College was great, even outside of the social “networking” perks. I learned a lot as a weird hipster art student in the Art Department of my small university. I learned about color theory, design & composition, art history, and even how to design to the taste of the professor simply for a good grade. However, now that I’ve got a decent education under my belt and I’m wearing big girl pants instead of unwashed, cigarette-stained clothes, I’m finding out how much college didn’t prepare me for my career as a designer in this so-called “real world.”
Not all of you are creatives, but I know that at some point you probably ran up to one of your teachers in grade school, beaming, with colored marker all over your shirt, holding a piece of paper that exhibited your then-pure imagination. Remember how proud and excited you were in that moment? So proud that you just had to show someone, anyone, who was willing to look and revel in what you thought was beautiful?
Well, I’m that colored marker-covered kid on a daily basis. Only instead of running to a teacher, I’m remaining cool and collected while walking to my creative director with the design assets we need to present to the client. Although, don’t doubt for a second that I’m not beaming on the inside; I’m always proud of what I turn in to be reviewed.
However, as a professional designer I’ve had to learn to not be so self-indulgent with my personal design aesthetic. Inevitably the client will want changes on a project, whether they be large or small (I’ve also learned that the definitions of those two words are incredibly subjective). My job is to try and be on the same wavelength as them by having open and constant communication, thus creating mutuality. Being a successful communicator is key to ensuring positive results. So when my designs do need to be finessed, the outcome not only appeases the client’s needs and makes them happy, but myself as well.
Creativity and inspiration can strike at any time. Sometimes it flows from the heavens, but what happens when that inspiration runs dry and you’re nearing your deadline on a project? In college, you transition from subject to subject, covering anything from how to calculate the volumes of basic shapes to how to realistically draw them. And then you’re taking breaks in between lectures to talk to friends, nap, or my favorite: work out. Without even realizing it, you’re constantly moving from one thing to the next, which keeps your creativity flowing.
In the 9-to-5 world of adulthood, I sit behind a computer screen, getting up only for necessities, like refilling my water bottle. They don’t teach you how to stay creative in design school, and in all honesty, they can’t because they don’t hold you in a single room for eight hours a day, five days a week. So how do I hold onto what creativity I have without going insane … and try to gain more creativity throughout my day?
Collaboration is the greatest tool to keep creativity flowing. Sure, collaboration is great for support and motivation; however, my favorite form of collaboration is when there is a diverse group of participants with a wide range of skills and expertise. The diversity in a group allows me to think of things in a new light, which oftentimes leads to breakthroughs. This was particularly helpful when I was designing my first mobile app. Since not all app users think alike, it was great to have multiple ‘users’ vocalize what they think the app should and shouldn’t do.
Another way I stay creative is through making mistakes. Sounds backward, right? However, I cannot count on two hands how many projects started out as absurd or even bad ideas that I wish I could ctrl+alt+delete into a black hole. But after exploring other options, I usually end up revisiting the absurd idea, fine-tuning it and evolving it into a strong design.
Between collaboration, taking breaks away from my computer, and allowing myself to make mistakes, I more often hit those creative breakthroughs.
Standing in a classroom in front of my peers with my design at my back, I quickly learned how to present and talk about my work. Still to this day, I can talk about my creative process for every project, with each process varying from one to the next. Nevertheless, I quickly learned that while presenting work to fellow creatives is easy, presenting work to a client, who is more often than not from a noncreative background, is like speaking a foreign language.
In design school they can’t teach you how to present work to a client because in the industry, every client is different. Sometimes the client wants short, sweet and to the point, and other times they want you to elaborate on your research and explain every aspect of the visual language. This is where it’s helpful to have people around you who have been in the business awhile. My creative director is a pro at knowing the client or reading their cues and understanding how to respond from there. This part of the business is best learned by observing and then doing. Thankfully, GDD has entrusted me with opportunities to do both. Therefore, through client meetings and presentations, I’ve learned it’s about knowing when to show your cards and when to wait.
I would never give up the knowledge I gained in design school. In fact, I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunities I was given to learn more. However, the real world has taught me one thing that outranks everything I learned in college – work experience trumps theoretical knowledge.