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2016 was a gigantic year, in all ways — good and bad. And rather than revel in its ending (which I am afraid I've done too much already), I humbly, excitedly, and wholeheartedly welcome and wish only the best for 2017.
Happy holidays, y'all. Here's a little ditty I made for the season. It may or may not also function as a self portrait.
The always-lovely Spill Canvas and I worked together this year on some super cool merch designs. Huge thank you to Nick and the boys for letting me be a part of their music-making magic. Some of these designs are still available for purchase here, so swing by and grab some!
When creating social content, be careful not to plan with reward-first thinking. Don’t plan to make a “viral video.” Plan, instead, to “tell an engaging story.” Plan to “inspire a new audience.” Plan to “make people think twice.” These are attainable, plan-forward goals. And quite often the brain fuel that is the catalyst for deeply engaging content.
In the world of YouTube videos hitting view numbers in the billions, a new dance craze video popping up every week, and the feigned ease of “going viral,” it’s tempting to do something crazy online. Throw your social budget into a helicopter, strap on a branded parachute, and base-jump off your biggest competition’s HQ. Or, actually, don’t. Unless that’s who you are. But I’ll bet that if you’re not an energy drink or parachute manufacturer, it’s probably a bad idea. Budget can be a tricky thing, especially in the social world. There’s opportunity to spend in a million different directions — video, virtual reality, live-feed, 360-video, Periscope, Snapchat filters, mobile gaming, and the capabilities are changing every day.
Not sure where to begin? A great place to start is with concepting. Dare to spend a responsible portion of your budget on thinking time. Get your best people working together to think about what the brand has to say, and then how it can say it. The message is most important, and then the medium can follow. Always be open to branching out in terms of technology and capabilities, but being open also includes understanding and accepting that more traditional methods (static posts, external links to your award-winning blog, or short videos) may be most appropriate at times.
Louis Sullivan’s famous design principle “form follows function” is applicable to marketing and creative strategy alike. First, we must decide a thing’s function and purpose — What can this thing accomplish? What are its parameters for success? What do we know to be successful/faulty and what can we implement/omit to make it most effective? These questions may help form a blueprint for what form social content should take. Contemplating first the message (or function) will allow for a more effective and systemic choice regarding the medium (form). Blindly diving into a project and committing to media like “video” or “infographic” without a strategic choice behind the message often results in a lifeless final product. Think Fabergé egg — beautiful, but hollow.
Flashiness and sensationalism have their roles in content. Innovative technology is a great avenue for brands to rely on for creating engaging content, as are funny, shocking, or awe-inspiring visuals. However, be sure to embrace these avenues with a strategic and brand-first mentality. Sensationalism gets recognized, but sincerity gets remembered. Even if it hasn’t sent you viral yet, remember who you are. And tell that story to anyone who will listen.
(This post is Part 2 of 3 in my series on Content Marketing and Social Brand Strategy. Click here for Part 1.)
While exciting, the opportunity to create and curate a new brand narrative through content is a challenging one. However, the key to success is to stay focused. Form a plan and act on it with a clear head, good intentions, and enough flexibility to ebb and flow with the ever-changing, 24-7 market. The best rule of thumb is to show your best self, even when you’re showing off.
Social media is a very versatile space. It caters to the everyday needs of an individual keeping in touch with old friends, but can also allow a multi-billion dollar corporation to advertise to customers, and create touchpoints with new audiences, all within the same basic functionality and platform. With so much noise on consumers’ feeds (particularly now during a presidential race), it is important to choose what you “say” very carefully, especially while trying to grow and maintain a captive audience.
Brand elements like consistent logo usage, consistent brand voice, captivating visuals, photography style, and hashtag (yes, singular) are great ways to create evergreen and brand-true content. Create compelling visuals and copy based on well-spun ideas that encapsulate the best features of the brand, but always stay true to who you are. “Memorable” must first start with “recognizable.” Own your content, don’t just host it underneath your avatar.
