to be able to market your skills in a way that people will be able to make a split second decision based on what they find about you.

Figuring out where you need to begin is our first step.

Spend a little time to figure out your goal, whether it’s to:

  • Get more paying clients
  • Get higher paying clients
  • Get hired with an agency / company / mom-and-pop shop
  • Promote a project you are working on
  • Build an audience
  • Teach design to others
  • Get sponsorships
  • Promote your weekend garage band
  • etc.

If you have a specific goal in mind that you want to achieve through design you can then pick the best way to start moving towards it. Each one of these ideas below are a good start. To maximize your effort, you’ll have to put together a mix of these together until it gets to be a little bit of effort for you.. It’s a mixture of being loud, and providing value.

Create a portfolio

As a creative professional, having a strong portfolio in the beginning is key to marketing yourself as a designer and building your personal brand.

You want to be able to showcase the skills you have with design. It’s almost not up for negotiation. You need to have something up there that shows the work you’ve done. Portfolios can be filled with all sorts of work, and in a later article we’re going to talk about creating a portfolio that converts.

When you display work that you’ve done, you need to make sure that you have the rights to show it. Some companies and some clients actually bar people from displaying any of the design work unless you specifically ask for permission in the beginning. This goes for client work, employed work, or imaginary work you’ve done for your dream company.

The fun part about putting your work online, there are tons and tons of ways to do so. And plenty of ways to do it for free. I had the fortunate start as a web designer whereI started learning how to code HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and produce my own sites. These were some important tools of the trade.

But I don’t stand behind the idea that all designers need to learn how to code. I would rather you get good at using the tools you need to create your designs, **if code is one of those tools, then learn to code.** **If it’s not a tool you need to use, don’t learn it and spend time learning the tools you actually need.

As I started playing around with tools, I needed to get some sort of page up to hold my work. I didn’t know enough about hosting or web code yet, so I looked to using types of social media to host it.

I used Tumblr.com and used one of their free themes for photographers to be able to put pictures up. Once I knew enough to put actual code up online, I edited that until I came up with a design that was mine. Then I worked on my craft and made my first website. It’s since been edited enough that it now lives on darianrosebrook.com and gone through several revisions as I hone in on my craft. It’s hosted on GitHub Pages with Jekyll, Sass, and JavaScript as the Tech behind it.

For those who don’t have the capability of coding their own site, I recommend using a few websites to get started and have work posted.

  • Behance — “The Behance platform is free for creative professionals across disciplines.” This is one of the most popular sites where people post work and get hired directly from. Having this site won’t guarantee work, but it puts your face on the map.
  • Tumblr — For use in posting designs in a place that’s easily sharable and yours. (you can even buy a domain name and use it on your site e.g. www. soandso .com could point to it)
  • Dribbble — It’s a good place to post work, but to post you have to be invited. I share people who have open invites and post when I have them, but it’s proprietary and just another tool in your arsenal.
  • There are plenty of other options too with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

If you don’t plan on learning code, one of the highest levels you can go without having to learn everything about it is to set up a WordPress site.

Write about your industry and your field of discipline

With all of the capabilities in writing platforms a person can use, my favorite place to write for is my personal site. It has been a while since I have written a new article because my focus on my goals has been away from posting articles and put towards better newsletter content and writing my case studies for somagnetic.com.

Writing is still one of the more effective things you can do to show you know what you are doing. Depending on what your goal is for learning design, writing about topics that are centered around that goal are great things to focus on. It helps you and others learn through your research and your current expertise.

Here’s some example of helpful topics to focus your writing on:

  • Writing about working as a designer in teams and departments to get stuff done
  • Writing about working with clients and how clients can benefit from your services
  • Writing about skills of design that you learn / have expertise on
  • Write about curated resources or showcase designs to build audiences (careful with this one as proper credit and permissions would be required to showcase someone else’s work.)
  • Write about current trends and design history

Personal / Collaborative Projects

There are times where someone will want to see your skills in action. But if you are starting out in design (whether your plans for work are to get hired or take on freelance / client work) you might be low on work you have that you can showcase.

