Entering Design as a Career – Career Guide

Entering Design as a Career

Hey there, my name is Florentin Steiner. I’m a freelance designer (UX/UI) based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Entering Design as a Career: My career was supposed to start in a completely different field than I ended up in. In my last year in the technical college’s social branch, I was no longer sure whether this career path was the right one for me. Although I enjoyed studying psychology and nursing and enjoyed working with people in hospitals and homes for the disabled, I still had a little doubt nagging in the back of my head. It felt right but not fulfilling.

To not let a recently existing doubt overturn everything so shortly before the goal, I decided to definitely still take my college degree with me. After this was done, I started to look for possible career alternatives, relatively disoriented. To do this, I leafed through a book with all the possible courses of study in the hope of finding something suitable. And indeed I did! When my eyes were already very tired from the much too small font and the much too small line spacing, I saw the word “communication design”! I have always loved drawing in my life and thought, “Hey, design …that might fit”. At that time, I had no idea that I wouldn’t do almost anything withdrawing later on.

Since I was already quite late for the entrance exams, I quickly put together a few drawings and my workbook. Very motivated, I went to the universities where portfolio evaluations were still taking place. The motivation lasted only until the renowned Design University in Augsburg. We were about 20 applicants, and everyone had to go downstairs with their portfolio to the professor in the lecture hall so that he could completely take apart the portfolio in front of everyone. It happened twice that someone burst into tears because the criticism was so harsh. Now I was relatively nervous since there weren’t that many of us left. Finally, I was called to the front, and I had to open my portfolio. Well, let me say: it didn’t go so well …

Entering Design as a Career

But after a few attempts and even more ups and downs, it worked out in the end. So I started my studies as a media designer in 2004. The time I spent studying was great. I met many interesting people, some of whom I would still count as my best friends today. After three years of studying with many different courses like photography, installations, print, digital, typography, flash programming (yes, that was a thing then), I knew I wanted to turn my designer life to digital. This medium combines everything, and anything is possible. Also, it’s much less stressful to correct a typo or something on a website than it is to correct a brochure that has been printed 100000 times. After I had my diploma in my pocket, I immediately started looking for a job. Living in Munich was already very expensive, and I wanted to start my career as soon as possible.

To get a permanent position, however, you first had to complete an internship. At least in most cases, this was the common practice. My mother helped me with the search for job offers and stumbled upon a special opportunity. 6 designers had the chance to participate in an internship at 5 different, more or less well-known agencies in southern Germany. It was the idea behind it: work for 6 weeks in one agency and then change to the next one. The disciplines varied between digital and classic.

It was a fantastic opportunity to work in different work environments, meet people and get an idea of what to expect. So I applied for it and went to the interview with my thesis, grades, and resume. Young and naive as I was, I shamefully did not prepare very well and just let it come to me. I was very nervous, but I didn’t let it show … except for a little sweating and constantly dropping my pen and pouring a little coffee over my pants. But overall I had a good day and was open, friendly and in the mood for conversation. I was relatively sure that I would not be one of the 6 lucky ones. I left the conversation and went home. But the next day, I actually got accepted. How about that!

Now it went very quickly. Since Munich was already very expensive then, and the internship didn’t pay much, I had to apply for unemployment benefit 2 to get a little support from the state to fully concentrate on the internship (and thus the important step towards my future professional life). I can only recommend everyone to soak up everything at the beginning, to learn, to ask questions, to be active.

And so I did. I worked a lot and made long hours. But it didn’t bother me since it was often enough my choice to do so. I was thrilled to work on projects I really enjoyed and to learn and learn and learn. This didn’t stay unnoticed, and already, the first of the 5 agencies (Saint Elmo’s) signaled that they wanted to give me a permanent position. Motivated through this very positive feedback, I was eager to check out the other 4. Although I got two more offers, I decided to go with the first one since it was not far from my apartment, and I liked the work environment there and focused on web design/interaction design. I learned that that was what I wanted to do.