But don’t get too product- or brand-granular. Leave your marketing talk and brand jargon behind. Speak to your social audience the way you’d talk to a friend. Don’t make too-lofty promises or shout savings at them. Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagram photos have nestled their way into everyday communication, and it’s important to speak to your audience in a language that both captivates and comforts them. Think of your social content flow as a conversation, not a sales pitch.
Deviation is tempting. To jump on the “viral” bandwagon is tempting. To over-post is tempting. To throw out organic content for paid content is tempting. And sometimes, changing up the plan is a good thing. But don’t forget to see the content forest for the ad dollar trees. Customers buy from brands they can trust, and that trust comes from relatable, trustworthy content. And good content is all about creating brand value, not monetary value. And once you achieve the first, the second tends to follow.
As a website designer, I used to sell my freelance services with the following pitch: “I know it may seem like you don’t need a particularly well-polished website as a small business owner, but a website is priceless real-estate. Think about it. Your store or office is only open eight hours a day, so what do customers do when they need you during the other sixteen? Your website is your only 24-hour employee. It’s a 24-hour storefront. It’s a 24-hour billboard. Don’t you want it to sell just as well as you do in person?”
Looking back on this, I can see how the world has dramatically changed since the boom of social media. Today, a website in the traditional sense seems antiquated and rusty, in that it’s one-way communication. Websites can provide information based in truth (as composed and polished by copywriters, brand experts, focus groups and legal teams), but not information based in firsthand experience (outside the internally-crafted case study or handpicked customer testimonial). This is one of the gaps social media fills. In its open market for ad revenue, flashy capabilities, and easy accessibility, it provides availability to real-time conversations and firsthand reactions to brands.
In this, social media is also a flashy, easy, and lucrative double-edged sword. Conversations on social are real-time, and in that they can become unpredictable. Some users in your audience are singing your praises, and some are cursing you six ways to Sunday in 140 characters or less. These quick and fiery conversations are valuable from an analytical perspective, but both can also cause the brand narrative pendulum to swing too far too quickly.
So how can a brand keep face and push forward their brand-positive narrative through the din? The answer lies in content. Strong, evergreen, and brand-true content can soften, steer, or even change altogether the cumulative social conversation. Going back to the old website design pitch, “Content is the 24-hour employee. It’s a 24-hour storefront. It’s a 24-hour billboard.” Social media is a 24/7 marketplace, and as marketers and designers, we must dictate often unpredictable 24-hour conversations with content we create in our 9-5s.
While this may seem like an insurmountable task, it is not. Beginning first with a systemic approach, cultivate, create, and curate content that promotes and reinforces your brand. Promote your brand without over-selling your product. Be persistent in presenting a well-rounded, thoughtful, and engaging content library that is both innovative in the space yet true to the brand’s values. Lead conversations worth having and inspire emotions worth sharing. Social content crafts a story — a narrative that reveals, supports, and reinforces your brand.
What will your story be about?
In agency/startup/freelance life, there's not a whole lot of extra time or excess energy to devote to many things outside the business. However, for the last eight years, and most passionately in the last five, I have followed, supported, and wholeheartedly loved professional wrestling.
Without giving you a full case study on how WWE is one of the greatest examples of an international brand creating long-lasting, engaging multimedia content for over half a decade, know I am a devout fan of WWE wrestling, and find within its stable of Superstars many characters, athletes, and heroes worth celebrating.
And that's what this ongoing side project is about: celebrating the storytellers and characters that, many times, get me from day to day and week to week. Judge not, lest ye have been to a Pay-Per-View. I say, "life changing" with a non-ironic grin.
Oh and by the way, expect a full case study on WWE soon enough. It's that good. Don't believe me? Then tune in for @StephMcMahon's Cannes talk this year.
And check out these posters I've created. More on the way, just couldn't wait to share.
