10 designers' New Year's resolutions for 2018

For most people, New Year’s resolutions are a matter of willpower – eating, drinking and smoking less, going to the gym more often, saving money. And by their very nature, they’re unlikely to last beyond a couple of weeks in January. 

But the change to a new calendar can also mean something different for designers. It’s a season where you can take a step back, look at your life and work, and think about how doing things a little differently could reap huge rewards. 

Here we speak to some leading designers to discover how they plan to make a fresh start in 2018. Here are their resolutions for 2018.

01. Widen my skillset

Screenshot of the Purple Creative website

Shang Dat-Tang of Purple Creative plans to skill up in the VR sphere in 2018

The start of a new year is a great time to start thinking about learning a new skill, and it was the most popular resolution among the creatives we spoke to. 

“It’s really important to keep learning and growing as a designer, by trying new things and new ways of working,” says Karl Doran, creative director at Flow Creative. “I’m going to personally commit some time to learning more 3D animation techniques in Cinema 4D, and I’m planning to set some training time aside for the team to learn new skills too.

Graphic designer Leanne Mallinder has a similar plan. “This January marks surviving two years of self-employment,” she explains. “Entering year two with regular clients and a more consistent workflow, it feels like a good time to learn some of the other Adobe Creative Cloud apps that I already pay for, practise hand lettering more and improve my photography skills. 

"It might not all be Instagram worthy but I want to keep learning and developing my work, as you never know where it might lead. I also need to just pick up a pencil or pen and draw more, even if nobody sees it but me.”

Garth Lee, a designer and animation director at NERD Productions, is also determined to dedicate time to learning new skills in 2018. “Sometimes, as a freelancer, you get so busy and caught up in projects that you forget about the importance of bouncing ideas off of other people and learning from them,” he says. 

“Not taking the time to do this with other designers and like-minded people can hinder your artistic progression. Personally, I’m going to be getting more into the 3D side of motion graphics, and brushing up on my 3D modelling skills."

Shang Dat-Tang, a designer at Purple Creative, is singing from the same hymn sheet. "I plan to expand my mindset from the relative restrictions of traditional design structures like print and rediscover inquisitive playfulness for a VR-focused future,” he says. 

“This means learning to think on a third axis for 3D experiences and about all the methods of interacting (not just clicking mice, turning pages or swiping with fingers)."

02. Be more productive

Screenshot of Gavin Strange's site says 'Design, Filmmaking, Photography, Speaking, Writing'

Known for his multiple side projects, Gavin Strange is making productivity a priority this year

We’d all like to get more of our work done in less time. And with multiple side projects on the go alongside his day job at Aardman, digital designer Gavin Strange is making that a priority this year.

“2017 has been a year of being a grown-up; becoming a parent and buying a house,” he explains. “2018 will be figuring out the balance of being as productive as possible with personal projects and our business STRANGE, all while being the best parents we can be.”

Similarly Tom Morris, partner and head of creative at Fiasco Design, wants to stay late at the studio less frequently in 2018. “My resolution is to find new ways to save time and make my hours count,” he says.

“This includes sleeping more, and spending more time celebrating good work well done. I plan to encourage the team and learn thoroughly from each project. Not listen to music while designing, to promote clearer decision making and greater flow states.”

Janne Egeland, design and marketing manager at Data Design System, has a simple plan to be more productive in 2018: spend less time watching TV. “My resolution is: less Netflix and chill, more design and thrill,” she explains. “I have to admit that I’ve been spending far too much time binge watching one series after the next over the past few years, and I really want to cut down and start putting my personal design projects first.

“One of the things that I rarely get to do in my day job is animation, and it’s something I really miss doing,” she continues. “It’s work I’ve always found enjoyable and creatively revitalising. That’s why I’ve decided to set myself a doodle challenge for the next year, one animated doodle every month. Partly because I don’t want to lose the skills I already have, but more importantly to gain some new ones too.”

