Congratulations! You got into design school. Or, at least you plan on getting into design school. Or, perhaps you just graduated and really want to hit the ground running in the real world. Either way, if you're new to the design community, these nuggets of wisdom will hopefully you help you kickstart your academic or professional career, and do work you can be proud of.
1. Develop your technical skills with practice, practice, practice. When working on a design project, it's easy to get bogged down when you don't know how to technically execute your idea. If you aren't an expert at a specific design program, things tend to move slowly. Keep your speed up with practice. If you want to learn a design program, just use it. Then use it some more. Then use it again. And just make stuff, even if you just replicate an ad or a movie poster. Tutorials can be helpful in the beginning, so check out Skillfeed. But after that, just go play around. This way your technical hang-ups aren't stifling your brilliant ideas, and aren't happening three hours before they're due.
For reference on speedy keyboard shortcuts, check out Nikolay Smorgun's shortcut apps for each of the Adobe programs.
And if you haven't already, learn the shortcut for zooming and navigating while holding down the space bar. For some reason, I didn't find out about this in my early career, and when I did it was a simple but huge change in speed.
2. Look at everything. Inspiration comes from a lot of places, and don't forget that design happens on sites that aren't about design. So if you're looking at RachaelRay.com for a recipe, you might notice a font or a button. Now by the time you have dinner in front of you, you also have a new design insight in your head. Watch movies, go to plays, go your friends house for lunch, and just notice stuff. You'll be taking breaks and using your brain in other ways, while still keeping your design mind open and active.
And of course, looking at actual design blogs never hurts either. Lately my favorite is Trendland, which features all kinds of design: interior, fashion, photography, art, music, etc. They also have a really badass app, my favorite feature of which is that it hooks up nicely with Pinterest. Tip: Use Pinterest for free and easy inspirational digital mood boards.
3. Save everything. Back up everything. I'm sure you've heard this advice before, but it's not a joke. A non-student might need to back up every week, but students should back up every day. You cannot afford to lose all the work you did between 10 pm and 8 am, when you have a project due at 9 am. Do not let it be an option. Stuff always goes down at the wrong time.
Furthermore, save ALL of your work, and save your layers. You never know when it might come in handy post-graduation. You might find yourself in a tough spot, gunning for a freelance job you never thought you'd be gunning for, and the employer might be asking if you've ever done point-of-sale designs. As a matter of fact, you just happen to have one thing under your belt that you did in school, and viola! You can make rent this month. Phew! Furthermore, if you save all of your layers, and keep everything editable, you can always update your portfolio and tailor specific projects for different clients/employers.
4. Get a Camera. A decent camera will be clutch in design school for several reasons. The first reason is that you can photograph everything for your portfolio, especially your printed pieces. Another reason a camera is important is that it gives you a lot of independence and freedom to capture what you see. Take beautiful photos and keep them for inspiration and mood boards. Sometimes I think just having a camera around my neck makes me more open to inspiration. Finally, having a camera gives you a very unique and wonderful opportunity to make other forms of art and presentation. Maybe you want to make a documentary for an end-of-semester project. Maybe you'll have an idea for a photo project or a piece of video art. Make it! Do it!
I would keep an eye out for the new Canon Rebel SL1, which is a smaller and more affordable DSLR. The Nikon D40x is another small DSLR. Also, everyone's been talking about the Sony RX100, which is a nice and fancy point-and-shoot. And if it turns out that photography is your thing, submit some and become a Bigstock contributor!
5. Write it down. I don't care how you do it, but when you have an idea, a half idea, nugget, revelation, or an inkling, write it down. We are a distracted generation, and we can't rely on our brains to recall our ideas. And if you don't think the idea is good, write it down anyway. It might become good. Or maybe a year later you'll come across it and finally figure out how to make it work.
A good old-fashioned Moleskine works wonders, but if you're really into your smartphone, there are some fancy apps that will make recording your ideas fun. Adobe has an app called Adobe Ideas. The app allows you to sketch and paint on images, including Google images, flickr images, your camera roll photos, or even your Creative Cloud files. Then of course it connects to social media, including Tumblr. Adobe also has a super-impressive app called Adobe Kuler, which is really fun for capturing and playing with color palettes.
6. Collaborate. It's easy to get really competitive in Design school. And I think competitiveness can be very motivating in healthy doses. But you'll be even more successful if you help each other out as well. Ask for opinions; give opinions. Do favors. Give out ideas if they help someone else's project. I find that if you are generous and have a good attitude, it will come back to you. By getting outside of your personal bubble, you'll go much further in school and in life. Also, everyone has natural specialties, so use that to your advantage.
Another thing that doesn't hurt is some good 'ol fashioned partying. The term "networking" doesn't mean dry interactions with handshaking and throat clearing and business card exchanging. It means laughing and relating to people. Go out and make great friendships that will help you for years to come. Human friendships not only make you feel warm and fuzzy, but they can be so valuable in both the academic and professional world.