I’ve always liked this quote from Charles Eames: “Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” A quick online image search of Eames’ words turns up all kinds of results; some good, many bad. For me, most of these visual interpretations miss the mark because they only focus on the first piece of the quote; the surface connection, and skip right over the central point. It’s an oversight that feels especially relevant given the overabundance of online networking opportunities available to each of us.
As a designer, regardless of whether you’re a student or a long-time professional, your portfolio is what represents you. No doubt you’ve heard that a great portfolio is built on quality over quantity; that it’s not about how much work you’ve done, but the type of work you believe is your best. Your portfolio should be representative of the type of work you enjoy doing. It should point you toward the passions you want to pursue. This is good advice. Follow it.
The other thing you’ll hear is that networking is a great way to continue growing in your career. This is good advice too. Be prudent with it.
Whether you are networking in-person or online, it helps to understand your intent. That doesn’t mean that you should be assigning merit to every potential relationship based on what it can offer you. It means that you should identify your passions and point your relationship building efforts toward those who share them.
Today, with surface level connections to people you know and don’t know, those whom you admire and aspire to be, only a few clicks away, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means to network. The second piece of Eames’ quote, emphasizes the importance of developing meaningful connections in much the same way that you develop portfolio worthy work. The quality of the relationships you pursue and build makes all the difference.
Online, it’s not enough to just follow, like, or friend a potential employer, client, or design hero. If you haven’t met them in real life (and just to be clear, a quick intro at a busy event 3 years ago doesn’t count), send an introduction, say hi or comment on their page. Do something, anything, to start building a rapport and make your interests known. The online world is an extension of the real world, and most of us take that access for granted, letting the passive follow of a social media account make us feel like we’ve begun a relationship. You don’t fill your portfolio with projects that barely scratch the surface of your potential. The same should be true of your approach to networking.
Most of us have some sort of online presence, but eventually, that presence must become something more. It needs to reflect the designer you are and the designer you want to be.
Start adding to discussions, or responding to postings; be helpful, be sincere, and when appropriate, offer a little expertise. With a little luck, you’ll find yourself surrounded by like-minded individuals with an open invitation to share, collaborate, learn, and grow. It’s in this creative space that Eames’ quote truly resonates. The relationships you build are your connection to everything — people, ideas, objects, projects. Make them count. Make them quality.
Temper is a design firm that specializes in branding digital experiences.