The digital arena is varied, but full of crossover. If you’re anything like me, and hail from a print, advertising or journalism background with a graphic design skill-set, then you know just as well as I do how daunting it can seem to change course in your career development. But fear not! Know your path. Feel confident in your strengths as a print designer and how those skills translate to web design. What I bet you didn’t realize is that you actually have an advantage over the competition, and your weaknesses are totally crushable, too. Throughout this post, I’ll tackle this topic of transitioning from print to web and how you can do it with as little friction as possible.


Mentor. Guru. Advisor. Consultant. Whatever you choose to call it, finding a guide who’s been-there-done-that is one of the best things I ever did for my career. When I made the decision to transition from print to web, I sought out the help of my friend and mentor, Richard Lee, and this person helped me understand the path ahead and the value of the terrain I’d covered.

My Mentor Story:

Richard and I met at this little design shop in San Diego almost a decade ago. Richard was more than a designer though: he was a unicorn (full-stack). We worked together seamlessly right away, and after a mere 24 hours working together—we were immediate friends. Although we both worked in a moderately shitty design shop, it didn’t hinder the mentorship from unfolding, and perhaps even encouraged it. Richard taught me to train my eye, and “see” design in a new light. He also helped me understand how to be present concepts, by offering multiple versions, as well as how to streamline my work—more UI than UX. To this day, when I’m in doubt, or need a question answered, he’s my guy.

But I hear the same thing often: I don’t have a mentor…now what? Me: Find one. Then I hear: But how; where?! Me: OK, fair enough. Maybe I was lucky to have found mine. Or maybe I was lucky enough that I knew the power of my untapped network. Whatever the cause, I encourage everyone to find one and hold on tight. Remember: Make sure the mentor you choose can be available for you. Make sure they’re a good personality fit. Your mentor should have more experience than you. In fact, the more years, the merrier. And lastly, make sure your mentor is just as passionate about design as you are. Just don’t ask some random person, “Will you be my mentor?” It’s a lot like dating: Don’t try to hit third base when you’re not even on the team yet, ya know what I mean?

5 Tips for Finding a Mentor Match:

1. Operation: Scour LinkedIn

If you don’t have LinkedIn, get that set-up, pronto. If you do, great, now start looking through your connections. Anyone in there have experience you’re interested in or could be of value to you? See any similar career development trajectories? Anyone move from print to web and now they’re Sr. UX Designer or a Creative/Art Director? Send them a nice email; introduce yourself and let them know what you’re seeking. Let them know exactly what you want: advice for a smooth career transition.

2. Once Upon A Time

Get in your trusty time machine… and head back to college. Become more involved with your local alumni group. Or try your college’s Career Development Center. Most colleges are there to help you whether or not you are a registered student: They help past grads, too. Get more bang for your college buck—go back there and ask them for some guidance, tips on who to connect with, an alumni chapter in your area of expertise—something, anything—and see what unfolds.

3. Dribbble, Behance, Twitter—Oh My!

Yeah, get on those platforms and start “stalking” your most admired creators. Find a couple of folks you really like and kickstart a conversation. Let them know where you’re at, what you’re thinking and then ask for advice. Schedule a meetup if they’re s local, or do a Google Hangout “face-to-face” if they’re from afar. There’s a lot of value in taking this route…could help you two to really hit it off.

4. Network It

By network, I don’t mean go out with your friends and see what they think, or who they know. No, no. Nope. Join a local networking group that’s well-established and: Start. Meeting. New. People. A quick search during my research surfaced “Network After Work” events here in San Diego, as well as the San Diego Graphic Designers Guild. Both are specialized paths to find people who can help move your career forward—see what your city has to offer and get out there.

5. Got Dough? Get Thinkful!

Not for the faint of fortune, Thinkful offers one-on-one mentoring with vetted professionals. But—and there’s a big but—it comes at a high cost. That being said, Thinkful’s benefits have so much potential that it just might be worth it. Time to crack open that piggy bank, perhaps…?

4 Ways You Can Teach Yourself:

Whether you’re seeking to learn quickly, effectively or efficiently, these are my three personal favorite methods for taking your design chops into the next dimension. Each comes with their own limitations and challenges, but each has a strong bout of positivity to help you, well, help yourself.

This online educational resource offers unique classes from everything from learning how to cook a 5-course meal, to a beginner series on learning UX Design. Affordable, convenient and easy to onboard—you can take your education with you anywhere, anytime. This might be the easiest way to self-teach.

Certificate Programs:

Locally, University of California, San Diego offers a UX Design Certificate that’s highly rated. Whether you’re here in SoCal, or elsewhere in the world, I assure you, there’s a University extension school or community college that offers courses and certificates just like this. Like, some of these programs are online, too. But nothing beats face-to-face, in-the-classroom education experiences, and the cost here usually isn’t too steep. I call that a win:win.

Demote Yourself:

Whoa. Did you read that correctly? Yes, yes you did. I mean it. It worked for me. I took an associate designer position and allowed myself to learn-on-the-job. If you talk to a lot of developers and designers out there, many are self-taught. Ask them. If you’re at a point in your life where you can take a (temporary!) financial hit, or are OK with being demoted and humbled, then go for it. Humility is one of the strongest qualities a designer can effectively emulate—it helps you craft better UX.

This is a path that many the modern-day designers/developers have taken. It’s free, so that’s awesome, and you can learn some pretty amazing stuff right from home. All you need is a WiFi connection. Hit play and take notes. This video is golden. It’s my personal fave YouTube self-teaching video and now it’s yours to watch. You’re welcome:

Show-Off Your Moves

As a graphic designer, you have a lot of strengths in your tool belt that you probably didn’t realize you have. One of the greatest strengths that you have is experience. It may not be in web design, but it’s in design. This means you’re not only good at using InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, but it also means that you’ll pick up the new programs you’d be expected to use in the web dimension much faster than the ordinary Joe Schmoe. Secondly, your design background also gives you more dance moves than your no-print-background counterparts.

How’s that?

In graphic design, you have so many constraints and limitations beyond your control. Four-color printing or five …or less? Paper size, thickness, color. Format: Is it a flyer, a letter, a poster. The options are endless. And all these options really constrain a graphic designer. One of my coworkers likened it to being a dancer. Web designers are like hip-hop dancers. They love dappling in new, unconventional mediums, using new tools, trying new things, showing-off their tech skills.

On the other hand, “classically trained” graphic designers are like ballet dancers. They adhere to the right-wrong way of doing things. They operate using a bit more focus as to who their audience is because they have to think about it so much in order to craft the design. Is it a newspaper or magazine? Well, then you have to make sure you adhere to AP Style and let readers know how to follow the story with on-page cues. We web designers add a “read more” CTA and our work is done—and there’s a lot more creative freedom to how we design and execute said CTAs. Graphic designers are used to having to really strategize every pixel and make sure it’s on point—they don’t have the luxury of fixing it if it’s broken. Once it’s “live,” it’s dead.
So, let me ask you: What do you do? How did you get there? Where are you going and… where have you been?