How many articles about design have you read? How to land your first design job, how to work in a team, how to create good products, how to land your first job in a team that creates good products… We have instructions for everything.

Reading all of this comes with a price: A solid set of expectations. We think we know how tough the job is, or how to stay on top with best practices, but reality always has a few tricks up its sleeves.

I’ve asked a few established designers, illustrators and UX/UI professionals a simple question:

What was the most unexpected thing you discovered in your field?

Below you may read what I’ve learned.

Competition

There are a lot of designers – and not so many good jobs for them.

designer-jobs

2.6 Million designers against 130 thousands jobs. Of course most of these 2.6 mil designers are employed, but only every 20th one of them can find an alternative.

So one might think this is a cut-throat environment and one should serve only in their best interest. Right? Nope.

Tatiana Bischak, Illustrator & designer from Michigan:

I suppose the most unexpected thing would be how awesome the creative community is. When I first got into this field, I was scared to reach out and talk to any peers because I automatically assumed they’d look down on me for being self-taught. Originally I went to college for engineering, and I was so accustomed to the sexism and sour attitudes there, that I just assumed the design community would be the same. So for the first several years I was an island, and I thought the design world was quite a dull one.

About two years ago, I met up with an illustrator (Hayden Aube). who really introduced me to the design community and taught me that we’re all stronger when we support and talk to each other. Since then, my career has completely flourished, some of my best friends are artists I’ve never met (but one day will), and we help each other out with moral support, advice, feedback, and passing work back and forth. Thanks to those people, I’ve been able to switch entirely to freelancing and do what I love daily.

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I expected success to be achieved by clever business planning, expensive art schools, or getting experience from graphic design firms and the right jobs. But it was really just being surrounded by all these wonderful people, who just want to make art for money and have fun. Creatives rock.

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Frederique Matti, Amsterdam based freelance illustrator & designer, seconds that:

The most unexpected thing I’ve discovered in my profession/field is that it’s a very open & welcoming field. I work as an illustrator in tech and it is amazing how many people are willing to help you progress in your career, and support you if you ask.

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Risk

It seems like every motivational book and TED Talk starts with “get out of comfort zone”. I mean, if this zone is so dangerous, why do we let people in?

Jokes aside, taking risks is a part of the design process. Combining new colors, trying out new layouts and elements always lead to unexpected and often pleasant results.

However, some designers are taking this to a whole new level.

Alana Louise, Independent artist:

I never imagined that leaving my first job, and the town and friends I knew, would open up the door to new opportunities and friendships. I took a risk and left Atlanta in 2013 to live in Pittsburgh, knowing no one and nothing about the city. Years later, I found myself in Austin where I still am today, and have kept the friends I’ve made along the way. Pretty much all of the projects I’ve worked on over the past five years would have been impossible if I never left. Taking a risk and going for broke is totally worth it and I recommend that everyone try it once.

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By taking the risk of leaving the things I knew, I was able to meet other designers who shared their techniques and helped me improve my personal design style.

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Taking risks can do more than merely forwarding your design career. It can actually launch it.

Goutham Aj, Product designer and creative director at BalkanBrothers:

I started out as a front-end developer. I remember a time when I had to design an additional page for a client, since their designer fell sick. I tried my hands on designing for the first time and it turned out to be a disaster. But I fell in love with the process. I felt that being a designer, you can craft everything the way you want it to be. There are absolutely no boundaries. Then I started practicing more and more. I almost gave up a couple of times, then I’d take a break and try again.

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Now, being a product designer / web designer has become my primary job. 🙂 I realized that I’m much better at designing than I am at coding. If I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone, I would have missed this. And I still love learning new things in design. It’s endless.

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Workflow

You don’t have to switch professions to find unexpected results. Sometimes even the smaller things can have a great impact on your workflow.

Febin Raj, Illustrator at Fireart Studio:

Two years ago I got a Mac desktop. It’s simple design and functionality surprisingly allowed me to become more creative and more productive. This change was one of the most unexpected for me.

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Of course, the process of designing something is itself full of unexpected revelations.

Rita, Designer at Icons8:

There are no clear recipes – that’s a surprise. You can solve the same problem in a bunch of different ways, and every solution can be justified. Still, you’ll never know for sure if one decision is better than the other. It’s only after you’ve done it that you can try to understand what kind of reaction your design provokes.

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Overall, there’s a lot of guesswork involved. Of course, ten years into it, the process will become less stressful, and it becomes easier to hit the bullseye earlier. But in the beginning, it’s still very stressful. And I thought I was the only one not knowing what’s going on. Well, it turned out that I wasn’t. No one knows for sure what they do. We all make mistakes, that’s part of our job.

See more on Icons8

About the author: Andrew started at Icons8 as a usability specialist, conducting interviews and usability surveys. He desperately wanted to share his findings with our professional community and started writing insightful and funny (sometimes both) stories for our blog.

Title image: Oleg Shcherba for Icons8 illustration project

Check our recent article 10 Popular UI Design Trends on Dribbble in 2018 and grab the free collection of stylish and minimalist wallpapers for desktop and mobile

Try tools for creators by the Icons8 team:

Icons8 Icons8, a library of about 130K+ icons and clip art images
Offline app icons8 Offline app and plugins to drag’n’drop icons and clip art to any design tools
Moose Moose, the big collection of high-quality stock photos
illustrations Ouch! , a library of vector illustrations and collages
Photo Creator Photo Creator, free collage maker with AI technologies to make custom photos
Vector Creator Vector Creator, free collage maker to make custom illustrations for your designs
Fugue Fugue, royalty free music for videos of any kind
Lunacy Lunacy, free graphic design software with built-in design resources
Smart Upscaler Smart Upscaler, image upscaler to enlarge and enhance images using AI
Generated Photos Generated Photos, unique, worry-free model photos generated by AI
Also, get the lists of free vector software and free photo editing software.
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