October 2012

Embrace The “Dislike”

When it comes to designing, everyone has something they really enjoy doing. For some, it’s illustrating; others it’s Photoshop special effects; some really enjoy storyboarding while others like print design. But … what is it that you don’t like to do? It’s a simple enough question but one that we as designers and creative types often overlook or ignore. We figure, “I don’t like doing … but … I have to.” In my view, that’s what causes burn out, weak design and a distaste for the creative field all together.

I look back on college and the people I graduated with and realize that after six years I’m actually one of the few who have kept with graphic design. Isn’t that a bit odd? I don’t think it is but I know the source of this migration out of the creative field comes from people not spending enough time with the question, “What is it that I dislike doing?” I know for me, I can’t stand logo design. Oh sure, designers could find enough logo design work to keep them busy throughout the year but logos are simply not my thing. I can list all the reasons for my strong dislike for this field of creativity but simply put, I detest it. Whenever a logo design project comes across my desk I feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head, fingers gripping the sides of my desk and feel the life slipping from my body. That is exactly why I turn down any logo design work that comes my way unless it’s forced upon me in work.

There was a time early on in my career that I felt obligated to do whatever was offered or given to me. It was that sense of, “Well, this is work … you aren’t going to like everything you work on and this is money. I MUST do this!” Not always the case, though! I’ve found that after six years of working professionally, there are many times when it’s ok to say, “Hey, I really appreciate this opportunity but I’m not the designer for you.” I know my strengths and what I like to do. I enjoy illustration, I enjoy using very pop-ish colors, I enjoy learning more about web design and communicating my ideas and opinions about design and other topics. I do not enjoy, however, logo designs or setting up entire websites simply because both involve a billion revisions and I know I’m better at one-shot designs than I am at something that calls for meticulous attention and a lot of revisions. This being said, I occasionally do the things that drain me creatively but they are limited to only a few times a quarter or year rather than all the time.

People. It’s okay not to be good at everything. It’s okay to dislike certain creative projects and tasks. It’s okay to express this to your employers, employees and clients. You will feel less drained and more excited about what you’re working on if you’re doing the things you’re good at or are interested in. Identify and embrace the “dislike” so that you’ll spend your time working on the things you do like.

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Imitation Design

Where do you draw your inspiration from? When does inspiration and imitation go from an extreme form of flattery to a blatant rip-off? If you’re into pop music, you may follow or at least be aware of the ongoing “feud” between Lady Gaga and Madonna. You see, Gaga is a fan of Madonna’s work and career. She grew up listening to her music. She began taking cues from Madonna’s book of publicity and fame by imitating how Madge dresses, how she flirts with controversy and in the past few years, according to Madonna, even how she writes her songs! Madonna went from being flattered to clearly ticked that Lady Gaga patterned her rise to fame after her own because considering Madonna’s been at the top of her game for 30 years and is still relevant, who would want some newbie like Lady Gaga climbing just as quickly to reach that mega-star status?

What does Lady Gaga and Madonna’s spat have to do with design? It’s all about where you draw your own inspiration from. Someone once told me that no idea in design is truly original. As creative, artsy folk, we designers should cringe and feel faint at such a thought. We are creative! Everything we produce is groundbreaking, fresh, new, trend setting. Or … is it? The truth is that we’re all Lady Gaga in a sense, looking at what’s been done, what’s worked well, and have attempted to put our own spin on it.

As a designer, I draw inspiration from far too many sources to make the claim that I’m truly an original. If I’m out and about and see an interesting color combination I mentally log it and will toss it into an appropriate design. If I see an awesome painting I’ll sometimes take elements of what I liked from it and will create an awesome vector from it. As I’m reading a magazine I’ll rip out the layouts that stand out to me or will save the ads that made an impression. Yes, in a way I’m a graphic recycler and if you’re a designer or creative type, so are you!

Look, no one wants to be a Lady Gaga, continually dodging “copy cat” calls or defending the authenticity of our design. At the same time, you can’t be a great designer or creative type without looking at what came before you and making it better. That’s how I’d define graphic design: the art of taking what’s been done a dozen or more times and refreshing it to make it look and feel modern and even better. Consider yourself a DJ and you’ve been handed a standard classic song that people have heard played non-stop on the radio (like, any Adele song). How do you get people to continue to listen to it without growing tired and ill of it? Remix it! Change the beat, change the vibe, give it some new cover art.

Acknowledge those who’ve come before you and where you draw your inspiration from but don’t be afraid to put your own spin on what many may see as an old and tried idea.

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