My first few days of art school, I felt overwhelmed by everyone’s ability to think on their feet. I felt sluggish in my ability to think past what I knew to be true about the world, and particularly about my own abilities. I assumed too many things to be true, and it inhibited my ability to think and design in a powerful, impactful, and paradigm-shifting way. No one ever said I had to color inside the lines — and the fact that I assumed things like this to be true prematurely guillotined my ability to think (and live) in a design-forward fashion.
This same ailment (insecurity) is the continual thread that runs through mediocre work. When we see, design, and accept paper poster after paper poster, we create an unfair association and subliminal stereotype. The “paper poster” is of course an allegory — your “inside the lines” may be a horizontal logotype, a parallax website design, or a Facebook-crutched social strategy. We are all show ponies, but our tricks should be infinite. They become infinite only when we allow ourselves to be equal parts strategic and imaginative.
Before we act, we must think. Uninhibited by anyone’s expectations, timeline, or frustrations (especially our own), we must think like the brands we represent, within the campaigns we propose, and for the projects to which we are assigned. The most valuable asset of a designer (and/or any marketing professional) is not his or her technical prowess — it is this ability to think. As designers, we must not only think for a brand, but we must also think ahead of said brand. And in the agency world, we're not just thinking for one brand, but for many at once. While it may seem nearly impossible to keep one's corporate, agency, and personal "design hats" on at once, this is imperative, and I believe it is the hallmark of a successful designer.
Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are great tools. Amplified by technical fundamentals and individual creative process, we designers are charged to translate the thoughts, words, and intentions of a brand's leaders into the brand's visual manifestation in this fast-moving, social-obsessed, and highly critical world. That can be a heavy burden. Getting to the answer isn't easy, but if it was, wouldn't everyone do it?
Design is a noble charge, and one that requires deep thought, extensive patience, and a willingness to try new things. Critique is not the impeder of great design — it is its accelerant. Dare to be grateful for it, motivated by it, and thoughtful despite it. There will be people who don’t believe you should ever color outside the lines. It is our charge as designers to defy this expectation. Don’t just color outside their lines. Redraw them altogether.
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2015 was quite a year. And here's what I learned along the way.
It only took me four months to collect my thoughts…
1. Throwing Things Away
This year, I threw away my long ago packed and forever cherished box of college notebooks. Every note I’ve ever taken on image resolution, content planning, branding best practices, medieval architecture, and Biblical semantics — on its way to a landfill. Among other things, I threw away this box because I realized something that extends into all other facets of my life, as well: If you can feel a thing without seeing it, it’s more real than anything else. I don’t need to read through those notes next year, and I probably never would have again. Getting rid of the physical artifacts did not invalidate my experience, my knowledge, or my tuition, and I can fondly remember my journey without lugging around the box of papers that prove I did it and did it well.
The Lesson: Your baggage does not validate your choice every day to feel the pain you associate with it. We consciously make the choice to hold onto the things that weigh us down. You can always choose to rid yourself of the things that don’t make you happy without losing the experience and lessons you learned while accumulating them. You don’t have to live with unnecessary mental clutter. Clean house so that you can better live with yourself.
2. Fighting and Accepting the Loss
I am a fighter. Sometimes, for things that I know won’t work out. I am hard wired to persevere and work towards solution. And sometimes, that doesn’t work out. Sometimes, you fight and lose. And this year, I lost at something. Being hard wired to persevere, I made a decision in 2014 that affected my life through the first half of 2015 — I decided to stay in a relationship that was unhealthy. I decided to smile and pretend my way through every day, and it slowly took things away from me. First, it began to take my patience. Then it took my faith in myself. Then it took my physical health. And still, I stayed and fought. I fought through the emotional highs and lows, and one day, it all stopped. I stopped feeling anything, and realized too late I had stayed too long. I had fought so long, my arms gave out. And by being untrue to myself and instead trying to save face, I had become nearly unrecognizable to myself. It was only after I accepted the loss and walked away that I was able to start building things again.
