June 26, 2015

Don't Be Basic

Within the crumpled edges of a well-read book, the loose threads of a torn piece of fabric, dust on 35mm film, the little globs of paint at the end of a brush stroke, or the crackling voice of a blues musician on a vinyl record lives something beautiful. These “flaws” are unplanned and uncontrollable, but they are exactly what give the work its life and character.

Today, the digital design profession is dominated by tools that standardize and perfect the creative process. We all use the same programs, use the same fonts, and look at the same stock photos. This standardization can be dehumanizing and we begin to create work that is just that – standard. It lacks individuality and doesn’t communicate in a real way.

As creative professionals, we should always be striving to add a relatable personality to the business world. This personality comes from having real experiences, which create real opinions. Let’s look beyond the immediate boundaries of our profession. Study movies, music, abstract painting, and sculptures. Find out what it is about your favorite song that moves you and apply that emotion to your design work. Abandon the font book. How can we make our own letterforms rather than using the ones that appear on the latest design trends website? We have the ability to draw and to paint. Space is valuable. Don’t just fill it for the sake of filling it. Say something! This is what creatives are hired to do after all. Somehow we forget this. We should learn to be less concerned with whether or not our work is good enough and more concerned with whether or not we are communicating something genuine and reflective of our clients and ourselves. When we achieve this, the work becomes personal and valuable – even if a bit strange.

There is just one problem.

We are scared. Putting our innermost thoughts and opinions as marks onto paper or screen for the world to view is terrifying. We are scared of appearing foolish, childlike, and unprofessional. But I would argue that these thoughts are what will really resonate with people – maybe not everyone, but the people who do understand will really understand and with them, we will share something that the lower price of a competitor can never come between - an actual human connection. Every designer has access to the fonts you use. But only you have access to your handwriting and your voice. As the legendary Coco Chanel said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Making work that genuinely moves people is really difficult, but it’s certainly worth striving for. On this journey we will be faced with plenty of objections. We will be bombarded with the pressure to make “good” work, but let’s be brave and create passionate work instead. Break the rules. Design something you’ve always wanted to see, but never have. Make people question what they think they know. Be polarizing – the greatest people are.

Get messy and put your opinions and desires into your design work.