I heard the above quote from a Tai Lopez podcast sometime in 2015, and it stuck in my mind ever since. It even made it to the little pile of post-its I keep on my desk covered with odd notes and scribbles. It reminded of me something I heard Marc Ecko say back in 2012 – that the phrase ‘Artists and Instigators’ was a more apt way to describe what startups and entrepreneurs do. We get stuck sometimes on the nuts and bolts of creating businesses and launching brands, managing teams, balancing books, developing markets, we miss the essence of what these activities are, or what they should be. Which is making something we believe should exist to communicating an opinion, a point of view.
That is the true allure of being a designer for me. It is the chance to make something, the ability to offer my take / perspective on an idea, a product, a service, a business that wakes me up in the morning eager to get started.
I watched a talk by Sasha Strauss on ‘branding in the normal’ last week, and he so elegantly distilled the essence of what a brand is. As a matter of fact, the idea he put forward is the founding conceptual framework behind all the great institutions of our time – religions, nations, and so. The core of brand is this – there is the idea, and there is the belief around that idea. Religion has the idea that there exists a god or gods. The belief system in relation to this idea, i.e. how we interact with and behave because of this god or gods is what makes different religions appeal to different people. The Virgin Group takes on multiple markets and products but the core ideas are business, products, and services. Their belief is that business should be fun and that customer service is the most important thing a great company can have.
I don’t know what your motives are for getting into business if you are an entrepreneur, but the best businesses and the most creative works of art succeed because they have a point of view. There is something they believe in, and they stop at nothing to birth a world that expresses that. It might be in the way they treat the customer, it might be in the way they do business, but they believe something.
That goes double for the freelancer, the creative, the solopreneur. You got into this because deep down, you want to create a specific kind of life; you want to do something remarkable. You became an entrepreneur, to make something specific happen. There are a multitude of people doing the same thing you do – designing, writing, photography, coaching, etc. What will separate you from everyone else is the same thing that makes you unique. It is your DNA, it is your opinion, its your point of view, it is what you truly believe. Don’t hide away from it; don’t dumb it down to fit in. Embrace that and recreate the world in your image.
This is a slight rant on something I have been experiencing in the past few weeks.
I started out in this design/design business thing self taught. I learned to use the software and I’ve been sloughing away at it ever since. In the 7-8 years I’ve been doing this, I have probably designed up to thousands of pieces and artifacts – logos, mailers, flyers, websites, etc. Over time I have gotten good at delivering visually pleasing work quickly and within the chaotic constraints of the typical client service business.
For most creatives, the most exciting part of our work is the actual creative part, making the thing, the logo or the booklet or the poster. Many times I have fallen into the trap of becoming nothing more than a tool for the client, a pixel pusher. Do this, do that, move that there, without much regard for my opinion or ideas on what works. That was entirely my fault. I did not understand the value I brought to the table nor could I communicate that effectively.
In the chaotic landscape of client services, things tend to be frantic. Everything is always due yesterday. There is often not a good enough understanding of the connection between design output and business objectives. Design becomes a last minute exercise quickly producing pieces of communication without any form of strategy or intent.
This is a mistake.
Sure you can get a nice looking design out of a competent designer working this way. But creating design that actually works, design that clarifies your intentions and aims your efforts, design that sets u up for greater success beyond the project at hand, that is something else entirely. That is the love child of good process and talent.
The Design Method outlined by Eric Karjaluoto in his book goes as follows: Discovery – Planning – Creative – Application. Newbie designers and most clients are happy jumping right into the creative. However they miss out on the many benefits of engaging the first two steps.
Discovery allows you to fully understand the problem at hand, it gives you context. Ideally, the designer should be able to immerse himself/herself into the world of the client and understand how the business works, what the problems are and how the audience interacts with them. Discovery has the benefit of helping the client understand what’s really going on with the business. Are there gaps in the communications? Do you understand what you really do? Do you understand what you are selling? Do you have objectives, and do you know how you are going to achieve them?
Planning helps connect the insights from discovery to the nitty gritty of execution. It provides a plan of action of what needs to be done, targeted to whom and by when. It gives purpose to your efforts and ensures you don’t waste time going down rabbit holes.
Respecting the process transforms a simple brief for a website for a bus company to a holistic communication solution geared at increasing online sales. Instead of just a website, the client is steered towards adopting online marketing, referral campaigns and developing e-commerce solutions. A directive to design new labels for a budding craft beer brand now turns into the task of the defining and refreshing company brand in light of their new investment, offerings and aspirations. Instead of just labels, the brand is rewarded with a deeper understanding of itself and a roadmap for handling communications moving forward.
Rushing through the design process to the production bit might be satisfying in the short term, but you miss out on a ton of value left on the table in the long term.
Over the past few years, in my quest to become a better designer, I have been faced with two related ideas – the need for a good process, and consideration of the larger context.
