Climbing the ladder: practical tips to advance your design career

Learn how to boost your design career through leadership, joining design organizations, and participating in contests.

practical tips to advance your design career_readymag blog

If you're a designer with a few years of experience and you're looking to advance in your design job, here are some tips enriched with real-world expert insights that can help.

Mentorship: learn and lead

Mentorship is win-win. You help others, and you also give your own career a nudge in the right direction. Plus, it prepares you for bigger things like leading a team or managing big projects. 

Why is being a mentor great for both you and the person you're helping? Here’s what senior designers Natalia Treskova at Vivid Money and design director Thom Rimmer at Intercom learned from their experiences:

  • Boost confidence: Natalia Treskova says that mentoring others makes her feel more sure of herself. She wants to be a team leader one day, and understanding what designers go through helps her prepare for that.
  • Learn what matters: Natalia says that to be a great leader, you need to know what your team cares about. Mentorship is her way of figuring that out.
  • Become a better leader and keep growing: Thom Rimmer shares that mentorship helped him move up to bigger roles—not just in design, but in managing products and businesses too. It's all about getting good at the soft skills—like communication, negotiating, and empathy—that matter more as you climb the ladder.

If you're thinking about your next career move, maybe start by looking for someone to mentor. You can find people to mentor through platforms like ADPList, Meander, or Women in Tech.

Airbnb Design Lead Doug Alves speaks about his path into the profession by sharing 4 ideas that helped him take his career to the next level and recommending 10 useful books on design.

Design organizations: join and make the difference

Joining a design organization could be a smart move for your design career. We got some insights from talking to representatives of The One Club for Creativity, designaustria, and the Female Design Council. They shared how being part of these groups can level up your design portfolio and catch new career opportunities.

Learn new stuff and get noticed. Yash Egami from The One Club says the organization runs programs for all kinds of designers that can help you learn new things, get your work seen by more people, and boost your networking. 

Grow and connect. Olivia Scarr from designaustria talks about how the organization connects with big groups like BEDA and ICoD to create a worldwide network. They also teamed up with the New European Bauhaus project, which is all about making Europe greener. 

Meet the right people. Lora Appleton talks about how members of the FDA got their art in galleries and even got to judge big design contests. Meeting the right people through the FDA has led to opportunities like having their work shown in exhibitions and landing big deals.

Thinking about joining one of these organizations? Here are a few to look into:

Contests: participate to pump your design career

Entering design contests is a great way to show what you can do and get noticed. Winning a contest, or even just entering one, will get eyes on your work. Aim for something unique that will allow your own story and skills to shine through. 

For more insights on design contests from seasoned professionals, check out this piece—Design contests as a self-promo opportunity.

Design awards you can participate in 2024

UX Design Awards. The UX Design Awards focus on three areas:

  1. Product: things you can use now, like apps or gadgets.
  2. Concept: ideas still being built or thought up, like new app designs or studies.
  3. New talent: projects by students from all over.

Participating in this contest offers recognition from industry leaders, enhances your brand's global value, motivates your design team, helps attract top talent, and significantly increases your visibility in the design world.

Deadline: 31 May, 2024

IDA. The International Design Awards (IDA) celebrates innovative and sustainable designs across five categories: architectural, interior, graphic, fashion, and product design. Winning an IDA is a badge of honor that gives your company a big competitive edge.

Deadline: 30 September, 2024

World Brand Design Society—Creative Design Awards. Creative Design Awards are for individual creatives, freelancers, and small teams of no more than four. Global Creative Design Ranking represents the most awarded and leading individual creatives in the field of consumer and corporate brand design in the world.

Deadline: from 1st May to 1st December, 2024

In addition to awards, trying for a grant can also boost your career. For example, check out the ReadyLaunch Grant, which is aimed at supporting female-identifying, non-binary and other persons affected by gender-related issues in the realm of design.

To really stand out, a solid portfolio is key. Why not craft yours using Readymag? Take a peek at the work in our library from your fellow designers and feel free to sign up and give it a go.