Marketing yourself as a designer

It doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

by Darian Rosebrook
August 06, 2017

Marketing is that topic that gets you added by a bot to all those lists on Twitter, or followed by fake accounts on Instagram, or shunned completely by your friends on Facebook for asking them to try your new (insert thing here). Why do we need to learn marketing, adding to the list of tools in our design career?

Marketing is an essential tool when trying to make it out there in the world of design.

In order to get work, regardless if you’re a freelancer or if you are looking to get employed by a company or agency, you need to implement some tactics to get your name out there. You have to be discover-able, and you aren’t going to do that without putting the effort into your work and in your marketing.

The game of marketing is a hard mix of strategy, design, and user experience. Just like your design process, with marketing, everything starts out with a goal that someone would like to accomplish.

The way you are going to effectively market yourself as a designer is to set goals.

What are your goals when learning design?

Goal setting, though everyone has something to say about it, is important to putting a campaign together. How do you know where to put your efforts into making new things if you don’t know what you are making them for?

You have a reason why you’re choosing to learn more about design. Maybe you have just finished a design program, class, or tutorial and need to start building your skills and presence to be hired.

People will make a split second decision on whether to continue looking further into your work. You want to make sure you are marketing your skills as effectively as possible to tip that decision in your favor.

Figuring out where you need to begin is our first step.

Spend a little time to figure out your goal

Here’s some to bounce ideas off of:

  • Convert more portfolio visitors into paying clients

  • Get higher paying clients

  • Get hired with an agency / company / mom-and-pop shop

  • Promote a project you are working on

  • Getting more subscribers to your email list

  • Build an audience through social media or video

  • Teach design to others

  • Get sponsorships

  • Promote your weekend garage band

  • Opening a constructive view on global issues

  • Finally doing something to make your mother proud

  • etc.

If you have something specific in mind that you want to achieve through design, you can then pick the best way to start moving towards it.

Each one of these ideas below are a good way to start marketing your skills.

To maximize your effort, you’ll have to put together a mix of these tactics together until it gets to be a little bit of effort for you. It’s a mixture of being present, being loud, and providing value.

Create a portfolio

As a creative professional, having a strong portfolio in the beginning is key to marketing yourself as a designer and building your personal brand.

You need to be able to showcase the skills you have with design. It’s almost not up for negotiation. This portfolio should be filled with the type of work that you want to be doing. Including pro-bono work and self-initiated projects.

A portfolio is still one of the most effective tools that you use to get gainful work. You just need to make sure you’re crafting your portfolio for conversion.

When you display work that you’ve done, always make sure that you have the rights to show it. Some companies and some clients actually bar people from displaying any of the design work unless you specifically ask for permission in the beginning. This goes for client work, employed work, or imaginary work you’ve done for your dream company.

The fun part about putting your work online, there are tons and tons of ways to do so. And plenty of ways to do it for free. I had the fortunate start as a web designer where I started learning how to code HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and produce my own sites. These were some important tools of the trade.

But I don’t stand behind the idea that all designers need to learn how to code.

Code is a valuable tool to designers. A tool that is great for people working on digital products to have some understanding in. However…

I would rather you get good at using the tools you need to create your designs, if code is one of those tools, then learn to code. If it’s not a tool you need to use, don’t worry about learning it and spend time learning the other skills you need to effectively do your work.

As I started playing around with tools, I needed to get some sort of page up to hold my work. I didn’t know enough about hosting or web code yet, so I looked to using types of social media to host it.

I used early on and used one of their free themes for photographers to be able to put pictures up.

Once I knew enough to put actual code up online, I edited that Tumblr theme until I came up with a design that was mine. Then I worked on my craft and made my first website. It’s since been edited enough that it now lives on and gone through several revisions as I hone in on my craft. It’s hosted on GitHub Pages with Jekyll, Sass, and JavaScript as the Tech behind it.

For those who don’t have the capability of coding their own site, I recommend using a few websites to get started and have work posted.

  • Behance — “The Behance platform is free for creative professionals across disciplines.” This is one of the most popular sites where people post work and get hired directly from. Having this site won’t guarantee work, but it puts your face on the map.

