What I Learned 2011: Advice for the new year

Detail, AIGA PIH Poster 2009, ®Greg Bennett, WorktoDate

Go Full Speed.

If you haven’t been already, now is the time for full-speed ahead. Aim for your dreams and aspirations by making each project and every hour work for those goals. In an interview featured on this blog earlier this year with Greg Bennett of WorktoDate, he revealed his secret for creativity on a grand scale on projects: “total immersion”.

Design. Re-Design… But Simply Do.

Design Army’s revelation in their lecture called “Strip” pointed out that while often very busy, not all of their projects are high profile or high budget. Some projects don’t even “cover” the design budget in search of the creative execution. But, they’ve fashioned a formula that doesn’t skimp on creativity, nor success. They work the ideas until the concepts and sketches make just as much sense as the final executions.

Last year, I read a quote from the venerable Michael Beirut in which he said: “Be generous with your work. See something that needs doing or redoing.” Design/redesign. Keeping a bevy of ideas and projects is always a way to keep your concepting and portfolio fresh. Sometimes you may even need to “turn off the meter” in order to let the creativity flow.

Still, this doesn’t mean you have to give away the creativity for free.

Strip Lecture, AIGA Event April 2010, ®Design Army

Sketch. Sketch Often.

Pum Lefebure of the very same Design Army said in the “Strip” lecture that every project that they work on has to work conceptually before they bother to design it. This means that sketching out the idea—which is faster than designing and gets the design to a state where it can be evaluated for things like “flow” and “tenor” can be made and adjustments can go in before the work of laying out the design.

Sketches are just tools to get you to the ultimate piece that you are creating and they don’t need to be artistic masterpieces in and of themselves. They need to make sense to you and need to help you make decisions on the work you’re doing/planning to do/have done.Keep in mind that one of the most famous jazz albums of all time: Kind of Blue was developed on napkins, based on chords that Miles Davis had been thinking about.

So keep your sketchbook and keep adding to it. It helps you offload the ideas—and the interface problems—to a real, tactile environment, helping you to address those problems before putting time into them. Allow the concept to be as good as the execution.

Esquire Magazine, January 2011

Do It and Do It Again. The Result May Surprise.

I read an interview article in the January 2011 issue of Esquire’s “What I Learned” segment focused on Robert DeNiro’s role in Taxi Driver, delivered by Jodie Foster:

“By the time I got the role in Taxi Driver, I’d already made more stff than De Niro or Martin Scorcese. I’d been working from the time I was three years old. So even though I was only twelve, I felt like I was the veteran there.

DeNiro took me aside before we started filming. He kept picking me up form my hotel and taking me to different diners. The first time he basically didn’t say anything . He would just like, mumble. the second time he started to run lines with me, which was pretty boring because I already knew the lines. The third time, he ran lines with me again and now I was really bored. The fourth time, he ran lines with me, but then he started going off on these completely different ideas within the scene, talking about crazy things and asking me to follow in terms of imporvisation.

So we’d start with the original script and then he’d go off on some tangent and I’d have to follow, and then it was my job to eventually find the space to bring him back to the last three lines of the text we’d already just learned.

It was a huge revelation for me, because until that moment I thought beig an actor was just acting naturally and saying the lines someone else wrote. Nobeody had ever asked me to build a character. The only thing they’d ever done to direct me was to say something like “Say it faster’ or “say it slower”. So it was a whole new feeling for me because I realized acting was not a dumb job. You know, I thought it was a dumb job. Somebody else writes something and then you repeat it. Like, how dumb is that?

There was this moment, in some diner somewhere, when I realized for the first time that it was me who hadn’t brought enough to the table. And I felt this excitement where you’re all sweaty and you can’t eat and you can’t sleep.”

® House Industries

Sweat the details.

Rich Roat of House Industries has made a living of having a company that sweats the details. If I could tell one thing about the lecture that Rich gave, it would be that. … and the custom-made House Industries motorcycle jacket that Rich wore was “phat”.

Detail, AIGA PIH Poster 2010, ®Dave Plunkert, Spur Design

“That the best thing you can do for yourself as a designer is not get too comfortable.”

The often-heard, less seldom followed advice came from Dave Plunkert, of Spur Design, the illustrator and designer of our Pulp, Ink and Hops 2010 campaign.

Your comfort zone is so yesterday. A book I read called the Visionary Handbook discusses how businesses often are here today, gone tomorrow because they don’t successfully undermine their own success to allow it to evolve.

Like, the success of Blockbuster’s mining the 80’s and 90’s video rental era and its inability to translate that success into a business model that could compete with media (and market share) evolution of Netflix.

Invent (re-invent) your reason for being as needed and allow yourself to be uncomfortable.

Find and Guard Your Value.

Spec, or speculative work, and creative exploration are two sides of the street. While it takes no more for you to exercise your creativity than to develop a concept of something that needs doing/re-doing, it’s still very important not to underestimate the value of your work and talents to the role of communication. So, properly value them. Spec work websites or projects often compromise the creative rights of the designer.

Exploring concepts creatively—for your own growth—on the other hand give you the opportunity to add to your portfolio and concept and develop solutions to design problems. In the business world, isn’t this simply called R&D?

It’s the research (work) that is needed to contribute to a breakthrough. By contrast, spec-work is a gamble that could or could not pay off. In many ways, contributing to spec-work has the same fruitfulness of taking your most valuable asset: your time and contributing it to a lottery.

A lottery? which reminds me: “Work hard to take the gamble out of the gamble.” Donald Trump. If you can do that, then what someone else calls a gamble might very well be worth it. In which case, you can do what you want.

By AIGA Baltimore
Published January 22, 2011