As a digital agency we get a lot of requests from aspiring designers looking for work experience, internships or a straight up junior positions. I’ve popped down some thoughts, tips and truths that will hopefully help you understand what good agencies are looking for.
Ideally, aspiring designers should be able to grasp the principles of print.
You should know the difference between RGB, CMYK and spot colours. If you don’t know, go here now.
The difference between Vector and Raster graphics. A raster graphic such as a png or jpeg is made up of pixels. A vector graphic such as an EPS is made up of paths. Vectors are infinite quality, they are not pixels so they do not distort. Hence why most logos, print etc is done in a vector based program such as Adobe Illustrator.
Bleed. For some reason a lot of designers don’t even know what bleed is. To put simply, a printer has to grip paper to move it. How can you print to the edge of the paper if there’s a grip there? You can’t. Let’s use A4 as an example. We print our artwork at a larger size than needed on oversized paper e.g SRA4. When we cut our artwork down to a standard size (A4) we are left with print all the way to the edge. Bleed also allows for movement of the paper, and design inconsistencies.
Safety Margin. Always leave your self space around your important information on your artwork. This will allow for any paper movement or mishaps. Also, space is good, space is very good.
If you are using raster based software for your printing needs, make sure your document is 300DPI. Learn what DPI means.
Outlining your copy. Make sure you convert your text to outlines. This will convert any text to paths. This makes sure that when you send your file to the printers, nothing will change. If you send a printer a file that requires them to have the latest free font you’ve downloaded they will shout at you. I promise.
In almost all of the portfolios we receive there is very little digital/web based work on show. This is essential and quite frankly worrying that it’s not heavily considered.
SVG’s. If you’re going to be working in the industry you need to know about SVG’s. Developers will request most graphics in Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) format. This allows for small files size, scalability and design control in browser such as animation and filters. Sara Soueidan has written some excellent articles that cover SVG in detail: http://sarasoueidan.com/tags/svg/index.html
CSS / HTML. I recommend at the very least taking this free online course to get your head around HTML and CSS. As a designer you will get left behind if you don’t have a basic grasp of front-end code.
Responsive. Consider how graphics have to be responsive to different device sizes. Take a look at this site for some very cool responsive logo examples. http://www.responsivelogos.co.uk/
Page speed. Every design choice you make has an effect on page speed, and the page speed of a website is a critical factor in its performance and therefore its ability to function well. Working closely with your front-end developer from day one will help achieve this. Consider how many images you use and how large they are, also think about how many different font styles your design uses. Loading too many different font weights and families can really slow down a website. Try these tools to help you: Pingdom, Google Page Speed Insights, Webpagetest.org.
Saving for web. Learn how to save for the web using Photoshop, optimising your images and assets as efficiently as possible. Images should almost always be in kb file size, and preferably below 100kb, although 100-300kb can be acceptable for a large hero image.
Appropriate file type. Regarding images, you should only really ever use PNG when you need transparency. Photographs should otherwise always be JPG. Graphical elements and logos however, should ideally be SVG. This ensures they are displayed at the optimum resolution on high DPI devices (such as an iPhone).
Accessibility. Everything you design for the web needs you to consider accessibility, which involves designing your product to be usable to as many people as possible including those with disabilities. You’ll need to consider how people with various disabilities will use your site – affecting colour choices (contrast), the size and positioning of elements, typography and other factors such as page speed and HTML.
Type / Fonts. Remember, that fonts have to be loaded from somewhere on a website unless they are system fonts. When designing a website you should have this in mind from the start. Checkout Google fonts or Typekit to see what’s out there.
Style tiles / Photoshop. Designing full blown mock ups in Photoshop is very limiting, how can you express behaviour, animation, responsiveness in a static bit of software? A lot of the design process now needs to be done in browser. Use style tiles to focus on just the core design elements in Photoshop, things like typography, colour, button styles etc. Then work with your developer to flesh out your designs
Colour codes. There are different ways of expressing colours in code, such as HEX codes and RGBA. We advise becoming familiar with these so you can work with developers more effectively, to communicate your colour choices.
Help! This is too much to learn!
Whilst the above may seem like a lot to take in, and a lot to expect from somebody in the early throws of their career, competency across a wide range of different subjects and technical skill sets is crucially important for a designer/developer. People that work in the world of the web often have to adopt a polymath-like attitude to their work, it requires you to know many different things to a very high level.
At the very least, a willingness and ability to learn with a positive attitude towards developing your skills are actually the most important attributes you need to have as a person to succeed.
“I picture the most demanding challenge; I visualize what I would need to know how to do to meet it; then I practice until I reach a level of competence where I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to perform” – Chris Hadfield (An Astronauts Guide to Earth)
You can follow our co-founder and creative director Jonny on Twitter for more ramblings and tips about business and design here. @jonnypathan