Dear Bonnie: February 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 going to graduate from my university’s graphic design program this May and I couldn’t be more excited. However, I’m also feeling a little lost and scared (feelings I am sure every soon-to-be-graduate experiences). There are so many different roads I can take after graduation, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the guts to make a huge move when it comes down to the wire… Should I throw caution to the wind or is it time to make goals that are more “realistic” (I dream big)? I’m not sure if my dreams and aspirations are too extravagant for my existing skill set as a designer.

Dreaming in Denver

Dear D., 

Don’t pre-compromise your ambitions, even if you don’t land your dream scenarios right away. Maintain your excitement and try to use it to overcome your fears. Dreams can take years and years to realize but you will always feel good about yourself if you are following them.

Even if you need to take less than ideal work, keep an eye on the horizon—but also try and be amazing at the jobs you do land. The more you work, the more you learn about the kind of work that you like and that you’re good at. Learn from every interview and apply the lessons next time. Be patient, be persistent, and most of all, keep that excitement alive.

Remember that it takes time to reach the big goals. We learn nothing when we don’t try, but we learn everything from failure. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll get what you want sooner than you think.

Dear Bonnie,

I’m a graphic design student and I tend to lose motivation lately pretty easily. It’s hard spending so much time and effort on a project just to be told to start over again. Do you have any tips to stay motivated?

Frustrated in Fort Collins

Dear F.,

I assume it’s your teacher who is telling you to start over. I doubt this is what you were hoping to hear, but you have got to toughen up. Your instructors are giving you valuable lessons through the precious gift of honesty. They are helping you become a better designer. Listen to what they are telling you and learn from it.

Throughout your career, you will be told many times to start over after spending time and effort on a project, and you will do it. You will look back on where you missed the mark, what you learned form the experience, and move forward with a smile on your face.

Design is subjective and there is no one solution to any problem. Your teachers (and your future bosses and clients) will always have an opinion. Your job is to listen and understand what they are telling you and respond through your design skills. If you consider everything you do to be precious, you will have very rough road ahead. Your motivation will improve once you put frustration and ego aside and apply your energy to coming up with new solutions.

Dear Bonnie,

I’m going to be graduating soon and want to start my own company. What are some of the best building blocks to a successful business in design? Would it be more valuable to pursue creating a business head on? Or would it be a better move to be part of a design team and work my way up, gain knowledge, and then start to build up?

Eager in Easton

Dear E.,

Don’t start your own company upon graduation. Please. I know you feel like you know a lot right now, but you don’t. The time to start a company is when you know more about how companies work. 

Go out and get a job. Learn from the people around you and the people you work for. Figure out what kind of work you want to do and why. Soak up all you can about client interactions, running an office, managing a budget, all while someone else is paying you. Then, once you have a grasp on all aspects of the work, you can start to think about what kind of a company you would want to start. Or maybe you’ll love one of the jobs you have so much, you’ll stay a while then teach at a college where you can tell kids wanting to start a company upon graduation that they should wait. 

Starting a company is a big commitment. Hold out until you can better build your chance of success.


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.