As a former tech journalist, I came to design slowly and, at first, purely out of necessity. A basic understanding of the fundamentals of design, though not strictly required, was an extremely valuable asset for an aspiring reporter in the digital age, hitting the job market post-2008.
Technology had vastly changed the modern newsroom, making traditional media both more accessible and jobs in it much harder to come by — let’s just say a proclivity for stacking up complementary skills was a good habit to form.
At the time, a gig as a hyper-local blogger meant juggling multiple hats — writer, editor, photographer, designer, even developer, for which I was ill (by which I mean, not at all) prepared. Every day was like educational roulette, forcing me to learn just enough HTML or CSS to patch up a WordPress template that broke after an update, but never so much that I could have built it better.
For years my experience with web design was like Groundhog Day set in the world of Tron. The game was find the piece of broken code without any idea where to start, or how to fix it.
Even after I’d spent years working in the digital space, designing for clients and getting paid to do it, I was reluctant to call myself a designer. Why? Because I was used to perceiving design as this elusive, out-of-reach thing. And, of course, I was entirely self-taught, which did little to dispel that feeling.
For many years I carried with me the inaccurate idea that to be a “real” designer, I needed not just years of formal training, but also considerable artistic talent. And this insecurity was reinforced every time I was up to my ears in a project, and heard “But I’m SO not a designer” from a client, coworker, or even my boss. “Neither am I!” I’d think to myself. “I can’t even draw. And I don’t know ANYTHING about [insert design topic here]”.
This way of thinking didn’t solve any problems for me, and it certainly didn’t solve any for my clients. Instead, it kept me in a kind of stasis, stuck and unable to forward my career as a designer because I refused to really see myself as one — or even as someone who could be one.
But once I began to actually study design, I rapidly came to realize that I had more knowledge and experience of the subject than I’d ever presumed to give myself credit for. Many of the fundamentals — visual principles, for example — were already there. More than anything, it was creative confidence that I’d been lacking.
I was already a designer. I just didn’t know it yet.
Not sure if you have what it takes to become a designer? You’re probably closer than you think. Here are a few telltale signs that you’ve got the bug — and the basics — in spades.