5 ways to revolutionise your design work

"In the particular, lies the universal." That was the key message behind American designer and art director James Victore's full-throttle afternoon speaker session on the first day of Reasons To Be Creative 2014, John Davey's annual three-day design and technology conference held in misty Brighton.

Victore runs an independent design studio in Brooklyn. His clients include Esquire Magazine, The New York Times and The City of New York, and his work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

During an energetic talk, Victore cheerfully referred back to Irish writer James Joyce's classic 'Dubliners' quote, using it to explain why the only way to make design that matters is to be true to yourself.

It isn't about clients or money, he says, it's about working to make yourself happy. If you can tap into your own story, your message will become infinitely more valuable – and resonate further.

"I have to stop my students from making things up all the time," says Victore, adding that honest messages are always the most powerful. "The more authentic and vulnerable I can be on stage talking to you, the more impactful my communication will be," he reasons. "And the more it means to you."

So how do you stop chasing clients and paycheques, and find your creative voice? Here are five ways to revolutionise your routine…

01. Change how you think about your work

"Think of your work as a gift," says Victore. Doing so will radically change what you create: "When your work is a gift, it changes why you work, what you make and even who you work for."

How do you think of your work as gift? By realising that your opinions, thoughts, feelings and ideas are important and relevant: if you have something to say, chances are the world wants to hear it.

02. Find your creative voice

"To make great work, you need to find your voice – your fears and passions – and express them," Victore told attendees at Reasons To Be Creative 2014.

The more authentic your message, the greater the impact and the deeper the meaning for your audience. "Love and fear – that's where the good shit is," he argues. "Not 'design solutions'! Who cares which green it is? You need to know why you're doing it."

03. Push yourself to ask the harder question

"The worst phrase in the world is: 'what do they want?'," says Victore. Instead, he suggests, ask yourself what you want to say. "It's the hardest thing in the world, but if you can get close to yourself – if you can do a really good job of telling your story; of putting your life, your interests, your passions into your work – it will have resonance with other people."

4. Don't try to be too particular

Universal truths may lie in the particular, but as Victore continually tells his students, don't be too particular if it means compromising your true opinions or beliefs. Authenticity is always a more powerful design tool than a fictional story: "The good stuff is real," he reiterates.

5. Fear works wonders

"My rule is: if it scares the shit out of me, we probably have to do it," he laughs. Don't let ego stop you. "All my early work came from my fears, political and scoial fears, that I needed to respond to," he says. And nothing has changed, he adds, citing his ongoing Burning Questions project – where Victore has been offering advice on life, work and creative fulfilment through a weekly YouTube series – as evidence.

He's built up a loyal fan base, but Victore needed to lose his ego before he could embrace the project: "I didn't want to do it – know why? Because of my ego. I have to prostate myself in front of the camera every day for your entertainment."

Burning Questions is now one of Victore's most successful projects. You can watch the series on his YouTube channel.

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.