Advice for design students

Having published about 1,000 posts over the years, here’s a selection of the ones I think are most useful to students.

Last updated in March 2017.

information sign cloudsPhoto by Steve Kay

On getting hired

On learning

On self-employment

On working with clients

On commercial printing

And I pieced together a resources page on the Work for Money, Design for Love website. It’s mostly for designers who want to become self-employed.

68 responses

  1. Hi David,
    you have profiled my business card in the past – and thanks for your interest. My next idea is to use a door hanger flyer like they use in hotels as part of my next business card/info flyer. Perhaps you have some ideas, feel free to email me and we can discuss. thanks David!

  2. David, I just want to say thanks for this post. You are by far one of the most thoughtful designers out there! I still remember when you responded to my email and I thought that alone was nice of you. Thanks for more amazing resources :)

  3. Very nice collection of information. I wish I had such a concise resource during my student years, but we can all continue to educate ourselves.

  4. This is INCREDIBLY useful, I’ve put it in my blogroll.

    Now when students contact me I can send them to your much more comprehensive advice rather than my piddling bits and pieces :D

  5. Getting started as a designer, freelance or otherwise, is definitely a tough nut to crack without the right guidance – beautiful list David.

  6. Hello,

    If and its a BIG if, someone decided to go on their own and say a potential client asked what qualifies you to be a graphic or web designer, what would be a good answer? It’s just that there seems to be some courses available but then some seem to be not quite what would seem appropriate to this career.

    Thank you,

    Best wishes

  7. David I was wondering what your advice to students would be regarding sites like People Per Hour. I took at look at it and was suprised just how many students were bidding to do work at silly prices. I know you have to start somewhere, but the site really devalues graphic design, Logos design for Vertical Blind Company£10 – £50.00 fixed fee (- 10% commission), 70 bids.

    The site is full of students who in the long run may find they slightly damage the industry they seek to get into.

  8. Steer well clear, Gavin. Clients who value their identities at around a hundred quid aren’t worth your time. You’ll end up losing money by taking on those jobs, and if that’s the case, you’re much better off by improving your portfolio with pro bono design.

  9. Hello Mr. David, actually I came to know about your page and links for the first time. My sir, Mr. Shahid Breir, suggested that I to refer to your links. They are very helpful in our projects. Thanks again.

  10. Thank you for the tips, very kind of you, I’m a graphic design student and this has helped me a lot.

    All the best


  11. I have recently been hired by a dental group to create a logo for them. This is my first time designing a logo for a company. I went to school for graphic design so I have created logos before but I have not created a logo for a business before. They asked me how much I charge and what it includes. I am unsure what to set my rates at and what other things would be included. Can you give me an idea of how to set my rates?

  12. I’m a recent design school graduate and I’m in the process of job hunting. It’s going slowly and at the same time I can’t help but wonder if taking a design apprenticeship would be the best fit for me now. I have experience from freelancing and related experience from internships and a web design job, but not industry experience. What’s most important to me now is learning and growing, so I’d really like to know if you think that becoming an apprentice would be ideal for doing just that. I haven’t found anything on your blog about apprenticeships, so I figured that I’d ask here. Any advice would be much appreciated. I always find your advice very useful!


  13. Hi Catrina, I don’t have any experience of apprenticeships in particular, but I think there’s quite a lot of overlap between them and internships. You have experience in relevant employment, self-employment, and from internships. It doesn’t seem as if you need to search for an apprenticeship. You learn and grow on the job. Employers will know this.

  14. You have the best site for valuable information; I have referred to your site, my GAG Book and AIGA resources with all kinds of business of design questions.

    What you do for the design community is wonderful. I am pretty sure I speak for many when I say; “Thank You!”

  15. Hello, I am about to complete a course in visual communication. For references and guidance I always refer to your blog. The advice for design students column helps a lot, so thank you!

  16. Hi David,
    I just graduated with an A.S. in Graphic Design from a community college. I have worked on academic projects, but do not have any work experience. I am putting together my resume and applying for jobs. I am hearing that most companies toss out resumes without work experience. What would you advise about showing my academic projects in my resume. I am not sure if that is something people generally do.
    Looking forward for your reply.
    Thank you,

  17. Hi David,

    Not too sure if this is the right place to ask this question but can I have a go?

    I’ve been reading that you should deliver your work in pdf format either to a customer or a printer. I was wondering how you convert your artwork into pdf. I know of pdf online which I use to convert Publisher files to pdf but how can I convert say a logo or something for print?

    Many thanks as always,

    Best wishes

  18. I don’t use Publisher, Graeme, so I’m not sure how much help I can be. But if I’m creating a print-ready PDF from Illustrator or InDesign I’ll use the “export to PDF” or “save as PDF” option. I don’t think I’ve ever converted a logo file to PDF for printing, because the logo has always been part of something else (a business card or brochure for instance).