After 2 years and 6 months at the agency, where I was promoted from Junior Art Director to Art Director, I was looking for new stimuli. The opportunity to go to Australia opened up for me. I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass me by. What was planned as a four-month stay with occasional temp work ended up almost a year as a freelance designer in Sydney.

During this time, I worked for various agencies and companies and explored parts of the continent on several road trips during the breaks between jobs. Through this stay abroad and the experience I was able to gain there in my professional life, my “market value” has increased a lot in my home country, as I then noticed. I had already quit my 1-bedroom apartment in Sydney and lived with a Scotsman (whom none of us understood), a Norwegian, and a Chinese in a room in a hostel in Glebe. We had a very nice room community, and I enjoyed our little cultural biotope.

During this time, I went to the roof terrace now and then conducted job interviews with German agencies. At first, it was very hard for me to imagine leaving the “no-worries” paradise and returning to the “be strict & precise than you don’t have to worry” country. I applied to agencies in Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Berlin, and Hamburg. I noticed directly in the interview that it would not work out with three of them, and I assume they did, too. The interview where it worked out right away was with the agency in Frankfurt (MRM//McCann). Since I didn’t really know Frankfurt yet, I felt it was a good opportunity to get to know something new in my home country and accepted the position.

At MRM//McCann, I took on the role of Senior Art Director in the Digital Campaigning department. The main client was Opel (car manufacturer). Gradually, my work shifted towards the car configurator. This required much more UX/UI work than the campaigns. I quickly realized that I enjoyed this topic more because it was more exciting for me in terms of design (because it was more complex) and because the benefits for the user were more directly connected with my work.

After 4,5 years, I decided to work as a freelancer again to get a wider variety of projects and thus more variety overall. It is easy to rust and to follow old patterns and habits if you don’t disrupt them from time to time. After years on mainly one client, my brain needed new fodder, and I felt that it is time again to do and learn new things. I work as a freelancer for roughly 6 years now, had a wide range of projects (big or small), had to learn different programs, met new people, and always filled my portfolio and resume with new life.

To have a project without clients or anyone who can tell me what to do, and for my own sanity, I needed a creative outlet. I started to create mockups in Blender (3D software). This helps me to create output in the form of mockups for free that help other designers presenting their work, hopefully!
Check it out: amazing-mockups.com

Why did you choose a career in this field?

In short: I like the psychological component of UX design and the craftsmanship of UI design. Furthermore, it is meaningful for me to create interfaces that are easy to use and therefore accessible for (almost) all people.

How did you prepare interviews?

One way to prepare for interviews, which I can only warmly recommend, is the S.T.A.R. method. Explain all your projects in the following way:

  • S (situation) – Set the scene
  • T (Task) – What is the purpose
  • A (Action) – What did you do/what was your role
  • R (Result) – What was the outcome

Breaking down your projects in this way gives the interviewer a comprehensive picture of your skills and responsibilities. In the best case, most of his questions will already be answered in advance. Also, try to be yourself, be open and friendly. Apart from the perfect CV, the wonderful Portfolio, Awards … etc .: Don’t underestimate how important it is for the interviewer to check if you fit in the team. A person who disrupts the team can create big harm for the work environment.

Can you provide some book recommendations?

  • Hooked – How to build habit-forming products: Learn the basics of why users want to check out your product/website regularly.
  • Bottlenecks: Aligning UX Design with User Psychology: Basic UX principles and how you can use them.
  • 101 UX Principles: A Definitive Design Guide (English Edition): A basic ruleset for people starting in UX design
  • The Design of Everyday Things: Principles of cognitive psychology

Things are changing very fast in the industry; how do you keep yourself updated.

Before you try to follow every single change in your work environment or the industry, first try to internalize the basic principles. Some basic elements never change – or at least change only very slowly – (see psychological components) and can therefore be applied again and again without having to reinvent the wheel. For things that change faster, blogs, videos, forums, or magazines of your choice are recommended. Also, never be too comfortable trying new things!

Florentin Steiner

Also read How I Became a Digital Designer & Illustrator

Entering Design as a Career – Career Guide

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