Tag Archives: how to be creative on-demand

Top 5 Tips For Aspiring Designers

Advice. Everyone has advice for you. Be sure you have a great portfolio; remember, Less Is More; floss daily. I, too, have some advice for you aspiring graphic designers but my advice is not the fluffy stuff, it’s the real world stuff that may surprise you or may be difficult for you to hear. But if you follow these tips you’re in for an exciting and rewarding career.

1. It’s Not All Roses At The Top. Graphic design may sound like a fun and glamorous profession — sitting around all day drawing and picking color swatches — but it requires a lot of dedication and a love for design in all its forms. All great designers I’ve ever known share a love for the art and the craft of design; they love the process as much as the results. No matter how successful you become, you will always be called upon to design something you have no interest in. Picture yourself designing an auto parts catalog, a brochure for pet cremation services, a logo for a basement waterproofing company, or a hospital employee newsletter. Sound boring? Depends on whom you ask. I’ve designed all these things. Now picture yourself designing Christmas cards sold at retail stores nationwide, perfume advertising appearing in Vogue magazine, or package designs for products sold worldwide and featured on a top NBC sitcom. I’ve designed all these things too. My point is that if you love the design process and not just the results, every job can be a rewarding experience.

2. Education Counts: Many colleges offer vocational certificate programs in design; with more time and money you can get an Associates degree; even more time and money gets you a Bachelor’s degree. When it comes to a formal design education, my feeling is more is more. More education gives you more to offer a future employer. Plus it gives you more time to develop your talents and skills before you will be expected to produce good design for money. So get as much education as your time and wallet will allow. And whatever you do, NEVER take out private student loans.

3. Fill In The Gaps. This means that we don’t know it all. Being a well-rounded designer and not a one trick pony means you need to know a lot about a lot of things you may not have learned in school. Be curious about things you don’t know about that other designers seem to know. Then learn about those things. Architecture, photography, art history, music, film — every artistic discipline is interconnected. For example, if you hear someone talking about Milton Glaser, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Avedon, the Bauhaus, Bossa Nova or Michael Apted, and you don’t know what they’re talking about…LOOK IT UP.

4. Design Is More Than Knowing Adobe Creative Suite. The old saying that knowing how to type doesn’t make you a writer applies to designers as well. Knowing Photoshop and Illustrator doesn’t make you a designer. Computer software is simply a tool to create great designs you first thought up on paper. It will never design your next great idea. You’ve heard the joke, “Socks first, then shoes.” Pencil first, then computer.

5. Learn How To Be Creative On-Demand. You’re entering a profession that will require you to be creative all the time, not just when the mood strikes, so learning how to do that is essential. Read my article, How To Be Creative On Demand.

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5 Tips on How To Be Creative On-Demand

My Muse isn’t returning my text messages. I think she skipped town with all my best ideas.

If you’re in a creative field you are daily called upon to be creative on-demand. To those just starting out in their career this can feel daunting and can generate no small amount of performance anxiety. The weathered professionals among us feel it too but are just better at hiding it. Far from the simple formula of A+B=C, the creative process entails adopting an ethos of creativity in one’s life, seeing yourself as a creative person in every sense, not just in the compartmentalized setting of the work environment. You are a creative person, you don’t just do creative work, 9–5, M–F.

I remember my first design job out of college where I worked for a greeting card company. Due to schedule lag times, we were required to work on holiday themed products during times of the year that bore no relationship to the actual holiday. Christmas came each June, Valentine’s Day arrived in November. Hard to get into the Christmas spirit on a beautiful summer day. It was very difficult to find my muse, poetically speaking, and be creative at-will. I didn’t feel “inspired.” My employer, however, couldn’t wait for my inspiration to come knocking so neither could I.

I’ve learned several tips, from a combination of trial and error and observing more senior professionals, that assist me in coming up with original, fresh and creative ideas whenever I am asked to do so by following these steps.

1.Expose yourself. You’ll never come up with the next great idea living under a rock; get your butt out there and expose yourself to every different discipline. Go to gallery openings, go shopping just to gather ideas (when I worked at Mattel we called it cool hunting), look through design publications such as CA, HOW and Fast Company, follow inspiring people on Twitter. The idea is not to rip off other people’s work but to stimulate your mind with all the cool stuff you’re seeing.

2. Build a library. Gather a collection of books and other resources you can turn to when your next project comes along. Keep a journal of ideas, files of ads, business cards, brochures and web addresses that contain ideas you love. Typography books, design annuals, heck, even that cool paint swatch brochure you saw at Lowe’s last week could be your next great inspiration.

3. Create Sacred Space. This means carving out time to actually focus on design in a space that encourages this process. You aren’t going to have an “a-ha” moment driving around looking for a Starbucks, talking on the phone and listening to Lady Gaga on the radio. Creativity is the result of a complex set of processes that require interruption-free focus. Text messages, emails, phone calls and other interruptions are the enemy of this process. Find a place untouched by distractions where the mind has time to wander and weave, explore and imagine.

4. Get away from it. So I went to the museum, flipped through a magazine and am sitting in my sacred space but nothing is happening! Now what? Stop thinking about it. Put it away and go do something else. Stressing over not having an idea will only make it worse. Trust your creative subconscious. The ideas are there and will emerge in time.

I did a project last week. A straightforward black & white “appreciation” ad: the < one > company wishes to thank the < other > company for their continued support, that sort of thing. You know, cheery. I struggled all day to come up with an idea that should have taken an hour or two. I wasn’t happy with the result but sent it to the client for feedback anyway. To my great embarrassment their comment was, and I quote, “Looks sort of crypt-like and funereal, kind of like a headstone. Can you go in different direction?” After I recovered, I put it away and didn’t think about it until the next morning. When I got up and looked at it again, voilà, I had a great new idea that was approved that afternoon.

5. Consult with colleagues. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or woman. Show your work to colleagues and other creative professionals for feedback — something I should probably have done with my “crypt-like” ad. Some of the best ideas are made better by having them seen by fresh sets of eyes from a circle of respected peers. They will see things from a different perspective and can challenge and provoke you to do that much better.

So go and be creative. Now.

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Read my related articles: 3 Tech-Related Ways to Fuel Your Creativity and Why Your Smartphone Is Killing Your Creativity.
For another perspective, read this article by Hollywood screenwriter Mark Sanderson: Screenwriters need to observe and be fully present.

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