03. Strike a better work-life balance

Screenshot from Only website shows a male fashion model from a fashion industry case study

Matthew Tweddle, co-founder of Only, plans to take a step back in 2018

There’s no point in becoming more productive if all you do is work yourself into the grave. So many designers we spoke to plan to improve this thing we call work-life balance in 2018.

“It’s very easy when you’re running a small studio to become completely consumed by the job you’re working on,” says Matthew Tweddle, co-founder and creative director of Only. “Often, weeks go by in a relentless pursuit for perfection as everything else is put on hold. One thing I’ve learnt over the last few years is that your best work rarely comes from working in this way.

“So in 2018, I would like to remember to take a step back, even when the pressure is on. If something isn’t working, not to force it – and to give myself the time to make sure it’s right. To try to ensure this happens, I’m moving our daily studio catch ups to the end of the day – the idea being that this should act as a consistent reminder to go home and rest.

Rick Landers, designer at FINE, is taking a similar approach to the year ahead. He plans to: “Spend more deliberate time away from the computer to think, ideate, and create for projects. This can include making time to write, read, and look to non-digital sources for inspiration and learning; sketching; talking a walk; sketch and chat sessions with collaborators. The bottom line is to avoid turning to digital sources for inspiration and instead use the time to think through ideas more naturally.

“I also plan to use my weekend time to get away: change up where I spend my time and routine to breathe new life into each work-week rather than always waiting for the bigger, fewer breaks that I have been taking. I want to make time to draw more often and do it consistently – really practice and work on the art of seeing. And I want to dedicate more time to looking at and being inspired by art, especially by going to more shows and exhibits.”

And most importantly: “I plan to make sure that down time is really down time and enjoy whatever it is that I choose to do with that time; be in the moment and not distracted by work-related tasks or activities; don't suspend or put off personal activities in favour of more work.”

Meanwhile, Doran is taking a nuanced look at work-life balance going forward into 2018. “When design is your job, it’s also your hobby,” he reasons. “You’re always on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest looking at other designers’ and animators’ work, and that’s fine, but you do need to disconnect every now and again and see something of the world, away from the screens. Or just make some time to see friends and family.

“This is especially important when you have kids,” he adds. “I have two and I try to see them as much as possible but there’s always more you can do. I know I'm not going to wake up one day in 10 years and think, ‘I wish I’d spent more time in work’. And I really don’t want to wake up in 10 years and say, ‘I wish I’d spend more time with my kids.’”

04. Step out of my comfort zone

Screenshot of Jones Knowles Ritchie website shows The Diana Award

Sean Thomas of Jones Knowles Ritchie has a clear plan for becoming more creative in 2018

Making a fresh start in 2018 means shaking off familiar patterns of behaviour and old assumptions, and Sean Thomas, executive creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie, has a clear plan to achieve that.

"My New Year’s resolution is to try to encourage more work that makes me feel uncomfortable,” he says. “Many of our most successful projects of late have made me nervous going into the presentation or at the point of release, so it’s something I’ll be trying to foster further in the studio. Going out of your comfort zone is always exciting."

Holly Kielty, creative director of Brand Language at Design Bridge, is taking a similar approach. “I want 2018 to be the year of 'go bold or go home' – if it’s been seen before, I don’t want to create it. It feels like with the political climate as it is, design has a duty to be braver, more positive and more stirring to people’s angered and affronted souls. To steal from Michelle Obama; when they go low, we must go high.”

Andrew King, executive creative director at CBA, also wants to push creative boundaries in the year ahead. “In his poem New Year’s Eve, Alfred Lord Tennyson writes: 'Ring out the old, ring in the new'.

“I'm currently surfing the web looking for examples of glitch art while listening to Billie Holiday. It made me realise that I get inspired when I draw on the past and combine it with emerging and future influences to create new, distinctive design solutions. So my New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to do this more often: ‘ring in the old’ and ‘ring in the new’ too.”

05. Get away from the computer

Screenshot of NERD Productions' homepage

Shay Hamias of NERD Productions wants to do more analogue stuff in 2018

Most of us, in our heart of hearts, feel that we probably spend too much time starting at screens. And Shay Hamias of NERD Productions plans to do something about it in 2018.

