Tips for Young Creatives: Know Thy Self

Continuing with the Doug Bartow “29 Tips for Young Designers” article in How’s January 2011 issue is tip 5: be yourself. I’ve tweaked it a tad bit to “know thy self” and am not in full agreement with Bartow on his spill on personal style vs. personal approach to design or creativity. Doug Bartow makes the argument that you need to have confidence in yourself as a creative type (designer, photographer, writer, creative personal in general).

That, I definitely agree with. Art and creativity are based upon how free and willing to share you are. Believe it or not, if you aren’t sure of yourself then that lack of confidence and authority over the subject matter will show in your work. I’ve come across many designers who lack confidence. The result is a piece that looks more like a mosaic of experiments and trials than a finished, coherent idea being played out. When creativity is a hobby and you are developing your craft, it’s ok not to be sure of yourself and to experiment a bit. When design and creativity are a means of your livelihood and financial support, you sure as heck better know what you’re doing. Clients and your employers aren’t paying you to experiment or find your way; they are paying you for work that will generate a profit and money and you can’t accomplish that through uncertainty.

This though is where I’m in disagreement with Bartow a bit. He writes, “Don’t work in a particular personal style …. Your commissioned work should never be about you, but it can certainly reveal your hand as the designer.” As a young creative (I can still call myself that at 26, right?) I’ve found that in most cases, this is the complete opposite in many situations. Most of the work I’ve picked up on a freelance basis has been based on my personal style rather than me just being a designer. Sure, some of that work and the work I do for my employer may be based on the style or work of someone or something that’s been established before I’ve come along but my clients and past and present employers expect to see my trademark style elements worked into my design pieces.

The biggest mistake I think any young creative could make is to become a chameleon creative type. Rather than having a style that will make someone snap their fingers and exclaim, “That’s (Fill in the Blank)’s work!” they try to copy and imitate what they view as cool or in style rather than putting in the time to work or develop his or her own style. Why should you have a personal style? You will enjoy your work more because you will have a more intimate connection with the work you create. Rather than your work being just another job, you will be able to look at it years from now and have it conjure up an emotional reaction. Don’t be afraid to insert yourself in your work – whether it’s for personal use or commissioned by another. Just be sure when the client or employer asks why you made a design/creative decision in the work you present that you have a better reason than, “I just like it” or “It looks cool.”

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