How to Succeed as a Designer at a New Job, With Clients, or With a Team

How to Succeed as a Designer at a New Job, With Clients, or With a Team

When interviewing applicants for graphic art positions on our team, one of the questions I always ask is: “What would you do if you strongly believed you had a great idea for the logo of the company that just hired you?  Let’s say the company is National Geographic.  How would you get them or what would your strategy be to persuade them to change their current logo to your design?”

Most applicants stutter with this question. What I’m looking for is the notion that, although you may feel passionate about an idea of yours early on, you should pace yourself at your new job. Be patient. Spend at least a solid week or two observing, observing, observing. You have just entered a new work environment and, unless you are the only one there, it will have its own culture. Moreover, it’s usually difficult to grasp the full dynamics of a team in just a few days.

Additionally, I also look for the understanding that a good way to start up the ladder is at the bottom. Be on the lookout for any lower profile project opportunities; ones that could allow outside- the-box experimentation. Perhaps an internal memo, a newsletter, or a blog post could do the trick. And even if they don’t use your ideas initially, the simple fact that you get a chance to show your designs to someone can set the stage for things to come. Think of it as being strategic. The idea is to apply guerrilla style tactics and infiltrate the environment so you can eventually have some control or influence over design decisions.

Observe first, be respectful, and show consideration for the results a team has attained even if you feel they’re no good. No one wants to get their stuff trashed by the new kid even if he is right. Being tactful and exercising good judgment about when and what you say can be critical as to how successful you will be.

I can’t emphasize enough that this needs to be done carefully while grooming one’s reputation and credibility within the environment you are working in. Many times, depending on the company, this may not happen in a month. It may take more time until you have enough pull on things to start to “mold the clay“.

This awareness became crystal clear to me after a situation I personally went through as the recently hired graphic designer for a company specialized in eLearning solutions. Shortly after starting my new job, I noted that the background color, utilized throughout the project, was dreadful. “How bad?”, you may wonder. Try RGB (0, 0, 204) and see for yourself. At the time, I even heard silly explanations that “these colors kept the users awake”. “You’ve got to be kidding”, I thought.  I believe that what keeps a user awake is good, engaging content, not blinding colors.

Long story short— there were thousands of images in the library that needed to be repaired. A procedure for converting the colors was developed, tested and refined until it was solid. I developed a new color scheme for the images and created a few working samples for review and ran all of this by my boss which I, in the mean time, had been slowly grooming about the idea of modifying the color scheme globally which would not only improve quality but also improve user engagement. A year went by before I was ready to modify all images in the library [over 6000 images). By then approval to modify was instant. Converting the colors took one week plus another week to deal with animations.


By starting the new job and first observing, I was able to know who had the authority and how open to change they were. By letting some time go by before expressing my discontent with the current color scheme, I didn’t come across as disrespectful to those who were already there and who had already put a lot of work into the project. As the days and weeks passed, I was able to establish my reputation with the team by consistently supporting them in any area I could.  By the time I was ready to implement the changes, everyone was “eager” for the change and there was no resistance. This was a victory for Design.

This is how this methodology works. Observe, establish yourself and gain credibility, groom the environment for change, create a sensible process with manageable results and then execute.

I can’t repeat this enough times to those entering the job market straight out of school. You have to be an observer. You have to be patient. You have to be strategic. And most important, you have to be respectful.

Mark Lewis is a lead designer working in the e-learning industry where he manages a design team working on several projects. In his free time, he enjoys photography, surfing, hang gliding and spending time with his wife and daughter. Check out some of his work at

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January 26, 2013

This is great advice. Something I’ve learned over time is that decisions are hardly ever made hastily. There are bound to be more factors in the decision making process than you’ve taken into account. There’s usually a reason why a “bad” decision was made, and it helps to understand these reasons before jumping in and trying to “fix” them.


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