“My plan is to be more analogue and less digital,” he says. “I'll divide my studio into two tables, one where I can use materials and paints and see how it feeds back into my design work, and the other table will have my laptop and maybe a massive Cintiq to paint on digitally. I also want to formulate a plan to dedicate at least 20 per cent of my creative time to personal projects where I can experiment.”

Purple Creative designer Chris Grace similarly plans to try to "break away from the computer. Design in a less digital way. Pick up a pencil again, rather than crafting on screen... I think that it's important to find ways to reduce the amount of screen time rather than relying on it.”

06. Share my knowledge

Screenshot of Fiasco Design's website

Tom Morris of Fiasco Design has resolved to write more about design in the coming year

When was the last time that you shared your thoughts about design (positively) with others online? Many designers resolve to do that more regularly in 2018.

“I want to get back into writing a blog,” says Purple Creative designer Lyndsey Ellis. “To have and give an opinion instead of just posting pretty pictures on Instagram.”

Similarly, Morris has resolved to “write more about good design online.” And for him, it’s not just about how much you write, but how you write. “There are so many branding projects that are met with knee-jerk reactions, surface-level criticism and arrogance,” he opines. 

“I think it’s time more people were educated about what it takes to produce good design. Sure, you can waste your time on a ‘this would have been better’ redesign, but you didn’t see the client feedback/budget/deadline.”

“I have a plan to make some online tutorials to share my creative process with people because lots of people are requesting this,” says Ahmet Iltas, a designer and illustrator at NERD Productions. His colleague Alicja Jasina and Lucas Borrás, meanwhile, plan to make at least one short a year, going to more festivals (they have Annecy, Zagreb, Stuttgart and Hiroshima festival in mind) and hopefully bring home some awards. 

07. Refresh my drawing skills

Screenshot of Jazzbones Creative website

Mitchell Nelson of Jazzbones plans to take up a drawing challenge in the New Year

A lot of designers we spoke to plan to pick up a pencil more often in 2018.

“When I was learning to draw portraits during school I created a portrait every day for one whole year, even if it was a little five-minute doodle,” says Mitchell Nelson, lead creative at Jazzbones Creative

”After looking back on some of my old work the other day, it’s inspired me to take up the challenge again in the new year. Keeping a sketch pad is always a good way to keep your illustration skills sharp and top of your game.”

08. Broaden my creative horizons

Screenshot of the Carter Wong site

Martyn Garrod of Carter Wong is looking to expand his perspectives in 2018

Stepping away from the screen and getting fresh inspiration from the wider world was a common goal for 2018 among the designers we spoke to.

“Although it’s great to be fully immersed in the world of design, it can sometimes be more restrictive than inspiring when tackling a brief,” reasons Martyn Garrod, creative director at Carter Wong. “So, my resolution for 2018 will be to continue expanding my perspective by looking beyond the design community for inspiration.

“I plan to go to that art exhibition I always seem to miss by a week, take a different route when commuting home, talk to more people in the pub or take the dog for long walks in country at the weekends, leaving my phone behind. Hopefully this will help me push ideas outside my comfort zone.”

Similarly, Darren Ammar, designer at Purple Creative, has resolved to "go to more exhibitions and talks around art and design, so I can be inspired and learn from the leading people in my industry.” 

While Hamias plans to “Explore more. Be it other forms of creating, like pottery or photography, and also check what other people are doing... Not just online, but actually going out to galleries, studios and places. Read more books, do more Yoga, eat less cake.”

Meanwhile, Katie Cadwallader, designer at Supple Studio, has a very specific plan to inspire her creatively in 2018: to watch a film per week. “Lots of creatives get their inspiration, visual cues, general knowledge and pub chat from films but I’m far from a buff,” she says. “All the major series, cult classics and must-sees seemed to have passed me by. Plus I’m a bit fed up of the eye rolling my ignorance receives. So I’m asking for 52 film recommendations.

