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Skills They Don’t Teach in Design School with Michael Janda

An interview with
Michael Janda


As a designer you’ll put your heart and soul into your portfolio… and if your portfolio is the best in the world, you’ll get clients, right? Sadly your design work alone won’t lead to success. To be a successful graphic designer you’ll also need to develop interpersonal skills to get your dream job, or to attract and work with clients of your own.

In this episode, Michael Janda, the author of Burn Your Portfolio shares the skills you need to develop beyond design. We also discuss how to calculate the cost of a logo, and his approach for using Instagram to position himself as a thought leader.

Michael Janda is an executive level creative leader with more than 20 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies, working with some of the greatest brands in the world, including Disney, Google, HBO, Google, Fox and many more.

Michael Janda Interview Transcription

Ian Paget: You’ve wrote the book Burn Your Portfolio, and that runs through the they don’t teach you in design school but really should, and I think that’s a fantastic book. As the title suggests, a portfolio isn’t that important for success. I know quite a lot of people listening that’s not already familiar with your book might be thinking, “Whoa, portfolio? That’s the most important thing, that’s what I put all my time and energy into.” Why do you feel it’s not the most important thing?

Michael Janda: So, there’s no question it’s important. But it’s only the key to the door. That’s the big misconception, is that we as designers, we spend so much time thinking, “Oh, our portfolio, our portfolio. We’ve got to get out portfolio done.” And the subtitle of my book is, “Stuff They Don’t Teach You in Design School, But Should.” It really … the purpose of the book is to teach these principles that lead to success that aren’t the portfolio related stuff.

You go to design school, and from day one, you’re working on stuff you can put in your portfolio so that when you graduate, you’ve got this portfolio that allows you to go out and find a job. But that portfolio really only opens the door for you. It gets you the interview, but your ability to succeed in that company is all about your production skills, about your ability to collaborate with coworkers, your bosses and clients. It’s about your attention to detail, not just in design, but in the whole flow of a production.

So, it’s about relationship building too. You know, success has so much to do with you building quality relationships with your clients, understanding their real problems, solving those problems, and then repeating that over years and years of time. It’s not all about the portfolio. So, the portfolio, don’t get me wrong, is super, super important. But it only gets you access to the interview and from that interview, you’re going to be selling yourself, the bigger picture you, your ability to see problems, client problems, your ability to interact with a team. It’s just, there’s so much more than just the portfolio that leads to your success.