As chief editor of Design Instruct, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the design community and the talented individuals that comprise it. I won’t claim to know all the great designers or that I’m familiar with all their work, but I do know that there is a vast pool of talent out there from every experience level and every discipline of Design. From illustrators to type designers to CGI artists, there’s no shortage of creative talent out there. Which begs the question: How is great design produced?
The Dynamics of Producing Great Designs
The way I see it, the first thing you have to do is to adopt a healthier way of thinking about what "great design" is. What I realized is that the creative community isn’t so much agressively competitive, as it is a supportive environment that forces you to get better at what you do.
Good work speaks for itself, is heard by the entire design community, and while your work is still fresh out of the oven, it’s already getting stale. That’s because as great work is put out there, they redefine the way we think about design and the creative industry. The perceptions we have about great design that we come with is never the same after we’ve seen work that is clearly better than our own; it changes us and forces us to do better work. It is a feedback loop wherein great design continually informs the next generation of great designs.
Thus, great design never stays the same. It evolves. The truly great artists know this and use it to their advantage.
So knowing the dynamics of how great designs are made, how do we produce them ourselves?
How Great Are You Right Now?
Be honest about how talented and creative you actually think you are and set realistic goals for your work.
From personal experience, I thought I had what it took to be a great designer, but as it turns out, I’m not that good at it. I know I can spot great designs when I see them, but I could never make it come out of my own work. And that’s OK because knowing I’m not great allows me to keep working at it instead of being bitter about why my work isn’t making a splash that I think it should be making.
Good design is universal. There is no accounting for taste or emotions. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s not that good, you’ll know that, too.
Always keep an eye on what everyone else is doing, especially your fellow designers whose work you admire and respect. Sure, design is rooted in tradition and there are effective practices and techniques that most designers learn about and must employ in their work, but great designers use those traditions and rules while also contributing to the evolution of Design.
Creative work never stands still, and the more you’re tuned in with its movement, the better you’ll be able to stay ahead of the curve.
Keep working at it. Not all ideas are great. Creative work is, first and foremost, about ideas and how well we can communicate them visually. If your ideas aren’t getting noticed, it just means you need to keep working at it. I realize that it’s easy to take critiques of our work very personally because they are the tangible manifestation of our creativity — and no one likes to think their creativity isn’t good.
But again, if we have to be honest about what is good and what is not, then — most importantly — we have to be honest with ourselves. Let that idea go. Let it be one of the bad ones. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can move on to something new.
Perfection is a Pipe Dream
There is no perfect design. There will be critics and there will be people who will say you don’t do good work. Most of the time, they will be right. No one is "on" 100% of the time. We’re lucky if we’re even on 5% of the time and — I’ve said this before — to demand perfection in your work is not only unhealthy, it is also a bit irresponsible.
Let bad work be bad work and good work be good work — and then move on.
Always evolve. You can’t afford to dwell in the imperfections of your work. In fact, you should embrace imperfection in your work because it allows you to learn from it.
If you look at your work and see nothing wrong with it, then you’re not looking hard enough. The truly great artists continually work on their work. That’s the only way to get better.
Change Your Scene
Get out there. Go out. Go to places where you’re likely to meet people with the same interests or have the potential to start up interesting conversations. They don’t necessarily have to be designers or other creative people. In fact, maybe detaching yourself from a crowd that’s saturated with designers and creatives will help. After all, if you’re the only designer in the room, then you’ll at least have something interesting to say.
Those who end up respecting your work will more than happily help you get noticed and perhaps get you some work that you never thought you’d be able to get if you had stayed in the same social network.
However, keep in mind that simply showing up isn’t enough. You also have to do good work. Success only comes when opportunity is met with ability.
Be good. The harsh truths are always the hardest to swallow. In the case of being a designer, after all is said and done, in order for your work to stand out, you have to first be good at what you do. Your ideas must be on point. Your skill has to be matched with your talent. You have to have it — whatever it is.
There’s a reason that only a couple of design superstars emerge from every design class. That’s because they’re good and they’ve worked hard to get there. Make no mistake about it, in every creative endeavor that mankind has ever embarked on, personal preference or taste has never played a role in what’s good or not. It is a collective acknowledgement that something is profoundly different and innovative. There might be detractors who might disagree with what is considered good work, often informed by moral codes or other cultural factors. But at the end of the day, the artists who emerge to be truly great only reach that distinction by being good at what they do, and by getting as many people as possible to agree with that fact.
If you’re not there yet, then there’s a reason for it, and the sooner you see it, the sooner you’ll be able to work at it.
Making your work stand out is really just about being honest about your work, and then doing everything necessary to get better.
Skill, talent, creativity are all just words we speak. Creative work has its own language, and if you truly possess these things — skill, talent, creativity — then your work will speak for itself.