The Lesson: Some places, relationships, and circumstances, no matter how great they may look to others, do not benefit your best self. It takes courage and self confidence to walk away from things others pressure you to pursue and see through. Don’t ever change yourself to match someone else’s perception of you. By being your authentic self, you fulfill your own needs, despite whether doing so disappoints those around you. Their disappointment is their own, and you are too busy pursuing your own happiness to worry about theirs. As my guru RuPaul says, "What other people think of you is none of your business." Stick to business, and business will be good.
3. Saying No
I am not good at saying, “No.” I like to say, “Yes.” I like to help. I like to take on challenges. I like to see and do. And some days, it’s way too much. But this year, I took a plunging dive into the world of saying “no,” using it in response to a question I never thought I’d have that answer for: “Are you okay?” I said, “No.” Without even thinking, I said “no.” Without a sob story, without a direct impetus, without tears, I replied, “No.” And I didn’t get a stern face. I didn’t get a ton of questions. I didn’t get a pitiful brush off. I got a hug. A long hug in a corporate kitchen on a cold day while our coffee was brewing. Then I got an invitation to talk. And a few days later, we did just that. On my time, over tacos, we talked. And I couldn’t be thankful enough for that.
The Lesson: When you need to talk, tell someone. When hurt people shut down, they’ve lost faith that anyone can trust, love, or value them again. This is why they tend not to ask for help. If you are feeling this way, it takes a great deal of courage to speak up. But saying you are not okay is not the same as giving up. In fact, it is the opposite. It’s the first step to getting better. If someone asks you to listen to them, truly listen. Without judgement or action in mind, listen. Your job is not to fix, distract, or patronize them. You have been asked to listen. And with love and patience, please do just that.
4. Giving More
I am an incredibly fortunate person. I realized this year that I have never truly needed any human essentials in my lifetime. I have never needed anything I could not get. So many people do not realize that about themselves, and how incredibly momentous it is. There are places across the world, in the US, even in our own city, where basic human essentials are not available. Without food, shelter, clean water, medicine, education, or that ever-important element of hope, a person’s life is severely compromised. I have worked this year with non-profit organizations on nearly every continent. Whether it’s as short-term as disaster relief after the Paris Attacks or long-term as building primary, secondary, and vocational schools in Africa, I have given my time, money, talent, and used goods to those in need. And to tell you the truth, it's still not enough. There are days when I still worry about what's happening to the world, and I don't feel like the good things I do, say, or donate matter. But that inspires me to give more. To give of myself until I give out. And that may be something the evil powers of this world didn't expect.
The Lesson: Fortune is greatly craved by those in need, but tends to go forgotten by those who have it. Fortune doesn't have to equate to millions of dollars, thousands of shares or hundreds of acres. Everyone has their own personal fortune. Realize your own fortune of love, talent, happiness, drive. Realize it and give, give, give unto others. If you have money to give, give it. If you don't, give your compassion, prayers, or kind words. We are all fortunate in our own special way. And it is the duty of the fortunate to give. We are re-paid in love. We are re-paid in compassion. We are re-paid in gratitude. And thus begins a new fortune for us to share with those who need it most.
5. Emotional Economics (My Personal Favorite)
As long as I can remember, I've been, admittedly, high-strung. I've been progressively less high-strung since college graduation, but I can say I'm probably still far higher strung than many of my millennial contemporaries. I plan, but I still worry. I always deliver, but I still have moments of panic. I get upset when I make mistakes, and I get disappointed when things fall through the cracks. In essence, I tend to have fairly heightened negative emotions when things don't go to plan. But when things do go to plan, I have no emotions. I just move onto the next thing. And that's a problem. So this year, I have been focusing on something I called "Emotional Economics." Investment tactics, but for your feelings. Basically, if you're willing to invest 20 minutes of panic into a situation, when it turns out alright, you then owe 20 minutes of celebration to yourself. 20 minutes of gratitude and kudos for planning and delivering despite the worry. If you're not willing to invest the later 20 minutes, you cannot invest the previous 20 minutes. End of story.
