It was an honor to close out this year’s Weapons of Mass Creation Festival.
Here are the seven key takeaways from my presentation (these are things I need to remind myself of all the time):
- Balance Strengths ± Weaknesses
Stop trying to be awesome at everything. Recognize your strengths and limitations and find other people (fine artists, developers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, writers, researchers, etc.) to round out the effort. Form like Voltron. The 1980s anime combined 5 characters’ personality and skills into one Beast King GoLion with each team members’ special ability forming a specific piece of the robot. They were good on their own but when they merged and worked together they were the Defender of the Universe. Avoid working in a vacuum. Team up across disciplines.
- A Network Takes Work
Build networks of generosity—don’t keep a balance sheet. When you meet someone, ask yourself, “How can I be valuable to this person?” without any strings attached. Sunny Bates describes a new “connection economy” where genuine, generous connections replace information as the new currency. Internships, workshops and conferences offer inside tracks to mentors and collaborators. Don’t be afraid to reach out to “professionals” or “industry experts” who feel out of reach. You’d be surprised how often you hear back. As Michael Beirut said, “Hijack your mentors.” Whether you end up working on a team or freelancing, the better your network, the bigger your success (see #1).
- Titles Are Insignificant
Education matters. And so do life experiences. All I’m saying is it doesn’t matter where you went to school but rather what you learn. I have a BFA from the Atlanta of College of Art (a school that doesn’t even exist anymore) and no one’s ever asked me about it in an interview—ever. There’s nothing stopping someone from a no name school from getting hired over someone from Yale other than talent and point of view. You are more than our pedigree, parents’ expectations, your hometown and your job title—you are more than a designer. Start working and thinking as communicators, storytellers, strategists, educators, researchers, synthesizers, trendspotters and futurists.
- Remember Your Totem
Remind yourself, whenever you need a boost, why you love design and what inspired you to develop your visual sensibilities. It could be any object or point of inspiration that remains timeless and a reminder of where and why you started your career. There are 3 things you shouldn’t have as totems: money, fame and creative outlet. If any of those are your driving force for being a designer, you’ll end up compromising and you’ll eventually end up burned out, bitter, frustrated and unfulfilled. Start outside projects for yourself to counterbalance these “anti-totems.” (see #5)
- Start a Side Hustle
Side hustles inform your 9-to-6 work. Your work informs your side hustle. Both get better. One stretches the other. No matter the scale of your project—make something, share it with the world, see where it goes.
- Go All In
The saddest thing in the world is wasted talent. We tell ourselves stories about why we can’t or shouldn’t take risks—eventually these stories become our realities. You playing small, does not serve the world. Don’t hold back. George Addair says it best in 10 words:
Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
- Have a Point of View
Be curious, worldly, inspired, critical and considerate. At gravitytank we emphasize the value of “strong opinions, held loosely.” Step away from design often to augment and supplement your understanding of the designed world. Spend time with non-designers, attend conference not directly related to your field. Diversify the investments you make in your relationships with others. Fix your feeds. Get out of the echo chamber of social media and industry blogs. Design skills can be learned on the job, but perspective can’t be taught—that’s all on you.
Thanks again to everyone who stuck around until the end. Please keep in touch.