"This was supposed to be creative."

I was a mid-career graphic design burnout. I had some training, I knew the software, I could kern, I could photoshop with the best of 'em, but I just wasn't feeling it anymore. I felt like I was just a pair of hands, no style of my own, my concepting skills sucked, and I hated the kind of work I was making. And eventually that resentment grew onto my boss and clients. So I quit.

…that was ten years ago. 

In most schools around the country, they're really good at teaching the software. It's quantifiable. "Does student 'A' know 'ADOBE X, Y, and Z'?" You can have that on a test, everybody's gonna answer the same way. Its easy to award an "A" or "F" based on repeatable results. But creativity? It can't be measured that way. Creativity and concepting are about finding new solutions, drawing new conclusions every time. Measuring growth is hard to do. And that's why schools are so bad at it. In a school everything has to be graded BUT creativity is subjective, ambiguous…a moving target. 

All the "right know-how" doesn't make a designer.

Ideas, perspective, confidence — these things make a designer. Sure we should know to kern, but also when not to. Yes, we should know photoshop, no doubt. But think about this: how many graphic designers do you think are practicing world wide? A bah-jillion, right? But we all use the same three tools: Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign.…boring. Graphic design was started by failed painters and anarchists, it requires a soul, an actual human being. It is merely a tool, and if there is nothing meaningful for this tool to say then… obviously, its not gonna move anybody. 

Embrace Your Inner-smartass.

If a designer, you or I, only know the software and maybe about composition, proportion, color, kerning, that's great! But those are just polish, they aren't the tools or skills we use to come up with new ideas and good concepts. That comes from your voice, your own instincts, your sense of humor, your quirks, your hang-ups, what you're really thinking — you know, the stuff you're scared to tell other people …you. If we don't pull from these places to make work, we look around at other designers — looking through design annuals for ideas, all the while, that little voice inside calls us an impostor. 

If we are not pulling from our voice, we don't know who to work for, we'll take "any" client instead of "our" client. This kind of strategy can lead you ten years down the road, with no rudder, no vision, no style, no voice, no fun…no joke. I know, it happened to me. And if we don't correct it, ten years later we'll still be in the same spot, wondering what went wrong, thinking about doing something else, hating our clients and our work. No fun.

Your Voice = Stronger Concepts, more interesting work…

“I will give up all I have learned here [Columbia University] 
if I can just write my own poems,
and I don’t care if they’re good.
I just want to write my own stuff.”

-Sharon Olds

This is what I teach. 

 


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