The Lesson: This practice has helped me in two ways. First, when I feel panic start to creep up, I ask myself, "Will this give you 20 minutes of joy after it's resolved? If it's not resolved, will you still be upset in a year?" If the answer is "No" to either (it's usually the answer to both) then I take a step back and re-evaluate my emotional investment. Second, for those times I do decide to panic, I then am forced to slow down and celebrate my achievements. If you celebrate all the things you panic about, you'll find yourself feeling silly for celebrating such tiny things. So doesn't that mean you should feel silly for worrying about such tiny things? It's a great way to re-evaluate where you are investing your negative (and thusly positive) emotions. Don't over-invest in negative emotions. Give yourself a healthy balance, even if it means celebrating that you didn't have a meltdown at the post office. Have a tiny dance party in your car and realize you're okay. And you always have been.
My mother has always categorized people into two groups: rollercoasters and merry-go-rounds.
Rollercoasters are fast-paced and wreckless, winding life's curves at breakneck speed with little to no visibility. Strap yourself in, hold onto the handlebars, and close your eyes if it gets too scary. A curve will come soon enough, and things will change.
Merry-Go-Rounds are safer. Slow, moving up but then down, and always in the same way. Colorful, but contained, with lulling music and no real end in sight. Sit comfortably, hold on, and spin without getting dizzy. And stay as long as you like.
She uses this allegory to explain why people tend to gravitate through relationships. First, we go for the rollercoaster. And when things get scary, or that chug uphill takes too long, we walk away. Often times, to the merry-go-round. There, we catch our breath, bask in the slow safety, and promptly get bored. And off we go for adventure — to the rollercoasters. And so on. And so on.
I often think about my life this way. When was I last a rollercoaster? Have I always been a merry-go-round? Am I a merry-go-round trying to live like a rollercoaster? Or am I destined to be a rollercoaster, but built more like a merry-go-round? I have never really found the answer.
I think the generalization goes too far. It enforces the belief that you must be one or the other, and your choice is definitive and eternal. I have found that I have a little of each inside me. And so do you.
I think that it is wise to plan. I think that fear can be healthy. And I think that expecting anything to go according to plan is foolish, and living in constant fear will send you to an early grave.
This year, I have faced changes and challenges that I did not ever expect to. Accordingly, I have risen to far more difficult occasions and overcome greater odds than I ever thought I could. My merry-go-round side prepared as best it could. Then the rollercoaster started.
I've never been one to take leaps of faith, but the ones I have taken this year have brought me great reward. My freelance career brought me a great deal of stress in the beginning, but paid off in the great work I got to do and the wonderful colleagues and clients I met along the way. Shortly after, I was presented with an opportunity to spring forward in my career, but all plans had to be put on hold (or thrown to the wind, as it were). So I took it.
And I'm so very glad I did. If you're a merry-go-round, you're probably a little bit worried for me. If you're a rollercoaster, you probably stopped reading after the first few sentences. Therefore, I'll direct this to my MGR comrades — Do it. Jump in, two feet at a time. Press pause when it's too much. Sprint when the wind's at your back. Grab opportunities by the throat. Dare yourself to be brave. Be who you needed when you were younger. Live the life you want. Sometimes, that requires you to close your eyes, hear the chains clicking as they pull you uphill, open your eyes, and ride the rails with your hands in the air.
We all have a little rollercoaster in us. Enjoy the ride.
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I get asked a lot in introductions and interviews, "What inspires you?" I tend to start off with answers to what they're really asking, "How do you stay relevant?" and I name off design blogs, Twitter handles, and local gallery-bars that I infrequently frequent. However, I find I most often get my visual inspiration from music.
