Dear Bonnie: June 2018

Hey designers, I know you have burning questions about design jobs, portfolios, and other career conundrums. Email me at for a chance to get my advice, published here each month. Submissions are anonymous, so include as much information about your situation as you can.

Dear Bonnie,

I'm starting an M.F.A. design program this Fall and I am very excited/terrified. My undergraduate degree is in communication studies with a focus in HCI (along with a design minor) and this is my way of trying to switch from digital editing to a user-centered design career. However, I am feeling immense impostor syndrome. I am most likely the only person in the program who has never actually worked as a designer. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my education in something that truly interests me and ignites my creativity, but how can I ease my anxiety about possibly falling behind in my program? Thanks.

Mortified in the Midwest

Dear M.,

Congratulations for getting into an M.F.A. program! That is a huge accomplishment, and having served on masters programs’ admissions committees, I know how tough it is to get in. They believed you would be an asset to their program and that their education would be an asset to you. Trust their decision.

Anxiety is another name for fear. While understandable, you shouldn’t feel this way about graphic design. Sure, it can be difficult, but doing what you love to do for a living is hard to top. Think of your M.F.A. program as an opportunity to play, to learn how to play better, and to pave your way to a life of play. Work isn’t work if you love it.

And let me assure you, you are not an imposter. Smart people tend to focus on what they don’t know (less smart people tend to think they know everything) so what you’re feeling is totally normal. But it is also a complete waste of time. Worrying about whether or not you’ll fall behind, before you even begin does not help anything. The fact that you’re grateful for this opportunity, and passionate about design will help you do well. We can each only do our best, and if you continue to do that, you will go far—regardless of what you have or haven’t done in the past.

Dear Bonnie,

I read a lot about young designers just out of school asking advice on how to land their first job and get their foot in the door. What advice to you have for older designers who are experiencing a glass ceiling? I’m over 40 and I have had over 15 years of graphic design experience, but sadly, I never had the jobs or worked at the companies where I could utilize my creativity to my full potential and grow professionally and I never advanced much in my career. I recently went back to school to earn a formal graphic design degree and refresh my skills. Now I’m job searching again. It seems that it’s harder to find a job being older. Most positions don’t want to pay the salary for someone with more experience. I almost feel like I have to start from scratch and accept a more junior level position so I can get my design career in the direction I want to go.

Nowhere in New York

Dear N.,

You mention two seemingly contradictory things. You say you never had the jobs to utilize your creativity to its full potential and people don’t want to pay for someone with more experience. Unfortunately even though you have more years of experience, if it’s not the right kind of experience for the jobs you are looking for now, it may not mean you deserve the higher salary. I have two suggestions.

  1. Go for the more junior position and ask for a review within six months. I imagine your work experience will mean you will be better, faster, and more competent, but you may have to prove it to people who don’t see it on your resume.

  2. Make the portfolio that shows why you deserve the higher level position. The proof is in the work. Tell the potential employer exactly what you said here; you didn’t get to express yourself fully in past positions, but just look at what you can do if given the opportunity!

And while you’re looking for work, don’t stop working. Do some free work for a political cause, a local event, a charity, and make the work great. It will not only expand your portfolio, and possibly even get you attention, but it will also suggest to your potential employer that you are a person of ambition and passion with a fantastic work ethic.


About the author

Bonnie Siegler founded the award-winning design studio Eight and a Half. She has taught at the graduate level for many years at the School of Visual Arts and Yale University, conducted workshops at other schools and judged design competitions all over the place. She has two new books coming out in February: Signs of Resistance which is a visual history of protest in America and Dear Client, which is a book that will (hopefully) help clients work more successfully with creative people.