The “design community” is an elusive, almost mythical thing. Everyone talks about it, but no one actually knows what it is, how to define it, or most importantly, how to participate.
To break down the mythos, we talked to our friend Blake Stevenson, or as you may know him, @jetpacksandrollerskates.
Blake spends his 9–5 as a UI/UX Designer at Shopify, but he also moonlights as a freelance illustrator of all things quirky, cartoon-y, and 90s.
As someone who’s been around the block for a while and largely credits community participation to his success as a designer, Blake helps break down some of the obscurity around the “design community”, gives advice for networking with designers, and shares stories of design gigs he’s landed simply by getting out there.
Listen to the full interview below, and keep scrolling for Blake's tips on networking with fellow designers.
Blake’s tips for participating in the design community
Blake has landed a handful of dream freelance gigs simply by participating in the design world. Here are the tips he has for engaging in the design community both in-person and online:
1. Post work regularly
For work to get noticed, it has to be out there and visible. Sharing something you created is inherently vulnerable, and by sharing it you’re opening yourself up to critique which can be scary. But it’s also necessary.
“Every time I post something, I do feel like I’m spamming a little bit,” says Blake. “But maybe it’ll inspire somebody, maybe it’ll get the attention of a brand that I like — I just want to continue to build.”
2. Come ready to give back, not just to take
More than perhaps any other industry, the design world very much values authenticity. If you motivation behind interacting on the web and networking in person is solely to promote yourself, people will know it.
On the flip side, engaging with people in a generous, humble, and well, human way will earn you far more friends.
What does this look like? For Blake, it means things like not just posting pretty finished designs, but photos and videos about the creation process, and replying to questions like “What pen did you use?” or “What software did you make this in?”
Letting people behind the curtain and giving them tips on how to become better designers goes a long way.
3. Attend conferences when you can
Making friends behind a screen is nice, but making them in-person is even better. Keep an eye out for design conferences you may be able to attend. You’ll learn a lot, but you’ll also get to meet loads of people whose work you’ve likely gushed over on Instagram. You’d be surprised at how nice they are in person.
“Get out there is #1. Break outside of your shell, your bubble, and just talk to people,” says Blake. “The more you flex that muscles, the more you network, the more you get into those circles, the more comfortable you’re going to be.”
For a master list of design conferences happening this year, check out The 17 Best Design & Creativity Conferences to Attend in 2020 🤝
4. Share praise to other designers
No one supports designers more than designers. Do a designer wrong, and #DesignTwitter will bury you for it, but do right by them –– praise work when you think it’s good, open yourself up to feedback, be genuinely interested in people and helping them –– and they’ll really appreciate it.
5. Don’t be afraid to reach out
When it comes to contacting designers you look up to, or really leaders in any field, it can feel intimidating to reach out. When someone you look up to has a lot of followers, it’s easy to assume they’re too busy to want to get back to you.
The important thing to remember is that they’re still people, and the worst thing that can happen by reaching out to someone to ask for advice is that they don’t respond.
No one is ever going to be upset at you for sending them a message telling them you look up to them, so reach out! You’ll be surprised at how often people will respond and willing to give you time.
Keep up with Blake's work on Dribbble, Twitter, Instagram, and his website. And be sure to subscribe below for more design, eCommerce, and apparel related content.
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