“So far, I’ve put it out to the Supple crew and our studio mates. Next stop is an open call on Twitter and Instagram. I’m going to design a weekly calendar to take any decision making out of it, plus I work better to a deadline – classic designer. I’ll probably write a little review of each one to send to the sponsor.”

Titles thus far include American Beauty, True Romance, In Bruges, Layer Cake, and Amelie. “It’s been amazing to see how passionate and protective people are over their favourite films, so I’m hoping I’ll feel the same at the end of the year,” she says.

09. Say no

Dave Gee of Jam Creative plans to stay no (politely) more often in 2018

Dave Gee of Jam Creative plans to stay no (politely) more often in 2018

While so far our resolutions have been largely positive, here’s one that’s cast in the negative: learning to say no, politely. As we explained in our article 10 good reasons for turning down work, there are times when saying no is better for freelancers in particular, but there are other reasons for agencies to say no, too.

“There is an art to saying no professionally,” says Dave Gee, creative director at Jam Creative. “It’s something we're still learning and being the great bunch we are, we’ll likely always struggle with this one.

“As many agencies will have found over the years, you inevitably take on projects that aren't necessarily the 'right fit' for your core strengths. Taking on such projects could be down to money, the project brief changing part way through or even just making a poor judgement call at the outset.

“Either way it's difficult to say no, as we creatives always want to help and create stunning work and campaigns but we have to start asking if the job is right for us and our skill set. If it’s not, and doesn’t feel 100% right, then we have to start declining.

“2018 will see us undertaking tighter due diligence before jumping in with both feet and maybe seeing us saying: "this may not be the right fit for us at this time.”  This considered approach will afford us more time to focus on what we do best on the campaigns we’re exceptional at.”

10. Listen and empathise better

Screenshot of dn&co website

dn&co plans to fulfil its business goals by being more “in the room”, says founder Joy Nazzari

Our last set of 2018 resolutions are about the broad aim of achieving business goals, and working better with clients and colleagues. But everyone, it seems, has a different plan for going about it.

For Joy Nazzari, founder of dn&co, it goes pretty deep. “My resolution for next year is, simply but significantly, to ‘be in the room’. Be exactly where we are and with the people we are with, giving the benefit of our full and undivided attention to the moment.

“Being in the room will inevitably mean getting better at organising our time, thoughts, to-do lists. We will probably have to say ‘no’ more often than we normally do. Yet if by doing so we can truly be there to listen and learn from those who inspire us – the people we work with and importantly, the people we work for – we will continue to develop transformative relationships and projects in 2018.”

Claire Billesdon, studio manager at Jazzbones, also has an interesting business-related resolution for 2018. “Juggling the workload of a busy studio can get pretty hectic, but my resolution is to take a step back and appreciate that not everyone understands ‘designer speak’,” she says.

“My resolution is to put myself in their shoes a little more. I am also making a pledge to eat fewer digestive biscuits; I’m on a pack a day at the moment!"

For Fanny Krivoy, founder/creative director at Studio Analogous, 2018 will be about listening. “I believe anything we do at work and in our personal lives can make a big difference,” she says. “More than ever before, we want our work to help reach groups of people who are often excluded – regardless of their gender, nationality, ability, age – and give them a voice.

“To do that, we need to listen better to those around us, especially to those we know less about. I’ve heard that even when we actively listen, we actually retain only 13% of what was said. In order to make real change, we need to do better than that.”

Jazzbones founder Nathan Sandhu says: “My resolution for 2018 is to continue smashing it for our clients. There is nothing I enjoy more than creating engaging campaigns that deliver tangible results.” 

Finally, Steven Bewick, founding partner and creative director of Purple Creative, has a New Year’s resolution that's short and to the point: "Stop agreeing to make logos bigger!” As is that of the entire Together Design team, who’ve resolved to: “Remember to hit Save more regularly! Sigh.”

Whether you follow any of these resolutions yourself or think up your own, all of us at Creative Bloq wish you the very best for the year ahead, and good luck in all of your creative endeavours.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.