Rich life experiences are as important as design theory
You're a master at choosing the perfect Pantone, you design flawlessly within grids and you know all the keyboard shortcuts to every command in the Adobe Creative Suite. You've put in the extra hours, overdosed on caffeine more times then you can count and even learned how to code on weekends. You'd like to think you're a big deal. So, is that it?
I'd like to think not. Design isn't just about making things look good. It takes far more than good taste and understanding colour theory to make you a good designer. Of course understanding both will be an asset, but these aren't the only areas we should be focusing on.
It's important to take into account that whole other world of design that extends past studio hours. The physical world. From the everyday experiences that spark the ideas to the realistic mindset of the individual who executes them. It's the human aspect that defines us as designers.
A lot of people don't realise the value of a personality. How you are perceived by others plays a huge role in your overall success in the industry. It allows people to quickly decide whether or not they want to hire you, work with you or learn from you.
Keeping this in mind, I think it's far too easy for many of us to get sucked into the snobby art world, and lose sight of ourselves. Take your education for example. We all have some romantic story to how we got into our field. Some geeked out early and learned to program at 14, while others patiently devoted 6 years into earning a degree at a top-notch, fancy pants art school. While both may be equally impressive, I think it's important to note, that at the end of the day, none of this matters. Sure, it matters to you, and hey, maybe even mom, but not to your boss or your potential client.
Now I know that's a tough pill to swallow for those of us who have spent thousands on an education, but from my own personal experience, I've never once been questioned about my educational background. To my employers, it simply wasn't relevant. What mattered was my portfolio and my personality.
Of course I'm aware that competition is thick, so any form of education is beneficial, but the point I'm trying to make is: just don't let it get to your head. What will separate you from the pack is knowing where you really stand amongst your peers. Come to terms with your skill level, because accepting this early on will only help you to aim for more realistic goals and push you to work harder. Not to mention, honesty and a willingness to learn will get you much further than arrogance.
Sometimes, I think we forget just how cool our jobs are. Each and every day we have this amazing opportunity to communicate with people, to make art and to tell a story. But it's amazing how many designers struggle with the idea of communicating. So many obsess over design principals and trends and completely forget that design isn't just about aesthetics.
Confused? You shouldn't be. Design is a lifestyle — it's everyday. It's how you perceive the world, yourself and the people in it. Design is about understanding people. If you aren't out there taking it all in and being a part of something, you're missing out on the bigger picture.
Let me explain. Shut off your iPhone, log out of Facebook and step away from your iMac. Now breathe. Feel good? OK, great, now go do something.
People watch obsessively, travel really far, learn a new language, read something offline, hell — try yoga. Absorb ev-er-y-thing. Take in the environment outside of your digital network. Because whether or not you notice the result – every single one of these experiences will influence and enhance the way you think and improve how you communicate. You'll think deeper and it'll make your ideas stronger.
Travelling will open your mind, music will inspire you, yoga will calm you and learning a new language will come in handy when you want to blow off a little steam from your jerk-of-a-client.
Still not convinced? Maybe my personal experience can help enlighten you. Last year, I made the impulsive decision to fly from Canada to South Africa alone to work with endangered animals. This experience, still pretty vivid in my mind, has inspired me creatively, changed me personally and challenged me in ways I couldn't imagine.
As months have passed, I can see how my little adventure has trickled into my everyday. I brought home confidence from going solo, compassion from seeing poverty, patience from not knowing an ounce of Afrikaans and a greater vision for colour palettes from the mind blowing beauty of it all. Oh and I'm not going to lie — an even greater appreciation for free wi-fi.
Overall, we should strive to look at life a little differently than most. Take the time every now and again to wake that inner artist by diving into something new or evaluating yourself from a different perspective.
Because what being a good designer really comes down to, is that outlook, that honesty, that personality, that spark, that extra bit of something — that's what's going to drive your design work to the next level and make you a better designer.
Anyone can study the programs and learn about the history of Helvetica, but the best designers are those who understand life outside the monitor.