Design
March 5, 2016
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What it takes to become a designer

The design industry is vast and constantly evolving. If you want to keep up with it, you need to be flexible and open to fresh ideas and perspectives. It's one thing being able to create an image that looks great aesthetically, but something else entirely to create an image that looks great and functions effectively.

What do I mean by functioning effectively?

This could be somewhat of a dry example, but I'm sure you will get the point if you don't already. We could agree (for the sake of agreeing) that both images are aesthetically sound, however only one of them actually functions and there can be several levels as to why. In this case it's as obvious, with the image being out of context in relation to the content.

In other cases it may be more obscure. Say, for example, that you do not understand the difference between bread and cakes in the same way that the client does and you actually prefer the version with the bread. But the client persists that the one with the cakes is the one that works. This is where being objective comes into play. If you can't remain objective as a designer, throughout a project, you will likely fall short of a five-star outcome and experience difficulty with your clients.

Through my experience, there have been many occasions where I have had to surrender to the will of the client, which doesn't mean giving away my power to them, but rather being able to put my ego aside and really listen to so that I can understand not just what they want, but what they need. Being able to see their perspective as one that is equally as valid as mine, that contains just as much 'truth'. This way it is much easier to find a balance point that works for both of you.

Being a designer is challenging - and if it isn't, then you're not really a designer... in my opinion. 

Especially for those who are more right-brained and rely much less on logic to come up with creative ideas and solutions. It's been a steep learning curve for me to balance out the two hemispheres and start applying more logic to my work, rationalising it and putting it into context. One way I did this was through learning to write HTML and CSS which allowed me to start building more of a structure around my creative process.

This can be a terrifying or difficult concept for some creatives. Why on earth would you want to put your creativity into a box? It really depends on which part of the design industry you're in. In this post I'm specifically relating to graphic design, however the concepts can be applied across every area, whether it's architecture or interior design.

What is design?

When I first entered the world of design, the word 'design' was loaded with misconceptions. The main one being that a designer makes something look nice. Only through years of experience have I discovered and learnt for myself that it is so, so much more than making a pretty picture, or a website with button effects and characters flying across the screen.

Design is deconstructing an idea into it's most basic form - or into it's individual elements - to find it's true meaning or message. Then communicating that through the medium or mediums that are most relevant. It's going backwards, forwards, sideways and in other directions that you didn't even know existed. At points you may want to throw your computer across the room, or find yourself conversing with a coffee machine about how ridiculous comic sans looks anywhere other than a children's story book. You may want to quit. You may want to scream.

It's in those moments that you find yourself, not only as a designer, but as an individual.

Design is a process, and no two projects will ever be the same. Not even when you're working with the same client. It's a good idea to have some general guidelines in place for that process, such as starting with researching and brainstorming. Regular meetings or communication is a must, and ideally you want as little of that to be written communication as possible. Ideas and concepts get distorted through writing, especially ones that are highly creative and visual.

Some of my most enjoyable projects have been working directly with the client, in person. It's so much easier to get a sense of what they're after, what they're looking for and what they are about. You can immediately determine what they do like and what they don't like. Most importantly, it's fun. As long as you can look and listen with an open mind.

What it takes to become a designer

Discipline

You have to take full responsibility for what it is you're doing in any given moment. You need to know why you're doing it, and that why needs to be strong enough to carry you through seemingly difficult situations. Meeting deadlines, writing briefs and most importantly, making time to learn and expand your skill-set. Getting out of bed at 6AM to make a meeting 200 miles away. Staying up until 2PM to make sure you are able to deliver for a major checkpoint the day after.

If you're not doing those things, or lack the drive, then ask yourself. Am I working with the right people? Do I really want to be a designer? Why do I want to be a designer?

Focus

Absolutely essential. Managing yourself and the projects you're working on requires a great deal of focus. Whether you're a freelancer or working with an agency. Minimising on the amount of time you spend procrastinating - the killer of success. Instead of investing time into TV shows, gaming or foraging for psychedelic mushrooms in search of enlightenment, invest that time into reading, talking to people and refining and sharpening your toolkit.

Expand, expand, expand.

When you're working on a project, close Facebook, put your mobile to the side, put some headphones on. Whatever it is you have to do. It's like working out a muscle, the longer you can hold that focus on one particular thing, the more deeply you can go into it and explore all the different possibilities and outcomes - which is where true genius is born.

Open-mindedness

The truth is, sometimes you're going to be wrong. Your opinion, is just an opinion. It's relative to your individual perspective of the world and the way things are. This doesn't mean to say that it's irrelevant, but make sure you identify boundaries and align your ego before starting any project. Some clients will be more hot-headed and stubborn (like myself) and others will be more placid and easy-going, open to anything that you have to offer.

Responsibility

If anything, it's those projects where the client is willing to take whatever you give them that your responsibility and duty as a designer is more important than ever. If you're willing to deliver them crap and take their money for it, you will sooner or later face the consequences of that. Make sure what you're charging is in line with your experience and level of skill - and that doesn't necessarily have to be technical skills.

Self-worth

A very common theme that I have come across when meeting and talking with creative people is that they have a lack of self-worth. They don't put enough value on what it is they have to offer. You might not be the best with Photoshop, but you might have an incredible ability to come up with revolutionary, ground-breaking ideas. Understand and acknowledge what you are good at and why you are good at it, then focus on those things as a selling point.

Don't take unnecessary crap from people. This doesn't mean being rude. If someone shreds up one of your designs, ask them why, have patience.

If you give an inch, they will take a mile. Make sure you set clear boundaries with any client from the beginning. This will save you many headaches. This is what I can do, this is what I can't do, this is what I definitely will not do.

Belief

Most important of all. Belief. Knowing that you are capable. Knowing that you can do anything. You are a limitless, infinite being with unlimited creative potential. Make time to love yourself. Make time to do the things you love to do. I play guitar, write poetry and tell people shit jokes. Wherever it is you find your inspiration or passion, make time for it.