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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