Let’s all raise our glasses to a bright, spanking new 2013 with fresh vigor and new hope for a better design year. We may still be in the throes of recession but the last few years have produced new opportunities for freelancers in digital and mobile design as well as many companies rediscovering print as a way to interact with smart devices. Let’s all be bolder and more courageous this year. Let’s all come out of the shadows in 2013 by fighting harder for contracts and creating wild and innovative work.
Last year was just a warm up. This design year is going to be the main event where we blow EVERYBODY away!
Here are 7 pieces of design advice to help you start 2013 with a bright and shiny new attitude:
1. Find your own voice! Stop plundering stuff (so much!)
Let’s make a real effort to aim high and do something truly original and outstanding this year. We’re all guilty of pilfering bits of code or recreating a certain design or illustration style that we particularly like. The very nature of our business is to copy. This dates back to the time when Og the Caveman copied Ug the Caveman’s pictures!
However, every designer needs to look critically at their work and try something different. That should also be in a designer’s nature. As designers we need to strive to be Ug’s and not Og’s! As with every new design year, the designers who will stand out the most in 2013 are the individuals who innovate and explore new ways of doing things and representing ideas.
2. Solve problems (don’t create them)
As freelancers we should aim higher. Don’t create an app, develop a website, or present something that nobody needs. The digital world is already filled with cyber trash. We do not need any more digital farm apps. We need real ones. If you want to make a difference, design for a charity organization or a cause that you believe in. Let’s improve the world around us by designing a product or packaging that makes life easier for people or offer our design services to an organization or cause we love rather than something that we believe will earn us a fast buck. Commitment to something you believe in always shines through in the quality of your work.
Even in our day-to-day design work we can aim for excellence rather than the quick fix design approach. Designing is about talking to clients and finding out what they really need. It’s about commitment and hard work as much as it’s about artistic ability.
3. Good riddance to bad work!
If something doesn’t work…trash it and start again. You’re simply adding to the confusion by keeping multiple versions of the same design work. Look critically and save yourself and your hard drive from the headache of hundreds of dust-collecting comp files. Start off this new year afresh by dumping design work that you have no intention of using. That way, you won’t be tempted to try to manipulate it and use it on another project. If it didn’t work the first time, it won’t work this time.
The urge to keep hundreds of files is totally understandable. No designer wants to feel like they’ve wasted all those design hours for nothing. But most designers value their work too highly, like some kind of Gollum trying to protect their “precious”. Unfortunately, these bad habits can turn good people into bad designers who bill clients for everything; rough comps, incomplete ideas, and sub-standard design work.
Look at your design files in 2013 and throw out the trash. You will feel so much better.
4. Be a strong, confident, and forceful designer
You have to take charge of design projects in 2013. Designers can’t be passive. Being passive equates to sub-par work that answers the personal tastes of the client rather than their actual needs as business professionals. For example, choosing the font you think your client will like, rather than the font that will answer a design problem is a crummy way to design.
As a designer, you need to bring your knowledge and understanding to the table. If a client demands something that you KNOW is going to create problems, then speak up. Design is about conversation and compromise. But if you’re coming to the table with a compromise in hand, even before you’ve tried to create your best work, you’re doing both the client and yourself a disservice.
Good designers aren’t good “yes” men. They might not appreciate it at first, but your client doesn’t want to be given work that looks like something they would have done. Be a strong and forceful individual and you will get the respect of your client.
5. Learn something new this year
You can never know enough about design, art, animation, etc. Make a point of learning a new skill this year. Great designers don’t stay stagnant they move with the times and move with technology. Don’t spend your time and your career being satisfied with doing things you’re good at – try to do things you’re not good at; learn to code PHP, learn Maya animation, paint more, etc.
Even if it’s as simple as playing with a new toy. I recently had a design epiphany with my iPad. I’ve been using it to sketch out my ideas and even create artwork (instead of using my Wacom tablet.) Using the iPad apps, Sketchbook Pro and Sketchbook Ink to create certain design elements, I have started getting really excited about designing again. Finding a great design tutorial to play around with is also a fantastic way to get back into the swing of things.
6. Learn to write
When I first started out as a designer in an ad agency in the UK, the best piece of advice I was ever given was “learn to write”. Once I leaned to write marketing and ad copy, I doubled my productivity as a creative professional and I gave myself a massive boost in confidence. Being able to write my own headlines and blog about design has made me a much more desirable asset.
But it’s not just a good career move, on a purely practical level, being able to write is essential for any designer. Ninety percent of design is communication. Half of that will be done in writing. A designer who can’t write can’t defend their work. Great work can get trampled on because the designer couldn’t explain their reasoning and strategy, or defend how it met project requirements. The biggest lie in design and advertising is that good design sells itself.
7. Be a confident communicator
Just as being able to write is important, you should also read up on how to be a good oral communicator. If you spent 2012 mumbling and stumbling in client meetings and presentations then 2013 is your year to come out of your shell and start taking control.
You’re going to spend a lot of time this year presenting your work to people. They will ask you questions about your work, it’s your job to answer with confidence and aplomb. If you can’t stand your ground when it comes to pricing your work, explaining your strategies, and defending your designs, then you’ll likely get railroaded by some savvy client.
Being a good communicator also means that you are able to sweet talk more people into hiring you. The most successful designers are rarely the most talented; they’re the most fearless and confident who have no problem going up to strangers and offering them their services. Be that super-confident design star and take control of the situations you find yourself in. Start using your silver tongue to be impressive and convincing.
(I can recommend The Confidence Plan: How to Build a Stronger You by Tim Ursiny for people like myself who have lost many an opportunity through lack of self-confidence.)