As a teenager, my first life aspiration was to be (stay) in the theater. Through high school and college, I starred in musicals like Once Upon a Mattress, Little Shop of Horrors, Grease, and Into the Woods. Musical theater creates the raw emotion of face-to-face performance and amps up the volume with a fully orchestrated (sometimes omnipresent) soundtrack. Shows like The Last Five Years, Fun House, Les Miserables, Company, The Book of Mormon, and Sunday in the Park with George have been go-to's in this first decade of design. I find the music of these shows creates a safety net for me, opening up my brain to receive new ideas, no matter how foreign they may seem to me. Safety is a large part of my emotional requirement foundation. Designing something new usually doesn't mix well with watching a new movie or tv show, or listening to something I don't already know the lyrics to. It's limiting, but it works.
I am inspired by emotional moments, and rarely a medium expresses true emotion to me better than musical theater.
The dichotomy between what must be done and what else is being ignored in that time? The dichotomy of thinking, speaking, and living in design and the sudden drop off when transitioning to living back in the real world? Whew.
On days I need to heads-down focus, there's really only one album that gets me there. It's NSFW, but in the world of headphones, no problem. A long, immaculate mashup that pairs Black Sabbath with Ludacris, Simon and Garfunkle with Lil Jon, Eric Clapton with B.O.B., Wiz Khalifa with John Lennon, and more? Yeah. It's intense. And perfect. Here's the whole album. Girl Talk's All Day. (All day, indeed.)
I made an observation this year that the art that most profoundly affects me all has one thing in common — its subject, creator, or message seems to feel the pain I have once felt before. Returning to the idea of musicals (which I am prone to do incessantly) The Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch observes:
I could tell by your expression
that the pain down in your soul
was the same as the one down in mine.
That's the pain
that cuts a straight line
down through the heart.
And we call it love.
In my teens, I obsessively clung to singer-songwriters. With longstanding love affairs with Jim Croce, James Taylor, Don McLean, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard, in 2005, I found a contemporary obsession in the South Dakota based "desert rock" band The Spill Canvas. After (finally) finding their debut album Sunsets and Car Crashes in the Haight Asbury Tower Records in 2005, my true connection with writing poetry began. One of my earliest journals is full of Spill creator Nick's words, and I spent a lot of time crafting my emotional responses to life's occurrences in a similar fashion to the way he did. And I think the reason is because he, more than any artist, seemed to have this Hedwig-esque understanding of what was happening, despite our ages, geography, and circumstances being much, much different. Many years, miles, and albums later, I am so proud and honored to call Nick my friend. And I hope our short, disparate conversations have adequately let him know that his years of distant support through just creating his art have offered me more comfort, inspiration, and perseverance than any other artist, visual or otherwise. In essence, I have never found an artist to impact me more profoundly than he, and I continue to find a safe, profound, and deeply moving message in his music.
This song resonates with a time in my life I had to make a difficult decision about myself. When taken literally, the song is quite sad. But I find strength in remembering this specific moment and deciding to become something greater than the circumstances that were attempting to narrate my life for me. Thank you, Nick. For this and everything else.
Other albums and artists I use for inspiration are below. My music tends to change with my moods, and I like to cater my input to my output sometimes. I would apologize for the absolute absurdity of this collection, but honestly, I'm not at all sorry.
I leave you with these. Choose wisely, enjoy, and come back for more.
My student portfolio is a minefield of emotionally-charged projects. My senior thesis is hidden in a closet because I'm so afraid to show it to anyone other than my husband. It's a series of typography posters that feature photographs of my actual friends and family. Ouch. Plus, overlay text in big, Univers Condensed white. The subject matter (and title)?
"Things I Can't Believe Were Said to My Face." Double ouch.
Some of them only the teacher got to see. And all of them are 100% authentic. Of five pieces, one is a remark made out of pure love and encouragement. It hangs beside my door so that I see it every day before I leave. It is also the image on my "About Me" page. It does a far better job of encapsulating my persona, style, and motivation than any headshot ever could.
