Little big wins
This week on StartupEdition.com we’re answering the question “Who took a chance on you?”
I became a designer by accident: my career seems to be a lucky series of chance encounters, hopeful emails and improbably-connected dots. Now that I’m starting to be in a position to give a leg-up to aspiring designers it’s more important than ever to remember those who helped me out, and to do what I can to pay it forward.
I became a designer by accident.
When I was 17 I had dropped out of high school to become a rockstar. New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, The Clash; little sprinkling of Mötley Crüe. That kind of vibe. In hindsight not a formula for multi-platinum fame & fortune in the mid-2000s.
My parents—in their infinite wisdom—eventually coaxed me into looking at the courses on offer at the local sixth-form college open day.
At this time my career plan was literally just playing guitar. However, some of the older guitarists in the local rock scene that I admired were graphic designers. It seemed like a cool, rock’n’roll day-job to have whilst I worked on becoming the next Johnny Thunders. I’d get to design album covers & band t-shirts & gig posters.
There was a problem though - I didn’t have a graphic design portfolio, at all. I hadn’t even taken art classes at school in the past few years. The BTEC ND Graphic Design course at my local college was hardly prolific, but there was no incentive for them to admit me. I was just another 17 year old with a patchy academic record. There were hundreds of others like me there that day, and I didn’t have a single one of the entrance requirements for the course I half-heartedly wanted to study.
Luckily, I got on to the course. I’m not sure what I’d be doing now if it hadn’t worked out.
Connecting the dots.
In primary school I remember enjoying drawing letterforms; making sure my Crayola letters had double-story g’s and varying the x-height of characters many years before I’d learn what x-height meant. I liked making websites with very crude HTML in the 90s, and had a fleeting interest in Photoshop for a while in secondary school, but until I started my graphic design course I didn’t even know what graphic design really was.
If my first graphic design tutor hadn’t taken that chance on me it’s almost certain that those dots would never have connected.
Getting onto my first graphic design course wasn’t the last time someone took a chance on me — over the next almost-decade I seem to been consistently lucky with saying the right thing to the right person in the right place at the right time when the planets were aligning in the right configuration.
When I thought about this question I thought about the high-risk chances people have taken on me over the years. I’ve certainly never had a crew of Venture Capitalists give me multiple millions of dollars to make a social network for cats. I think that’s what Ryan meant by ‘risk’.
Rather the most important things to me have been the little-big wins. The relatively low-risk (to them), high-value (to me) chances people have given me.
The replies to my emails and the friendly welcomes when I didn’t know anyone at a meetup. The internships that boosted my confidence and the jobs where I was a little under qualified but learnt a huge amount. The specifics aren’t really that interesting; by definition they’re generic and they experiences we’ve all shared.
A few years into our careers it’s easy to forget how important these are. To us, a question from a student in our inbox is just another bit of busywork to get around to. To the student, it might be a little-big win that forms a career.
Let’s take risks. More little-big risks; more helpful nudges in the right direction. More little-big wins that gently nudge our industry forward.