HOW I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog
Lesson 1. Everything is Derivative
"Find inspiration in everything"- Chris Elkerton
As designers, we are constantly seeing the work of others—in magazines, blogs, television, advertisements—design is everywhere. Designers are delighted by, and struggle with, this bombardment of images every day. We get inspired, but it becomes a challenge to create something new or unique.
So what becomes more important than creating something completely new is creating what is best for the project—something that sends the message. Each piece will be unique because each person is unique. We all take the different images we've come across, add our personal experiences and preferences, and create our own solution.
The Heads of State found their inspiration in chapter 4 of ‘The Great Gatsby’. They created a typographic poster using the names of the attendees of Gatsby’s lavish parties, letting the style of each card show the personality of the character.
Chris Elkerton explains how important it is to feed your brain and find inspiration in everything. A creative exercise you can try is to look at something, memorize it, come back a day later and recreate it from memory. Whether you want to or not, you will put your own personality into it because you are a different person with different experiences and reference.
Lesson 2. Step Away from Your Desk
"It's a class about thinking, how the f*#k do you do that in front of a computer."- James Victore
James Victore believes that ideas don't come from sitting in front of your computer. When brainstorming for a project, he prefers to stay out of his office altogether. Instead, he gets together with other creative people over dinner and drinks. Once he even went as far as removing all computers from his classroom. This practice inspired his dinner series, Courage Faith and Cocktails, where guests whom many designers would “give their left nut to share a meal with"— such as Chip Kidd, Paula Scher, Seymour Chwast and Hillman Curtis—get together to chat about design, life, and everything else. Watch Hillman Curtis’ ‘Artist Series’ on James Victore.
Chris Chapman, a designer for Disney, gets everyone involved in the creative process right up front. Everyone, including designers, engineers, accountants, and architects, have brainstorming sessions in unfamiliar spaces to promote new ideas. When you get yourself out of your element, you open your mind to new experiences, maybe even finding inspiration in them. Chapman finds inspiration in unusual places — beautiful typography on sewer grates, unexpected packaging, antique pieces of machinery, even biker rallies. Anywhere that takes you out of your element is fertile ground for insight.
Several speakers emphasized the importance of sketching before even getting near a computer. Working on a computer focuses you so much on technical details and aesthetic choices (color, type, etc) that you’re in danger of never properly defining the idea. Design Army goes through the first few rounds of all designs strictly in sketch form. This way, both client and designer don't get distracted with visual choices, focusing instead on finding the best solution for the project. They often get buy-ins for bigger and more elaborate ideas by planning the project, in full, up front; of course, it helps that they are amazing designers.
These spreads for the Washingtonian were planned out down to the smallest detail before anyone at Design Army went near a computer. The sites and props seen in all images were carefully chosen well before the photo shoot, creating a beautiful and unique, yet cohesive, design. Check out the Behind the Scenes video.
Lesson 3. Do Work for Yourself
"If your work appeals to everyone, then it moves no one."- James Victore
After seeing the success of online personal projects such as Jessica Hische's Daily Drop Cap blog, a big question people seem to have is how do you create projects that make money or gain fame? The answer is, you don't. Jess Hische's love of typography inspired her to create one drop cap every day. You can use these illustrated caps "to prettify the internet and beautify your blog posts."
Armin Vit of Under Consideration (known most notably from his blogs Brand New and FPO), believes you should do work you are passionate about. You can't anticipate trends or what people will like, you can only create things for yourself. Whether they’re successful or not, you have work that you care about. There are many examples of personal projects designers have created for themselves that have gained internet fame and later resulted in published work and client work.
Here are some successful personal projects:
- Collection a Day Which is also Now a Book
- Swiss Miss
- Feltron Annual Reports
- The Daily Monster
- Jess Hische's many side projects
Lesson 4. Fail
"Perfection is not interesting."- James Victore
Failure in life is understood to result in learning and growth. This should also apply to designers, yet somehow most are afraid to fail or to put out work that people don't like. As a result, you take less risks, which leads to less creative work.
Armin Vit shared some of his failures in his talk (see below). It's not important that these weren't as successful as his other ventures, it's more important that he had an idea for a project and executed it. Without that mindset, we might be without his successful endeavors Brand New, FPO, or Quipsologies. In addition, some projects that were considered failures later became succesful. His “Dark and Fleshy” project began as a personal exercise to understand the relationship between top grossing movies in each genre and their color palette.The site was not an instant success, but an interesting graphic from the site was later published as a book cover. As Pum Lefebure of Design Army says, "An idea will never become an idea unless you execute it." Well said, Pum.
Armin also talks about allowing yourself to be stupid in your creativity- not to worry about the idea or final product, or how others will see it. Sometimes ideas are just stupid. Other times, they may result in brilliant work. They key is to let them happen without questioning which side they’ll end up on.
"Stupidity can lead to creativity which can lead to obsession which can lead to opportunity."- Armin Vit
These charts relate stupidity to a loss for oneself and others, and intelligence to a gain for oneself and others. Sometimes, as shown in the third chart, creativity transforms what could be stupidity into something from which everyone can gain.
Lesson 5. Learn to Share
"Put it out there."-Armin Vit
Designers tend to hold on to their ideas because they don't want them to be stolen or copied. This behavior, however, is actually a disservice- holding onto what might be a good or even a mediocre idea doesn't allow you to move on to other things.
You can benefit from opening your ideas to others. Sometimes it takes the reaction or opinion of others to spark a new idea, or take yours to the next level. Collaboration is an important part of the most successful designs.
Before boarding a flight, designer Tyler Thompson noted that his boarding pass looked "like someone put on a blindfold, drank a fifth of whiskey, spun around 100 times, got kicked in the face by a mule… and then just started puking numbers and letters onto [it] at random." Thompson saw a problem and decided to do something about it. He created a blog with some alternate solutions and received a huge response from people wanting to submit their own designs. Each redesign worked to make the passes more user friendly, presenting information to the passenger in the order that one would find it most useful.
Chris Elkerton encourages designers to collaborate, create a conversation, send things back and forth, inspire each other and share ideas. Would any of us know Jess Hische was if she didn't have the need to put her ideas out into the public?
- Kim Quinn @Quinn_Kim