Last year, my sister introduced me to John Green, a young adult author who is sweeping the nation with heart-wrenching tails of very real pain and experience through the eyes of the ever-evolving teenage mind of today. I grew up in (what I believe to be) the last era of mental silence — lots of feelings, questions, and wonder that the Internet just wasn't refined enough to satiate. I kept journals throughout high school, and leaned heavily on the two legs of music and illustration to complete my racing thoughts. John Green puts into words something I've always felt to be true: "That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt." - The Fault in Our Stars.
[Another favorite is "What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person."- Paper Towns. This one is a particularly sore spot for me. But maybe that's another blog post.]
With so much introduction, I'll now move onto the design-relevant portion — I found a way in design to channel my quiet mind and come up with answers. I've always been quiet in difficult moments. I've gotten so much better at calming the occasional mental storm, and I've done it through focusing my own questions into design.
My first two years of design school, I focused very, very hard on learning to use my hands (read: not computer) to express my ideas. I take solace in the story of Michelangelo furiously chiseling out a bust's teeth after Lorenzo de Medici commented "He looks too young," because every drawing class I've ever taken has been borderline the most humiliating public experiences of my life. And being that I went to SCAD, I paid a lot of money to feel pretty terrible for a solid year and a half. But here's the thing — my lowest grade was a B. I passed "Drawing for Design" (aka Technical/Blueprint Drawing) with an A-. My final was a technical drawing of a spray bottle. I did it while listening to the Assassins Revival Broadway Cast Recording on repeat. And lots and lots of crying. But it happened. And I lived. And it did more good for me than harm, and I applaud myself for the effort and bravery.
What John Green told me, I knew through experience. Pain, fear, anxiety — it can motivate. It can move you. It can propel you forward at near light speed. The only requirement is that you feel it. Feel it wholly, fully, and in every atom. And then, it will become your answer. And it will become your motivation. And it will become your story. And you will become better.
My earliest work reeks of the fear I felt being a teenager on my own for the first time. This happened a little bit earlier for me than it did for the rest of my peers. My journals are often too raw for me to read even now, knowing that I make it out okay. But these artistic expressions are a very important part of who I am now, even/especially as a designer. Every moment of doubt, whether contained in the creative process or not, has strengthened me and thickened my skin. Every harsh critique or total miss on a design first pass has given me that essential broken record before exporting Layer Comps to Files — "Does this fit the brand? Does it fit the brief? Would you buy this?" It's made for some late nights, but it's the hallmark of commercial design craftsmanship. If it's not right, it's not finished. And those late nights are finishing earlier and earlier.
And every moment outside the creative process adds to who I am, too. I covered this a bit in the "Work, don't play" post. As designers, we are invaluable, individual assets. And no one, especially us, has any right to devalue it by portraying what we do as anything less than careful thinking, artful craftsmanship, and business building. Our pain demands to be felt, inside and outside our professional arena. And when we feel it, and are transformed by it, it changes everything about us. Most powerfully, it changes the way we see and represent the world. And to me, this makes every pain worth every moment.
This endeavor, this adventure I'm taking, has all to do with the outcome of feeling what's truly there. A few events this year set into motion the idea that I needed to take more responsibility for my life's path — design career, friendships, family relationships, marriage — all of it. And in soaking in moments both painful and joyous, I drew new lines on a very unfinished life map. Today, and in days previous (and hopefully all to come), I am happier than I ever could have expected. And from that I am emerging as a more thoughtful, confident, and motivated designer.
I may not be the poster child for, well…anything, really. But this is the way I have crafted my life — from deciding on design school over musical theater academies, moving to a new city without having even visited (to go to said design school), cutting ties that needed to be cut (many times), mending relationships with blood, sweat and tears (many times), and even moving into the infinite unknown on my own career path — I am feeling what is truly there, letting it motivate and inspire me, and constantly repeating the process.
