Solo designer. How to build a career when you work alone

    My experience of self-development, job search and making money

    It so happened that from the first years of my career I was always the only designer in every project I was able to work on. These were small startups and international organizations, but, regardless of the scale, I always worked alone.

    Communicating with young designers, I notice that most of them are isolated. Basically, it is self-taught, who are trying to understand a new topic for themselves, faced with uncertainty, lack of experience and knowledge.

    Five years ago, I was the same, just starting my way into design. I lacked a lot of knowledge, for example, understanding the process and the essence of our work. In the absence of a mentor, my progress was not so fast and I had to learn most things from my own experience, analyzing successes and failures.

    I started my professional career at 18. Over the years, I managed without special talent and education to establish myself in the company with which I went to New York to take Starta Ventures. I was hired several times by a well-known payment system for designing the financial services of the three largest banks in our country. And on this I earned good money.

    I have already described my way in detail in the article “Becoming a Designer”therefore, in this article I will focus on practical things that helped me establish myself in the industry ( my interview ) and start my own project.


    I tend to self-analysis and normally spend several hours for me, looking through notes and flipping through my favorite books. I enjoy trying to better understand how our world works and how decisions made have influenced my career.

    After reading the books of Nassim Taleb, Daniel Kaneman, Ray Dalio, I was even more absorbed in the analysis of my actions, trying to separate specific solutions from random events.

    Somewhere this was quite difficult to do, since many actions are precisely aimed at attracting random events, which is well written in the book "Anti-Fragmentation." It was from the book of Taleb that I learned this strategy.

    I prepared this material for myself in order to better understand my path, but in the end I decided that it could be useful to many specialists who are just starting or have recently begun their careers.

    If you have a decent experience, then I will be glad to hear your opinion on the things that I will touch on in this article. Perhaps many things will coincide, and some will be able to complement it, and I will be very happy.

    I chose to work for a passion, so any of my current activities brings pleasure. But at the same time, I always tried to earn more.

    Therefore, I have divided this material into two parts:

    1. Professional and personal development
    2. Making Money and Finding a Job

    I hope that my conclusions will be useful to you.

    Some things may seem simple, but over the years I’ll become more and more aware of the power of simple and understandable things and try to avoid complex ones. Not because I do not want to strain my mind, but because I believe that any topic can be explained in simple words. This is what I'll do now.

    Personal and professional development

    If any of you are familiar with my Instagram profile, then you know that I regularly read. Many people think that this is the only thing that I do in the intervals between coffee cups and writing articles, although I don’t spend so much time reading.


    But, despite this, the books really influenced my thinking , and, not to be unfounded, I will tell you how.

    The list of my favorite books is always open at , so here I will highlight a few.

    Not all readers believed my review of the book Principles by Ray Dalio.. Someone considered him a charlatan (possibly against the backdrop of Tony Robbins' arrival), although Ray is the founder of the most successful hedge fund in history and one of the richest people in the world. In his book, he gives a very sober look at the achievement of goals, which will be useful for every ambitious person to understand.

    Nassim Taleb is considered by many to be overly arrogant, but his books have helped me understand many of the patterns and get rid of popular misconceptions. For example, in the book “Anti-frailness” the author offers a very efficient career building strategy, which greatly influenced my decisions. If it were not for her, then instead of developing my project, I would find myself in one of the large IT companies, editing the corporate design system. Thanks Nassim!

    Biographies of entrepreneurs helped me understand how a business works, what every designer should know. Reading the biographies of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Walton, Richard Branson and Oleg Tinkoff, I unconsciously penetrated the mindset of entrepreneurs, which helped me better understand business goals and use it in my work. Due to this, they turned to me not as a creator who draws something, having buried in a MacBook, but as a partner who helps the company to earn money.

    It should be noted communication with professionals. The first years I occasionally turned to Yury Vetrov (Mail.Ru Group) for advice, a little later - to Sergey Popkov (AIC). Such conversations help to better understand the industry. In the first case in the grocery design, in the second - in the studio. Having such a foundation, it is easier to reject the nonsense that is present in each area, and focus on the main thing.

    And the last thing is the comprehension of experience , that is, an understanding of the cause-effect relationships of one's actions and results. Here you need to work for several years first, so that there is something to think about. And only later it will become a key tool for development, to which, by the way, not a little attention is paid in the book of Ray Dalio.

    Making money

    The key idea about making money, I expressed in the design community The Design Times ( Telegram , Instagram ).

    The idea is as follows:

    “Many designers are fighting in the glass ceiling, trying to sell their services more expensive, instead of taking a step to the side and climbing the stairs.

    There is one proven method that helps to earn above the market without making superhuman efforts:

    Choose an area that scales well or with the high cost of goods.