  • Tumblr — For use in posting designs in a place that’s easily sharable and yours. (you can even buy a domain name and use it on your site e.g. www. soandso .com could point to it)

  • Dribbble — It’s a good place to post work, but to post you have to be invited. I share people who have open invites and post when I have them, but it’s proprietary and just another tool in your arsenal.

  • There are plenty of other options too with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

If you don’t plan on learning code, one of the highest levels you can go without having to learn everything about code is to set up a WordPress site.

Write about your industry and your field of discipline

With all of the capabilities in writing platforms a person can use, my favorite place to write for is my personal site. It has been a while since I have written a new article because my focus on my goals has been away from posting articles and put towards better newsletter content and writing my case studies for

Writing is still one of the more effective things you can do to show you know what you are doing. Depending on what your goal is for learning design, writing about topics that are centered around that goal are great things to focus on. It helps you and others learn through your research and your current expertise.

Here’s some example of helpful topics to focus your writing on:

  • Writing about working as a designer in teams and departments to get stuff done

  • Writing about working with clients and how clients can benefit from your services

  • Writing about skills of design that you learn / have expertise on

  • Write about curated resources or showcase designs to build audiences (careful with this one as proper credit and permissions would be required to showcase someone else’s work.)

  • Write about current trends and design history

Personal / Collaborative Projects

There are times where someone will want to see your skills in action. But if you are starting out in design (whether your plans for work are to get hired or take on freelance / client work) you might be low on work you have that you can showcase.

This is where personal or collaborative projects can be some of the most effective things you can do for your portfolio. I’m talking about the self initiated kind of projects. The Compass of Design is a self-initiated project where I had seen a need for more insights from someone positioned as someone who’s going through the fight. You may see something that you need or want done, if you have the skills to do so, why don’t you?

A self initiated project is something that can be anything from a weekly design challenge like Rogie’s #gillustrations or daily design challenge like Daily UI, to a full blown interactive project like my designer self assessment, or like Comic Sans Criminals.

Your projects can be decorative, useful, playful, whatever you want to. To ramp it up even more, if you promote it through your portfolio, write a case study about the process of starting it and any results you’ve seen from it.

People who are looking to hire a designer (full time or agency work) are looking for how you solve things creatively and what you can prove about how it was effective.

Teach what you know.

It is important to teach only what you know or have learned in your field. When you try to teach the topics that you don’t know anything about, you can cause damage to someone in their journey. If they trust you from a ongoing audience relationship, that trust should not be broken by giving them information that you have not tested or researched. It can hurt your reputation and your brand. It is something I am finding the balance of, and making sure I adhere to.

There are a lot of topics I could talk about, but there are limited things that I currently know, being a designer for 2 years by now. I want to make sure the content I provide is effective and current, but also informative enough and easy to understand. It would do everyone a disservice if I hadn’t practiced any of the topics I talk about. So I make sure that I have some experience or enough knowledge around a topic that I am equipped to talk about.

Teaching has been a huge passion of mine, and I want you all to know that as I learn, the content gets better, the quality of writing / speaking / teaching gets better. This is effective in marketing yourself because the things you know can help someone who is trying to go through a step that you just finished.

Now that you have a few ideas on ways to start getting better at marketing yourself as a designer, we’ll spend some time in the next few weeks diving into some areas of each topic. Eventually, this will be available in one cohesive spot, so the best way of getting notified when I have it ready would be the Compass of Design newsletter below.

On a scale of one to five, how effective do you think your efforts to market your skills are going?

Struggling to get traction in your design career?

You are not alone, every week we go over ways to market yourself better by improving your design skills, your personal brand, and other topics to further develop yourself as a designer…

We’re building a community for the designers like you.

The Compass of Design Community is a growing place of positive and driven designers who are working at being masters of their craft. Whether they’ve been designing for years or are just getting started on their journey, you will find this a place where you can get the critical feedback on your work and connect with like-minded designers.

Check out the Compass of Design Community to get on the list of self starters like you. (: