How not to live in creative isolation

woman sitting at her desk
(Image credit: DixonBaxi)

We started our agency, DixonBaxi, 19 years ago and I have worked as a designer for over 25 years now. As a company, we’ve weathered difficult storms, including two economic recessions, and arguably now we are amidst one of the most challenging times of all. 

But in this strange period of isolation there is also opportunity. An opportunity to really examine and understand your views of the world and what creativity means to you, which are the habits and behaviours that are critical to the work of any good designer.

When I interview people early in their career, I don’t look at CVs or work. Instead, I want to speak to that person and get an understanding of what they truly care about. I want to figure out not what they've learnt but what they can do with that learning. I want to hear about the problems they have creatively overcome, and even more crucially, why.

This is fundamental for me – the ability to see how someone applies critical thinking and can understand how to communicate on behalf of a brand. Everyone is different: we see people who are natural leaders, practitioners or strategists, but we also can see those who are lost because they’re not quite sure why they want to be a creative. And so this is what you need to work on – now more than ever.

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01. Be bold and focus

Focus on the type of work you want and like to create. It’s far easier to succeed and grow if you know what you want. If you’ve not yet had a chance to create the work you love, don’t worry. Just get on and make it. 

While working, create something interesting that pushes the boundaries. When we meet with clients, we like to offer ideas across what we call the ‘scale of bravery’ - if one is playing it safe and 10 is radical, we always aim for five and above. 

We understand that creativity improves things and makes things better and that’s why we often say that we are ‘always in beta’ – we always have new things to learn, new ways to grow and adapt to the world around us. This is really important – stay interested and aware of how the world is culturally and socially shifting and you’ll maintain a critical perspective.

02. Meet and talk to people (virtually)

Whether via video chats, LinkedIn, blogs or social media, start small conversations with people you find interesting and admire and talk. Start conversations where you can really add value and develop a relationship. This allows you to think beyond yourself which is important as creativity is collaborative. Be open to ideas and ways of working that might be different to yours and learn to understand them.

03. Use this gift of time

There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment and that can drive negativity – the best way to challenge this is to make things. This is a really great way to get back on the front foot and be productive, and when you make things you have something to talk about. Whether you help a struggling local business with messaging, create an app or ideas with friends to help the community or simply develop your own designs, you are creating work with a tangible meaning. This is then a self-fulfilling prophecy as you are feeling productive and also becoming part of the industry. 

Another good thing to do is to use this time to systemise your folio so it’s easy for people on the outside to understand and get a good idea of who you are. Be brutal – get rid of deadwood, the work that is too broad or weak. It’s better to have fewer pieces that are brilliant than a lot of work that is average. It’s easy to fall into the sea of sameness where work can look and feel like many others - learn to aggregate your work in a way that makes you stand out. 

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04. Find your tribe

Research studios that can help facilitate your ways of working and play to your strengths as you develop. Don’t get caught up on job vacancies or titles – worry about the quality of the work you are producing. Far too many people focus on getting specific roles when the only thing that matters is that you are doing vital and rewarding work – chase the projects and the exciting ways of working instead. When you’re ready, reach out to them. Be positive and additive – people buy into people. So the more natural, interesting and upbeat you are, the more you will connect.

Ultimately, use this time to explore who you are and what you want to communicate as a creative

Ultimately, use this time to explore who you are and what you want to communicate as a creative. When we hire, we look at attitudes over skills. You can teach technical skills but you can’t teach creative perspectives. We help to draw that out. You may design using a pencil, charcoal or a computer but if you don’t understand the reason or meaning to what you are doing it becomes pointless. Design today is no longer a fixed state – it scales, it breaks, it changes and adapts with how people use it. So you must learn the engine that drives it as well as the specific technical skills, and that will keep you designing with passion throughout your, hopefully, long career.

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Simon Dixon is co-founder at DixonBaxi, an independent brand and strategy agency.