10 things new designers should know

I’ve been a designer at a big architecture/design firm for four months now. Here’s a list of 10 things designers in their first job with a firm should know, in no particular order.

  1. People. Introduce yourself to everyone you encounter whose name you don’t know or don’t recall. Don’t be shy about saying you think you’ve met but have forgotten their names. Build relationships. Help people out when they are in a pinch with their projects. Be friendly and cheerful.
  2. Computer filing systems. Learn how your firm’s labyrinthian computer files are organized. A list of the computer drives and file name abbreviations is not enough. Make someone go through this in detail until you understand it from top to bottom. You don’t want to be the one who “loses” some file because you didn’t save it to the right location.
  3. Learning. Soak it up. Attend every vendor presentation and every learning opportunity your firm offers, even if it means you have to work late to make up the hours. Snoop around in the library. If you don’t know a computer program that the firm uses (Illustrator? Revit?), get the firm to train you or buy a manual and learn it on your own time. Get LEED certified as soon as you can. Plan on taking the NCDIQ exam.
  4. Activities. Get involved in firm activities. Join a group, help organize an event, participate in the firm’s community service activities, serve on a committee. Get involved in outside organizations that benefit the design profession or the community.
  5. Work hard. Know that you will have to work some long hours, hopefully not every day. Know that you can say you are already fully booked when someone asks you to do a task and you know you can’t get it done in time. Know that you will feel very satisfied when you’ve done a good job. Sometimes, no matter how busy everyone around you is, you won’t have enough to do. When this happens, go to every project manager you can find and ask for work. Keep at this until someone gives you something to do, something billable.
  6. Assert yourself. Ask the senior person who does what you like doing to help you get more of that kind of work and keep asking. If you are really good at something and the firm isn’t taking advantage of that skill, let people know you can do this and keep reminding them. Make sure the higher-ups know how hard you work – toot your own horn.
  7. Questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even about something you’ve already done or you should have learned in school. If something doesn’t seem right, speak up.
  8. Decisions. Pay attention to how decisions are made. What decisions can you make? What decisions can your project manager make? What decisions need to be made by a principal? It’s likely that no-one will really tell you this, even if you ask, so observe and keep asking.
  9. Clothes. Dress like the person who has the job you want to have in 10 years. You’re not in college any more.
  10. Money. Start saving for your retirement and keeping a budget from day one. Seriously, even if you are in your 20s. Take advantage of all the firm’s employee benefits, like 401(k) plans, “cafeteria plans”, etc. Learn how your firm reimburses you for taxi rides to clients’ offices.

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