What I have learned from the ‘real world’ in 2 years
Like a lot of students, I started University not knowing exactly what I wanted to do or what career options were actually available to a creative arty type in the real world. Design to me, at this stage, was something that fancy people did with fancy computers in fancy offices providing fancy outcomes for fancy companies… and it always intrigued me.
My design degree was the polar opposite experience to this initial thought, it opened up the world of design-led thinking to me and allowed me to understand the fundamental ways design can touch, shape and create the world around us. I was hooked after one lecture.
I learned about various methodologies and influential people throughout my 3-year stint, including the super handy IDEO methods, Walter ‘Bauhaus’ Gropius, Uncle Buckminster Fuller, Paul Rand (who I unknowingly shared a style with in high school art class), Charlotte Perriand, my automotive crushes Mimi Vandermolen and Alec Issigonis, and my art direction and animation hero Hayao Miyazaki.
I was taught about graphic design, coding, theory, strategy, and material design, how to conceptualize my ideas and speak directly to them; how to make a lasting impression on someone or something; how to enhance an experience or a person’s life through design outcomes; and most importantly how to take criticism and feedback.
A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.
— R. Buckminster Fuller
I left University with a desire to make a meaningful impact on the world around me. The one thing you can only learn from first-hand experience in the industry is just how fast-paced and unforgiving the ‘design world’ can be.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”
— Ira Glass
It seems you can operate on a weird scale as a designer, you either do exceptional work of the highest quality with a smaller number of outputs or you do work that is acceptable but in much larger quantities. Mike Monteiro of Mule Design covered this particular topic in a keynote, along with a range of problems/topics around design.
It is better to do good work that sells than high-end work that doesn't.
There is also a strange aura hovering around design outcomes.
Here is an example of what I mean… You have been tasked with designing a logo for a client/company, the boss man who pays the bills ends up seeing the final product, and if it is any good it should have looked like it took no time at all and will seamlessly fit into who the client is and what their brand stands for.
What they didn’t see are the hours of research into the brand, the concepts, and the brainstorming sessions. They just see the completed outcome removed from all the hard work. So in their mind, it's a simple process, right? Not worth that price tag? What about dropping some of those numbers? It didn’t take you that long…
I love this mindset (wait, what? seriously? have you had a coffee?), I see it as a constant challenge and a brief to do more. To make it perfectly clear exactly why you are worth the money and the time.
If I can’t be critiqued or argued with by the client I will not enjoy the work. The best work comes from constant questioning, and if you have no steps to climb during the process then it will rarely hit the mark.
“Better outcomes are only possible when everyone involved commits to ditching comfortable habits for honest conversations and evidence-based decisions.”
— Mule Design
I will no doubt look back in a few years and cringe at how naive and inexperienced I was. How all of my opinions at this point in time were wrong.
But I will keep striving to have my work as good as my ambitions. And if that takes years, so be it. I love iterations.