    Online services are best scaled, but if you specialize in expensive products, such as cars, you can also make good money.

    Think not as part of the value of your hour, but of the value that you bring to the client.

    If your job helps you sell your customer an extra mug, sit and shut up. But when your design helps sell more cars or brings hundreds of new customers or transactions to the bank, you can (must) increase the value of your work at times. ”

    Perhaps this is the main thing.

    A designer and any other specialist are willing to pay above the market, but only if you help a business make more money.

    By rounding out the boarders and adding shadows you will not help the business, but by simplifying the process of using the service you can increase the company's revenue several times. I prefer to focus on the second.

    In simple words, I am ready to sacrifice the beauty and accuracy of the layout, for the sake of speed of development, thanks to which the product will enter the market faster and bring the first money.

    When a designer breaks out of the framework of the design world and thinks in categories of business problems, his career changes forever.

    Search for projects

    Office of the project, which I am currently engaged in.

    I have never been without a job for a long time. The last time changing the project, I had several options, including well-known food companies, design studios and start-up start-ups (I chose the latter).

    At first, I thought it was good luck to help me find interesting opportunities at the very time when I was looking for work. But later I looked at this situation differently.

    And what if I always managed to find new projects, because I offered the market something valuable?

    Despite the popularity of design, intelligent experts are not enough, so they do not stay up long on, do not hesitate to raise wages, responding to high demand. So what are these skills?

    I have already spoken about the first - this is an understanding of business.. When they see in you not only a creator, but also a potential partner, the attitude towards you changes a lot.

    The second is professionalism . Each of your projects should be a stepping stone to something more, even if you can’t talk about it. It can be a project in portfolio, experience, connections or money.

    At the start of a career, I could lose interest in the project in the course of work, because of which the final result satisfied few people and could not help me in the future. Now I just feel sorry for my time for useless work and I refuse most projects, preferring to devote time to personal projects aimed at the future.

    The third is networking. The biggest clients came to me on the recommendation. It is very difficult to find an intelligent specialist, especially if you need it urgently, so people prefer to contact their colleagues, rather than looking through dozens of portfolios. Therefore, it will not hurt to expand your social circle not only in design, but also in the business sphere.
    Many believe that networking is an ungrateful thing and below the dignity of many professionals.

    Here I want to bring a brief but succinct thought expressed in the article “Networking Designer's Guide”:

    Professional contacts are not cronyism, but the opportunity to realize your skills, attract promising initiatives and accelerate your development using other people's resources.

    The fourth is the ability to present your work.. I remember how at one workshop I was hired as a “hand”, and this project ended with an in-person presentation to the board of a large bank. Considering that the prestige of medium-sized company managers depends on such presentations, the responsibility on me is considerable.

    But in case of a successful presentation, they will certainly return to you. This is what happened. After a couple of months, I was approached by the product manager of that same bank with a job offer.

    Something about errors

    I discovered a funny thing by analyzing my experience. All mistakes or failures were made based on lack of experience . Many after the first setbacks lose confidence in their abilities, although it is not their business that matters, but their ability to continue to practice, no matter what.

    As Steve Jobs said, the points can be connected only looking to the past. So, looking back, everything seems to be much simpler and more logical. Understanding that any result takes time greatly helps in new beginnings.

    For example, The Design Times began with a Telegram channel with 0 subscribers, but now, after a couple of months, it already has about 650 designers. Recently, I received the first offer of advertising, although it all started as an experiment.

    A similar story was with my first performance. About a year ago I had a desire to speak in public and I thought about how this could be organized. As a result, I decided that my publications on Medium (where I became a top author in several topics) will attract attention to me. Therefore, when half a year later Yury Vetrov offered me to speak at the Dribbble Meetup, I was not surprised, but was glad that my strategy was justified.

    Sometimes we delve very much into today, while it is better to cover the big picture and understand where the current road will lead you in a few years . You can not accurately predict the outcome, but you can assume how much the final result will satisfy you.

    Every year I am increasingly convinced that the right way and regular progress, even if it is a small one, is much more important than the daily superhuman efforts.

    In conclusion, I’ll quote Ed Catmell, the founder of Pixar and the author of the excellent book Geniuses Corporation:

    “It is very interesting to me that a great number of people believe in their ability to drive trains and believe that the driver’s position is extremely important - in other words, what exactly train management creates the future of companies. 

    In fact, it is not. Managing a train has nothing to do with laying a course. The real and main job is laying the sleeper of the future road. ”

    I would like to tell you more about this idea, as I found a deep meaning in it. Perhaps I will reflect on it in the next article, but for now I will take my leave and leave you alone with my thoughts. I hope that my thoughts will guide you to any ideas and you will apply them in life. 
    What I wish for you.

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