As a designer, one of the most difficult aspects of developing your career is building a strong network. Networking doesn’t come naturally to most people, and even if you’ve summoned the courage to attend a networking event, it’s hard to meet the right people who could help you find a job opportunity.
Lars Lawson is no stranger to the world of networking. Lars is the owner of Timber Design Company, an Indianapolis-based design studio. They specialize in print, brand identity, advertising, video animation and retail packaging. Most of his best clients came from his network, but before he started his own agency, he networked hard to get every opportunity he could. In his interview with Obsessed With Design, he talked about the importance of networking for designers of all stripes. Here are a few pieces of advice from Lars Lawson on networking for designers:
Your network is, first and foremost, people you know. The best opportunities often come from unpredictable places, so it’s vital to stay in touch with as many people as you can.
“There’s a lot of people that I’ve just stayed in contact with through the years,” Lars said when asked about the origin of his best projects.
While networking may seem like a daunting task to some, it always begins with work you’ve already done.
“Just keep out there and keep yourself communicating,” Lars advises young professionals. “I have to schedule lunches out and keep communicating with people or I’d go crazy.”
Every professional gets pigeonholed early in their careers.
“People would say you’re really great… but you don’t have any design experience,” Lars said about networking early in his career. “That was a really interesting process. You see how people get hung up on certain things.”
In order to overcome this obstacle, he had to work especially hard to get and show the right kinds of design projects to show your abilities. Once you’ve broken the cycle, however, the work is just beginning.
Especially in the world of design, it’s easy to get typecast. If you do great work with icons, you get calls about icons. You typically get the work you show, so it’s extremely important that you show the types of projects that you want to do.
“I once had an account executive not convinced that I could design a neonatal brochure because I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids.”
- Lars Lawson
If you want to avoid being limited to a certain style of design, it’s important to show a great amount of variety in your work and be deliberate about the projects you accept. Always look at how each project affects your overall brand. It’s okay to have a clear aesthetic style, but you need to be able to show variety when necessary.
“I was getting a lot of clients at the time who were saying ‘I like your look and I like this Earthy look. Can you do that for us?’ Which was great, but I wanted to rebel against that.”
In addition to diversifying your portfolio, there’s a lot of value in submitting yourself for awards. Whether you’re working in an agency and want your team to submit more work to awards shows, or whether you want to submit independent work, award ceremonies give you great feedback on how you stack up against the competition.
“I think we spend our whole lives being graded and measured against our peers,” Lars said. “You get in the real world and there aren’t a lot of tests to see how you measure up.”
To Lars, there’s a ton of value in awards shows. “I’ve always been the type of person who wants to know how he measures up,” Lars told us. They can be a great tool to give you and your agency visibility, legitimacy, and authority in your field.
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