"Just play with it."
"We'll play with it."
"Could you play with the idea..."
This is one of my mega peeves. It's bad enough with someone asks me to "play with" something that's not working in a design. It's the ultimate when I hear another designer say it. "I played with it..." or "I've been playing around with..."
Design is work. It's the kind of work that marries thought, practicality, technical ability, and personality. This means it ties up your mind, body, and spirit. All day. It's hard, complicated, and (for me) incredibly gratifying. I get to do what I love all day (and I do mean all day) , but that doesn't make it any less work. It definitely doesn't make it "play."
All my professors were constantly pressing idea of The Creative Process, in all its title caps glory. Whether we as students were required to talk through it, keep notes, or make a 40-page process deck, I found it a little bit exhaustive in my early years. Why does this matter? Who will read this? Does anyone care about thumbnails and failed prototypes? Who will even know?
The answer: me. I'll know. I care. And it matters because it happened.
Those process essays, journals, and decks had nothing to do with the professors who requested them. They had all to do with me. It taught me to build and understand the value of my work. All projects require far more than the final file. They require thought, care, personality, and hard, hard work. And being able to look back at that process is invaluable.
A professor once asked me how long a type execution took. I sheepishly replied, "Six hours." He replied, "No. This design took you twenty one years and six hours. You've been designing this all your life. This is designed the way it is because you are the way you are." And I've never forgotten that.
Now, I realize I'm leaning really hard on a simple phrase. It's easy to say "I've been playing with this design," because it takes the pressure off the often indecisive client. Our charge to "play" often comes from a creative stalemate. Budgetary, managerial or timeline conflicts arise and frustration abounds. "Just play with it" is often the charge. And to break the tension, we agree.
If we allow our work, profession, field and craft to be regarded (offhand or otherwise) as "play," we lose our relevance. Why would a client invest in a longer timeline for someone who spent time "playing" with the layout? Why not ask for a fifth round of changes if all you're having to do behind the scenes is "play" with the color palette? Whether intentional or not, referring to your work (even in small instances) as "playing around" creates a thought pattern that is destructive to your credibility, needs, and professional worth. If you are willing to spend time designing work that is strategic, thoughtful, and appropriate to brand, industry, and brief, do not, even momentarily, discredit yourself by referring to this hard work as "play."
Strategy and process are work. And it should always, even in the uncomfortable, board meeting moments, be referred to as such. Clients get frustrated when they can't bridge the gap between what they want and the comp in front of them, and it's quite easy to bring ease to everyone's mind with the idea that you can solve their problem by simply "playing" with things. But in order to keep yourself credible, confident, and professionally relevant, might I suggest delivering the simple, truthful solution — "I will work on this." And you will. Because that's what we do.
I wonder what Amelia Earhart felt like in her first solo flight. I can see her buckling her boots, almost forgetting her goggles as she rushed to the runway, smiling big for the cameras, and then giddily belting out her favorite tune over the sounds of the roaring propeller once she was finally soaring high.
At least, that's what it would look like if it were me. (And with my recent paradigm shift on past lives, I'm inspired at the idea.)
I just completed my first week as a solo artist. Flying a clunky but beautiful machine into no-woman's-land. And it's been fantastic. The work is beautiful, the schedule is far more responsible (more on that to come), and I'm more present in my own life than I've probably ever been.
I'll be using this space to discuss this. I'll talk about inspiration, process, work (the stuff that thrills and the stuff that pays the bills), and anything I'm really loving along the way. I'm hoping to branch out into some side projects along the way, so I'll post WIP's (and probably some WTF's) here as well.
Hope to see you back soon. Godspeed.
Whether this is our first introduction or you're an old friend, I warmly welcome you to my newest design venture. I'm excited to be embarking on something so momentous.
This is the place to keep up with every step on my personal design journey. I'm so happy you're along for the ride.
Now let's get started.