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The path to a successful career is anything but straight and narrow: it’s full of unexpected twists, with opportunities and challenges around every corner and behind every decision. It can be hard to know which steps to take to make sure you’re headed in the right professional direction.

At Adobe MAX, some of the world’s most talented and successful designers join together to talk about making great work. We asked some of them to share their best career advice:

Seek out smart people to learn from, the money will follow

leslie-yang-250The best advice I’ve heard came from a fellow designer at Pivotal Labs. She said “join teams filled with smart people. What you need, especially at the beginning of your career, is to learn from smart people. Don’t worry about money yet. The money will follow.”

When I first decided to focus on UX, I chose to leave a lead visual designer position that I’d held for many years to accept an internship at a small UX agency. It was scary, both emotionally and financially, but I knew I needed to surround myself with smart teams to deepen my UX skills. That internship led to a full-time UX position, which gave me the experience to join Pivotal where I lead and teach agile and lean UX on our projects.

~Leslie Yang, Senior Product Designer, Pivotal Labs


Life is too short to work on stuff that doesn’t matter

andrew-shorten-250You’re going to spend a significant amount of your life working, so do something that really matters to you personally. Making exceptional products or digital experiences requires significant effort, making hard decisions, and dealing with conflicting perspectives.

Even when things get hard, you still want to wake up in the morning excited to solve those problems and create something amazing. To do that, you’ve got to love what you do. Focusing more on truly finding what motivates you, rather than worrying too much about managing your career, will lead to success.

~Andrew Shorten, Director of Product Management – Design & Web, Adobe


Forge relationships, work hard, promote your projects

matt-d-smith-250I’m an independent studio owner and oddly enough, I’ve never held a full-time position anywhere, so I didn’t have a very traditional career path. The career advice I’ve collected over the years has been combination of hard knocks, books, and conversations with peers in the industry. If I had to boil it down to the essentials, I’d say there are three areas critical for a successful career:

  • Relationships are vital – Think of networking as strategic friendships. Some of the best projects and opportunities I’ve had came by referrals from friends in the industry. Learn to be a great communicator and you’ll forge strong relationships.
  • Secondly, hard work – Like my dad always said, “You have to pay your dues.” You don’t start off at the top of your career, you start at the bottom. As such, you have to do the trivial work that you don’t want to do, but you need to work with excellence and look for every opportunity to level up your skills and experience along the way.
  • Lastly, promotion – Show your work. Let others see what you’re working on, however possible. If you’re not thrilled with your current work, work on concepts you love and show them off. Show the kind of work that you want to work on.

~Matt D. Smith, Owner & Design Director, Studio Mds

What is your best career advice? Let us know in the comments below.

Patrick Faller

Patrick Faller

Patrick is a freelance writer, digital producer, journalist, and TV host. His background is news, but he has a passion for music, video games, and that special place where art and technology collide.


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