Computer ArtsOpinion

How to be a better designer

Daniel Gjøde spares us the slick quotes to deliver his top 10 down-to-earth tips for being a successful designer

Dear designer: just like you, I’m flooded on a daily basis with super inspiring, life-affirming, pocket philosophical and wise impressions from the design world. Everything has gone global and it doesn’t require much more than adding ‘designer’ to your email signature for you to become one (I’ve been there). I’ll therefore spare you the references to Sagmeister’s books and the ShitMyDadSays Twitter feed. Instead, I’ll humbly give you 10 down-to-earth, practicable tips on how to become a successful designer.

One: love the process. I simply don’t agree that life as a designer is dull until you get to work for Coca-Cola or Nike. That’s bull. The process behind any new project is valuable and educational, so let go, feel the moment, explore the detail and try to truly understand the projects you’re working on. The more you’re involved, the more you’ll come to love the process and the result – no matter the name of the client. In short: you have to like what you’re doing to do it well.

Two: forget about your own taste. This isn’t an encouragement to make ugly stuff; rather it’s a reminder that if you’ve used the same three colours for the last three identity projects, then an alarm ought to go off. Forget about your own taste. Love the premise and your client’s hideous logo. As a designer, you’ll know your client’s needs, and you’ll know how to align design and content to make everything co-operate. When you forget about your own taste, you can start making great designs.

Three: everybody is creative, right? As a professional, you’re capable of more than just making smashing things. However, how often do you start off with the words ‘I think…’? When you say, ‘I think green is prettier than yellow,’ you seem no more creatively competent than the client you’re working for. Learn to argue for your design decisions. Go crazy and experiment, but make sure you put it all in order at the end. Don’t be afraid of a bit of craziness, but alongside the process remember to pin out what it’s teaching you about your client and the product.

Four: don’t hold yourself back. Make sure you know how to play, even though you’re a grown up – if you don’t know how, you need to learn – otherwise you’ll be holding yourself back.

Five: learn how to give and receive feedback. For me, this is a lifelong learning process. To give constructive and useful feedback is one of the hardest things to do. You have to conceptualise the design, put it into a bigger context, and you have to explain what’s working and what isn’t – don’t use the ‘I think…’ argument. To receive feedback can be just as difficult, but it’s truly a gift if it’s delivered in the proper way.

Six: you are creative – and creativity is about inventing. Use your imagination and don’t stick to routines. Try to be aware of the culture and the physical environment that exists at your workplace and make sure you don’t get carried away with routines. Make an effort to nourish and develop your creativity and imagination.

Seven: learn how to write. I’m not saying you should become a copywriter, but you need to be able to show off your ideas – which includes through text. Often you need to start designing before the copy has arrived, so the ability to jot down some sort of copy to create a context is a huge help in almost every design process. Therefore, cut off the old excuse: ‘I’m not a copywriter, so why should I…’ and learn how to write.

Eight: don’t pitch. I’m well aware that this can lead to a gigantic discussion, so I’ll make it short: don’t pitch. Life is too short for that.

Nine: be cool. Creative people often, by nature, reject discipline and set surroundings. They are absent-minded, starry-eyed and they hate systems. And that’s cool. But no matter how crazy-creative-rock‘n’roll you are, you need to:
* Make your appointments – and always be on time.
* Respect your company and its ways of handling things, such as filing and registering time. At the end of the day, this is what brings home the bacon.

Ten: enjoy the ride. All rright, so these tips ended pretentiously anyway. But seriously, you ought to enjoy the ride.

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