Want to be a designer but have no idea what it’s like, how to get into it and what designers actually do? Good job that award-winning senior designer Robert Szantai (he’s worked for Coca-Cola, O2 and Barclays, to name a few) is on hand to give you the lowdown.

From web design to graphic design, Hungarian-born and London-based Robert gave some great advice for budding designers this morning at Campus Party

What do designers actually do?

A whole range, and it depends which designer you want to be. There’s the planning side of things, and the production side – both have their merits: “Planning is where the project starts, and the UX designer is basically there to create visual explanations and anything that will help stakeholders understand the product,” explains Robert. “From visualised user journeys to mind maps to sketches, everyone defines a UX designer in a different way but all good projects have strong planning.” On the other hand, the UI designers work on the visual production side – producing graphics and designing everything the customer sees. “It’s the art of functional design, so a UI designer is always coming up with ways of simplifying and coming up with better solutions,” says Robert. “It’s anything that helps stakeholders use the product, so when you’re working on something and explaining the process, it’s always good to show instead of tell – creating little demos and prototypes and sketches.”

Why should you be a designer?

It’s fun

“You actually wouldn’t believe how fun it really is, and it’s not that stressful either. Of course this depends on the project, but on the whole it’s not a hugely stressful job,” says Robert. Creativity also ranks pretty highly in the job description; there’s a level of creativity in developing jobs and architects but, as Robert says “if you’re creative, you have to be a designer – they’re the real creatives!”

Flexible working hours

Obviously if you’re a contractor, as opposed to a permanent designer, you’ll have increased flexibility, but there’s always the option to go freelance if you’re fed up of the 9-5 grind in the office. “I would advise everyone to go freelance for at least a year – you gain a deeper understand of business, of the importance of producing high quality, and you get to work wherever you want!”

The money is good – especially if you’re a contractor

“It’s a really good way to make a nice amount of money, whether you go permanent or contract. Although, if you freelance, you can sometimes triple your annual earnings,” says Robert. If you’re permanent, you can earn £50-70k and, as a contractor, you can push that to £700-£750 per day which works out as a very tidy sum indeed

How do you become a designer?

You don’t have to go to uni

Of course there are some great courses, and university is one path, but Robert thinks it’s a lot more useful to have experience. “When you’re applying for jobs, people don’t ask where you went to uni, they want to know what you’ve done. I’m constantly going through job specs and none of them require a degree in graphic design or art,” reveals Robert. Also, he adds that by the time you’ve finished your three years, a lot of the info you’ve been taught will have already gone out of date. “Of course doing a degree is great, but there are other paths!”

Get a very snazzy LinkedIn profile

If you needed yet another reason to be on LinkedIn, this is it: Robert says it’s the most important tool for getting hired as a young designer. “Put together a great profile and make sure you join certain groups for designers because agents are always searching those groups for good designers they can commission,” says Robert. “It’s also a good idea to look at who checked your profile and get in contact with them, just to say you’re available for work,” he adds. If you want the deets on how to create the perfect LinkedIn profile, we’ve got that covered for you in this great guide.

Pitch yourself, and practice pitching yourself

If you run into someone important, or someone you need to impress, you have to be able to sell yourself in five minutes or so. Practise wherever you can, and with whoever you can – pitch yourself to jobs you don’t even like, just to get used to talking about yourself. “Speak about the things you want to do, the things you want to learn, as well as any experience you have,” suggests Robert.

Skills you need to impress as a designer

Negotiation

“The single most important skill to have as a designer – this is something you need to work on as you go along. Every interaction you have in the workplace is a negotation between your design, what the client wants, and what can be done,” explains Robert. Often you’ll be asked to design something, then told to change it completely – it’s about balancing your integrity, and what you believe to be good, with what the company requires. You have to remember that the job isn’t about you, it’s about the client and producing something that everyone is happy with.

Hunger to learn

A designer’s work is never done – you’re always learning, so never think you’re the finished article because arrogance will ensure nobody wants to work with you again. “Never say to the developers ‘Oh, you can’t have I say, I’m the designer!’ because developers can have really good ideas. The more you work together the more people will want to work with you – plus, you’re constantly learning and picking up new skills. I’m learning and I’ve been doing this job for a long time.”

Get as much feedback as possible

When you’ve done a job or shadowed a designer, it’s important to get honest feedback as opposed to just politeness. “You need to ask what you did right and wrong, and specifically tell them you want honesty, it’s a great way to figure out what you’ve done wrong and what you can do better next time!” Robert says.

Know Android, as well as iOS and tablet formats

Understanding how Android works is essential because so many designers can only work with iPhones – and apps can’t just be copied over, they need to be redesigned. “When I worked on Shazam! Everyone was so happy with my work because I’d forced myself to buy and use an Android phone a few months earlier, so I knew what it was all about,” Robert says. “I’ve been in many discussions with people telling me that Android users don’t, for example, use the back button – but I knew that it was essential, because I was familiar with the phones!” Obviously you can’t buy all the equipment at a junior (or unemployed) level, but try and get an iPad or become used to the various formats (i.e. play around on your mates’ iPad as much as you can!)

Know the market

Sign up to Flipboard, check out sites like Dribbble and make sure you analyse as many award winning designs, even if you don’t agree with what they’ve done. “They’ve won an award, so you need to appreciate why that is – also if you don’t, for example, know what Clear is then you’re not up to date with applications. DFWA collect a lot of award-winning designs and it’s a great source.” says Robert.