  19. I am a middle-schooler visiting on behalf of my school career research project, and in seeing this website, graphic design seems like a creative and enjoyable way to earn money. I know I hardly count as a real design student (as of yet), but in any case this article was a helpful resource. So, I’d just like to thank you for your helpful tips, and maybe one day I will have a portfolio as colorful as yours.

  20. I stumbled upon your great site, looking for ways to write up a contract. I poked around your site some more, and landed on this section. I am a design student and I will graduate in Sept with Honors…and the links on your page (and throughout your site) have been helpful!

    This is a completely new venue for me, and at times overwhelming, but I am excited to step out into the world of design.

    Thank you for taking the time to write/blog/share your thoughts and experiences!

  21. Hello David,

    Just received a notification that Christina had replied to this post and I would just like to say thank you again for this, it’s amazing that you took the time and effort to put all this information up and more so that it comes from a very reliable source.

    Thank you,

    Best wishes

  22. It is a great help, David! I have passed on your link to fellow students. Hopefully they will take the time to check it out. You have a lot of beneficial information.

    There is a lot to consider as a designer. You’re welcome, I am glad I found you!

  23. Hi David, this might seem like a silly question but do you have any advice on how to approach design theory books? What do you personally find the best way to study from them?–annotating like you would with any academic book or having a sketchbook handy so you can try to put the book’s concepts in practice?

    I’m going to begin my graphic design major this fall. I know getting work experience at internships is the way to prepare but unfortunately I believe my weak portfolio prevents me from getting employed;therefore I want to better prepare myself by trying to learn as much about design theory outside of college as possible so that I may improve on my portfolio.

  24. I’ve don’t really have a plan when it comes to reading books, Robert, but I almost always have a notepad and highlighter nearby.

    You can still gain studio experience without a strong portfolio. Try asking local business owners if you can spend a day or two shadowing one of their designers. And good luck with your major.

  25. Great resources and great advice. I’m in my final year of design and your site is just and abosulute blessing, will be taking all of this on board

  26. This is an awesome post. You helped us students a lot. If only there were more like you that took into consideration our needs or just give us some directions to follow. Lots of thanks. Now I have no excuse to actually start studying. :D

  27. I just came across this while researching for my thesis. One of the things I’m sort of focusing on is the creative process. There are so many great resources here. I will definitely have to spend more time with it. Thank you for putting this together!

  28. I just came across your site and as a relatively new ish designer looking to expand my horizons, I am very glad I did. New or old, this information is extremely useful to any designer. Thank you for sharing your insight, tips, and advice!

  29. Hi David,

    A great list of places for new designers to get some solid tips.

    I hope that someday soon you’ll be able to add “The Designers Guide to Freelancing” to your list of “A few Good Books.”

    Good Luck

  30. Hi David!
    Thanks for the links. I admire you as a designer, but creating a separate place for students was a clever move and timesaving for all of us.

  31. Hello David,

    I purchased your book, “Work for Money, Design for Love”, and it has helped with so many questions that I have had, which I am eternally grateful for. At the end of this month, I will be graduating with an A.S. in Graphic Design, and I am in the process of launching my business. However, I am still concerned about delivering work to my future clients. If I design something that requires print, for example, stationery or packaging design, do I send it to the client and have them print it with a printing company? Or should I contact a print company and have them print out and send the physical design to the client? I would really appreciate some advice. Thank you.


  32. Hi Sonia, thanks for reading, and it’s great to know the book helped. For the printing, it’s up to you. I generally leave it to my clients, but if you want to handle it, add a markup to the total print cost so you’re paid for the time involved.

  33. Hi David,

    Thanks for a great book “Logo Design Love.” It contains a lot of details about the linear design process. But what about Mood Boards? I hear it a lot when people refer to “design inspiration.” Is a Mood Board necessary when brainstorming or just an option in final design presentation? Sorry if this question is a bit lame because there is nothing discussed similarly in both your blogs as I’ve searched. And I also lack the basics as I study independently. It will be nice if you can suggest some books or link to some posts.


  34. No need to apologise, Linh, and you’re very welcome. Mood boards are up to you. I generally don’t work with them, but that’s not to say I don’t collect pieces of relevant info, swatches, patterns, photos, and so on. Give it a go if you think it’ll help.

  35. Hello David,

    I am fan of your books ‘Logo Design Love’ and ‘Work for Money, Design for Love’.

    I am freelancing and engaged in logo design along with graphic design work, based in Bangalore, India.

    I designed 4 logo concepts for a tech startup two weeks ago. I have not heard back from the client and the client is still looking elsewhere for more concepts. How do I ask the client to pay for the concepts that were not accepted but have cost my time and effort.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Usha, thanks very much. I’ll take a guess that you’ve shared your ideas without getting 50 percent in advance. I hope that’s not the case, but if so, and unless you have contract, unfortunately I’d write this off as experience.

  36. Hi David. Thanks for the advice. I have one more question on how to sail through legal process with new clients. Are there recommended templates freelancers can rely
    1) to initiate contracts with the clients?
    2) to specify terms and conditions for deliverable?
    Thanks in advance.

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