Getting ahead in digital design – top tips from industry leaders

Digital portfolio masterclass

The Dots ( was lucky enough to have recently hosted a Digital Portfolio Masterclass at Google’s incredible offices in London.

Some of the UK’s most exceptional Digital Creative Directors, User Experience Directors and Interaction Designers shared with us their top tips on the Digital Design industry.

1. What do you look for in a Digital Designer?

Curiosity & Problem Solving

One of the key things the industry Mentors looked for in a Digital Designer was curiosity. Chris Ball (UX Director, DigitasLBI) said that curiosity, “is probably the most important thing (in a designer), because digital design is all about problem solving”.

Marcus Mustafa (Global Head of User Experience, DigitasLBI) followed this up by saying that it’s important to see in a Digital Designer a “kind of wanting to explore a problem and how to solve a problem by design”.

So, if you consider yourself a bit of a problem solver – make sure you show that in your portfolio and at interview stage! A great way to do this is to explain the steps you went through to solve a particular problem, you’ll get major brownie points!

Have a good work ethic

A positive can-do attitude is critical. Companies are far more likely to hire someone who they think is going to be enthusiastic and ready for a challenge.

David Jakes (Experience Director, R/GA) and Tim Baggott (Associate Creative Director, AKQA) both agreed that having a positive attitude was really important. David mentioned that he looks for “enthusiasm, and a can-do attitude” whilst Tim looks for “adaptability – whether that’s in the way that you work or just in your approach to work”.

Team Player

This follows nicely onto our next point, which is to make sure you can work well with others.

Creative Directors always look out for “someone who is collaborative, can really work with other people and be part of a team environment” (Jen Heazlewood, Associate Creative Director of Experience Design, R/GA)

Take Risks

Technology moves at the rate of knots, so to stay ahead of the curve it’s important to innovate and take risks.

Karen Boswell (Strategy Lead, Adam&EveDDB) told us that when looking for a Digital Designer, “the ones that stand out from the crowd are the ones that just have no fear. They’re not afraid to just go somewhere that maybe doesn’t feel right, or take a bit of a risk. I think that’s where you learn”.

Have no fear and take risks – life’s too short not to!

Have a purpose to your work

It sounds obvious but before you start to create anything, make sure it has a purpose behind it. Why are you creating it?

Marcus Mustafa strongly advocated this point, stating, “I think work for me that stands out has a very strong idea behind it, but it also has an insight where that idea came from. So it’s not just about coming up with the coolest idea, it’s about why… why would anybody give a fuck?”

If there’s a reason and a purpose behind your design it will be sure to go down well!

2. What are your top tips on how to break into the industry?

Be aggressive with your ideas

“You have to be quite aggressive about your ideas […] you have to feel that you have a voice and not be afraid to talk about design and talk about what you think is special about design” Chris Ball

Share your ideas with others and have an opinion on design, as it will show to others how passionate you are!

“Because at the end of the day – why should we hire you?” (Karen Boswell)


Tom Muller (Founder, Hello Muller) summarised this point perfectly “Networking is really important. Even though as good as you are, it always helps to know a lot of people. You can be the most amazing designer out there but you kind of need to show people, let people know ‘here I am, this is what I can do for you’”.

Attend talks, events – whatever and wherever it might be useful to pick up contacts and get your name ‘out there’. It can be a little nerve wrecking walking into a room of strangers, but wearing a big smile goes a long way :-)

It’s all about the work

That being said if your work isn’t up to scratch, you’re less likely to be hired.

Fabricio Dore (Digital Transformation Strategy & UX, Huge Inc.) said, “tips for breaking into the industry, I think from my experience… at the end of the day it’s all about the work”.

3. What area should designers focus on in Digital Design?

The next big thing

The best (and possibly worst) thing about the Digital industry is that it is constantly changing and evolving, so you’re on a never-ending learning curve.

Chris Ball explains, “Things change so quickly… I think designers, especially young designers should always be focused on what’s next, what’s new, what’s coming up”.

So make sure you cultivate an insatiable appetite to learn.

Connected Products & Homes

David Jakes revealed to us “if you look at what’s changing and what’s getting a lot of interest… connected products, and connected homes are really interesting right now. There’s lots of stuff going on with various different companies – one that we’re sat in (Google) for example… there’s a lot of interest there!”

If you haven’t already done so, start looking into connected products – it’s all the rage - for now at least :-)

Integrating the product to everyday life

George Zafirovski (Interaction Designer, Google) illuminated perfectly the importance of integrating design to everyday life - “the Internet isn’t just a 1024 X 768 screen anymore. It kind of jumps out of that tablet box, desktop box or phone box and is becoming an integral part of our everyday life and environment. So focusing more on how a service or an app can live outside of this little box is a good way to think”

If you are looking to meet and get first hand advice from leading Mentors, find out about The Dots’ next Portfolio Masterclass here:

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.