A good process allows me as a designer to work in a way that is systematic. It helps me walk clients through the project from start to finish. I am also able to cover all the important points consistently, and the process allows me to build consequentially. Stage 1 provides a foundation of understanding around the project and goals, the next stage builds a framework to organize execution, and so on, until I get to designing outputs that are firmly rooted in insights and strategy.
As a designer, every design, every action taken sits within a larger context that will ultimately influence the success or failure of the project. If one jumps directly into design trying to make something cool and aesthetically dope, we end up with nothing more than superficial solutions. To have real impact, the work of the designer starts way before he puts pencil to paper or opens up that blank Photoshop canvas.
You have to ask yourself, ‘what is the client trying to achieve?’ – More sales? Increased awareness? Or are they simply trying to communicate to a specific audience? Considering the intent of the design project increases the chances of designing something appropriate and on target.
Engaging in this exercise can seem very time consuming. All you want to do is jump right in and do the fun stuff. But the step back is crucial. If you can define what the brand you working on is all about, who their audience is, what their key messaging is and their objectives are, you can set out a creative strategy framework that would allow the brand to be deployed beyond the specific output you are presently working on.
As an entrepreneur or business person, you may find yourself in need of a design output – a logo, a profile, a brochure, a website, or a full CI (Corporate Identity). It would do a world of good to clearly define your brand first. Your company or product sits in an ecosystem with multiple competitors, multiple audiences and numerous external forces. It is important to define clearly who you are, what you do, why you do it, who you do it for and who should care. It is important to know what is unique about you and the value you bring so you can consistently speak to that and with every subsequent release of communication you can reinforce your brand and build equity over time.
Understanding your brand and intent has the powerful effect of helping to direct your efforts in the day to day running of your business and its development. With a clear sense of who you are and what you do, you know how to focus your operations and work in line with your brand and maximize your returns. You won’t split your energy into pursuing things that seem interesting or opportunistic but are out of brand character. It will help you build a stronger more focused business over time.
Last night, I painted for the fuck of it. I’ve had these art supplies from my short stint at design school, many of them practically unopened in years. They’ve just been sitting there.
I’ve always wanted to paint. I have this fantasy of making all this money and being rich enough to effectively ignore the world, shut myself in and just paint and break stuff and make stuff and explore. Last night, I thought, ‘fuck it, why not give myself that luxury for one night at least. No thoughts of the outside world, no worries of judgment, no stressing about deadlines. Just sit and feel and create.
And so I did. And it was nice.
Not everything has to have a reason. Not everything has to make sense. There is beauty and purpose in the absurd and meaningless. I think it helps us understand how ‘not in control’ we are, and how much there is that we don’t know.
There are things we feel compelled to create even though we don’t know why. There are things we really want to do that we don’t give ourselves permission to do…Talents and gifts left unexpressed. I think we should make time to do those things. If not for others, we can at least do it for ourselves. It is important, it is part of our human journey, it is part of discovering and creating our selves.
I’m intrigued with how ideas become reality. A bit specifically, how dope ideas become dope reality. There are a lot of half baked ideas and half assed execution. There is also a fair share of dope ideas but no execution. You may have a few of those yourself.
There’s this book – Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky of Behance fame. It’s a great book, I know this, even though I have not read it all the way to the end yet. One day I will. Anyway, at some point in what I’ve read so far, Scott describes a simple framework for identifying and organizing the various pieces of information and content that surround our ideas. Basically he says, be organized. If you can control and access the information and keep your eyes on the necessary action points, you are golden.
I know some people think they thrive in chaos, or believe they are fairly organized. If you want to experience a serious boost in productivity and getting shit done, be organized towards your main goals. Keep your goals in main focus. Have a system for noting down and organizing the stray ideas, comments and requests of your time. Have a system with clearly defined steps for working through these things. Keep reviewing and monitoring.
You will find that the more organized you are, and the more integrated the information and implementation systems are in your life, the more efficient and effective you would be. Bonus points…your ability to assess opportunities and exploit them would be exponentially increased, because you know exactly where you are going and how you are getting there.
Being organized also speaks to being prepared. If you are organized, you are most likely also prepared. Success at this point is all but guaranteed.
Coming up with ideas is fun. Executing them…not so much. Especially if you have a lot of inertia. You know, having a lot of ideas and not ever doing anything to make them a reality. And its true, making things happen can be hard, its messy. Have you ever seen an artist’s studio? Most times it’s a glorious chaos of paint and brushes everywhere, half done experiments and sketches, pieces of inspiration. Any form of creation requires a fair amount of mucking around, of doubting yourself, of false starts and detours…and of course…failure.
But if you embrace that mess, all that remains is the work. You just have to do the work. Execution isn’t pretty, it is quite messy, sometimes painful. Its banging your head against the wall for days on end looking for answers. Its long nights at the office or at your desk. But that’s where the real fun is. In stretching yourself and growing, wrestling with creation until it yields and you are rewarded with the rewards and the lovely side effect of deeper self knowledge and experience.
I made a piece of graphic art to remind myself of this concept, Check it out here.