This is where personal or collaborative projects can be some of the most effective things you can do for your portfolio. I’m talking about the self initiated kind of projects. The Compass of Design is a self-initiated project where I had seen a need for more insights from someone positioned as someone who’s going through the fight. You may see something that you need or want done, if you have the skills to do so, why don’t you?

A self initiated project is something that can be anything from a weekly design challenge like Rogie’s #gillustrations or daily design challenge like Daily UI, to a full blown interactive project like my designer self assessment, or like Comic Sans Criminals.

Your projects can be decorative, useful, playful, whatever you want to. To ramp it up even more, if you promote it through your portfolio, write a case study about the process of starting it and any results you’ve seen from it.

People who are looking to hire a designer (full time or agency work) are looking for how you solve things creatively and what you can prove about how it was effective.

Teach what you know.

It is important to teach only what you know or have learned in your field. When you try to teach the topics that you don’t know anything about, you can cause damage to someone in their journey. If they trust you from a ongoing audience relationship, that trust should not be broken by giving them information that you have not tested or researched. It can hurt your reputation and your brand. It is something I am finding the balance of, and making sure I adhere to.

There are a lot of topics I could talk about, but there are limited things that I currently know, being a designer for 2 years by now. I want to make sure the content I provide is effective and current, but also informative enough and easy to understand. It would do everyone a disservice if I hadn’t practiced any of the topics I talk about. So I make sure that I have some experience or enough knowledge around a topic that I am equipped to talk about.

Teaching has been a huge passion of mine, and I want you all to know that as I learn, the content gets better, the quality of writing / speaking / teaching gets better. This is effective in marketing yourself because the things you know can help someone who is trying to go through a step that you just finished.

Now that you have a few ideas on ways to start getting better at marketing yourself as a designer, we’ll spend some time in the next few weeks diving into some areas of each topic. Eventually, this will be available in one cohesive spot, so the best way of getting notified when I have it ready would be the Compass of Design newsletter below.

On a scale of one to five, how effective do you think your efforts to market your skills are going?


Struggling to get traction in your design career?

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The Compass of Design Community is a growing place of positive and driven designers who are working at being masters of their craft. Whether they’ve been designing for years or are just getting started on their journey, you will find this a place where you can get the critical feedback on your work and connect with like-minded designers.

Check out the Compass of Design Community to get on the list of self starters like you. (:

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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Consultant at https://mgntc.co, running designer network at https://cmps.co I ate a whole large dominos pizza by myself once. 🍕

Compass of Design

Curated design articles for self-starting designers.

Github for developers, portfolio for designers.

One problem I often see is a lot of companies make you sign a non-disclosure agreement which means you cannot make copies of anything you’ve done at the company which is quite of a dilemma for designers — technically, the company owns the design and so to put that your…

You are correct. I talked about this in a bit of detail on the newsletter with ways to create a portfolio. You have to explicitly put it in your client contract, or ask for written permission to use it from both the client and company. It can be difficult to have a visual portfolio of work you’ve done, but that’s not the only way to have a portfolio.

Thanks for the article, Darian. I am understanding the importance of writing and sharing more and more each day. :)

Thanks for the response. Hopefully it helped.

Do you share anywhere currently? I’d love to see it (:

What wireframing tool have you used to create those wireframes?

Hey, J. I actually made this myself for when I used to take on web design clients. There’s a huge huge amount of them I made for it. I never finished the file though. Do you have adobe illustrator?

Nice! Yep I do have Illustrator CC.

Cool, if you want it, I have the original file attached to my dribbble shot here.

https://dribbble.com/shots/3614994-Marketing-yourself-as-a-designer

I also noticed this problem. The time spent on the project not only does not contribute to the portfolio, but it also leaves a gap in the timeline. I think if you could reach an agreement with the client that you are allowed to include the project without naming the client or work examples, it can bring some benefits to portfolio too.

I end up redoing it at home. Nothing in agreement says I can’t re-imagine it with a new twist at home?

In general, it’s not so much naming the client but they feel putting it out there usually means competitors getting a hold of the juicy stuff.

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Thank you!

I'll review the responses here and respond to you as soon as I can. Thanks!