Stand Out, Work Hard, and Get a Life: Shane Mielke’s Career Advice For New Designers

Shane Mielke is here to help. That’s the idea behind the veteran designer, developer, and creative director’s book Launch It, which he calls a “handbook for digital creatives.” It’s chalk full of work (and life) advice he’s picked up along the way over his 20+ year career working for some big clients (think Batman, The Hobbit, Ford and Domino’s Pizza). We asked Shane to share some words of wisdom for new designers on how to ‘make it’ in the business and maintain a healthy work-life balance while you’re at it.

What’s your best piece of advice for designers and developers who are just starting out?

Lead by example! Create cool stuff that doesn’t look exactly like everyone else’s and the recognition, important sounding job titles, creative freedom, life choices, and money will take care of itself. Do you want to work at your favorite company? Do you want to work on award-winning sites? Do you want to work from home? Show everyone that you can consistently create top quality, unique work, and then you’ll be able to pick and choose your pathway. Look like everyone else and you’ll likely struggle to control your creative destiny, job and salary.

Along the way you’re going to be told “work hard” to be successful. Everyone works hard. So you can’t just work hard and expect to stand out. Find an emerging design style, technology, or type of work and be one of the first to set the standards there.

Too many people talk about doing great work, but really just sit on social media hustling for that perfect quotable tweet. You’re only as good as your last project. If that last project sucked, or your best project was 2 years ago, no perfect social media presence will get you work. Eventually no one will hire you because they haven’t seen you do any real work recently. Fear being obsolete.

When was a moment when YOU received a piece of advice that changed your career?

My high school football coach Jim Hartigan gave me so many bits of motivation and advice that have influenced my life and career. The one that has always resonated with me throughout all aspects of my life is the phrase “everyone wants to be a game day hero but nobody wants to practice.”

The foundation for success happens in the trenches. Everyone wants to work on those once-in-a-lifetime epic award-winning projects. No one tells you that the road to those projects is paved by the hard work, mistakes, and victories you achieve on all of the ordinary projects that came before it. All of the core skills you need in this industry are learned and earned by doing grunt work on all of the embarrassing early projects we would never show anyone.

So, I’ve always tried to be the hardest working person I can be no matter what the project was.

Another turning point of my career wasn’t a verbal piece of advice. It was what I learned from the source files of my friend Eric Jordan the first day we started working together back in 2001. On my first day on the job I opened several of his Photoshop and Flash files and my mind was immediately blown by the sheer amount of layers and love that had been poured into those files. I learned more about Photoshop, Flash, animation, tempo, keyframes and easing in 5 minutes than I had the previous year. That is the moment that my career changed, as I suddenly became aware of what was possible. I now knew what award-winning, detailed work with a unique personalized style looked like from the inside. I used that information, applied that to my unique style, and launched my own personal site.

You write about work-life balance. So how do launch both a successful career and also have a life?

Love your job, but have more important things you’d rather be doing outside of work. Make commitments to do things that you can’t get out of. Have family or friends you need to see. Book vacations. Find activities, hobbies, passions and things you’d rather be doing or are already committed to.

I’ve always used this strategy to motivate me to consistently work harder, faster and more intelligently to achieve better work in less time. It has not only made me more effective at what I do, but has also given me a world of experiences outside of work I would not have had I only focussed on the project at hand.

Check out Shane Mielke’s work and learn more about his book, Launch It, over on his website.