I was thinking recently at how, soon I will begin actively looking for work, and that always brings with it new challenges in terms of how to define yourself and your value.
This post is very ‘dan’ focused and isn’t exactly a guide to figuring how to define yourself, but simply me trying to do that for me. I try and aim most of my articles to be either universally useful or teach me something in the process of writing them.
In this instance I might fall short of that goal; this could actually become more of a promo piece and may not actually get posted. It’s useful to write about what’s on your mind whilst it is still fresh, so that’s what I’m aiming to do.
Interviews. You need to prepare for em, otherwise it will end up like this...
Dan the digital designer
That’s how I’ve typically described myself. It’s a handy term which can encompass a variety of skill sets and specific applications. Sometimes I don’t like this term as it feels very generic.
I’ve had a role that encompassed user-interface and user-experience skill sets and another roll that put emphasis on web design across different devices and the creation of creative concepts and campaigns. In fairness that experience is fairly broad, which I certainly found made me a well rounded designer.
But does it really give someone an understanding of exactly what I can do as a designer or who I am as a creative? I don’t think it does. Terms like digital designer and mid weight designer fit the bill; it’s what people are looking for but those terms only scratch the surface.
I once encountered the idea of trying to describe what you do in a short sentence or a set number of words. I never really found one that I felt summed me up perfectly. This is something a lot of agencies and studios do; “we craft excellent digital experiences” and so on. I think a 7 word description was also part of an interview format in a show, and one guest responded with "Seven words do not yet define me". That was a pretty neat response (by a lady called Joan Dideon. Yeah, I once tried to come up with a great one-sentence description but none of them felt right so I never settled on one.
More and more I think of myself as a designer and illustrator, which certainly helps to complicate the message of defining yourself, especially when I feel like what I/we/everybody are is always in motion.
Lately I try and think in terms of values, ethos and habits.
Creativity should be fun
When I was working at Unidays I came to the realisation that one of the things that was very important was that creativity should be fun. Meetings should be enjoyable and light-hearted. Brainstorms should be jolly and silly. Presentations should be fun performances that everyone can input in and feel apart of.
If it’s not fun how can you expect people to bring their best ideas? Especially for meetings and check-ins that run week after week. If you’re in a creative role you should be able to have fun, being able to laugh and enjoy the act of working with other departments and planning strategy and so on.
It can sometimes be shocking the numerous ways people make creative gatherings not fun. Like, seriously not fun. Who wants to bring their best selves to anything they think is draining and dull. (no one, exactly).
Make cool shit.
I’d been thinking about an ethos and what mine might be for a while, and it seems that ‘make cool shit’ works for me. I like how it sounds, it sounds right. I love to creative, I love to try things out and I love to learn. I previously wrote on my CV (years ago) that I was designer looking to “learn, grow and excel”, that was true but it didn’t feel like my tone, whereas make cool shit does sound like me. Sure it's not the most polite way to describe it, in a pinch I might say "make cool stuff" instead; but ultimately an ethos should reflect who you are, and I love to make cool shit. I don't mind what it is or who its for; but if I can work with a great team, put in hard work and create something awesome I am happy.
When you find an ethos or mantra that fits you can tell right away, because very few things will align with your tone or personality perfectly. When it fits, it fits.
Frequency is key.
I believe pretty damn strongly that frequent time carved out to create is the best way to get better. Creative habits are key to improving, that’s been my personal experience. Challenges like my 365 day design challenge, my two month animation challenge and past writing challenges illustrate that well to me. Even the bits of the challenges that don't work well teach me something.
I’ve been creating daily for about 295 days now, and whilst in real hours, that’s probably only 350-400 hours as a result of the project, I can see how much I’ve developed within that time. That’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy. The act of creating is worth as much if not more than the product of creating.
Incremental gains and perfectionism
I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist. Perhaps I’m the opposite in fact. I do however care very deeply about doing a good job. There have been times in the past where I have had to stay very late at work, several days a week for months on end. I resented the circumstances that lead to that incredibly strongly (I wasn’t the only designer staying late), but I wouldn't allow that to affect the quality of my work or delivery. I didn’t want anyone to be able to legitimately point and say “Dan did a bad job there”. They never did.
Is that quality stubbornness? Either way it’s definitely a boon and a burden. I understand a creative’s desire to protect their reputation but that can also come at a great personal cost.
I’m not a perfectionist, I just don’t want to do a bad job. I think perfectionism can get in the way of doing. I’m focused on the doing, not waiting for the perfect time to do. I’ve noticed this appreciation of incremental gains, specifically in my 365-day project. If I’m about to upload an illustration and I notice a tiny error, sometimes I would choose not to correct it. Like all designers what I make isn’t perfect first time, I don’t need to pretend that it is; sometimes I simply prefer to see a flaw as a lesson for the future and ship what I’ve created. Am I trying to fool anyone else or myself into thinking I don't make mistakes? Hell no.
After all, when I think “I’m going to design for the next 287/175/121/78 days” it becomes really easy to understand that not everything must be perfect. If I'm doing it every damn day then I can apply what I've learnt in the future.
So what have I got so far?
I’m a designer and illustrator who believes that creativity should always be fun. My ethos is simply to ‘Make Cool Shit’, whatever I'm making I want to make it well; I love to create frequently and set challenges to push myself further. Applying myself daily is the best way to grow into an excellent designer and reach 10,000 hours of practice as fast as I can. I'm working hard to become the best designer and illustrator I can be, and take every chance to connect and support other designers and drag them into my fun, silly creative schemes.
How I define myself is a work in progress and it always will be. At this moment in time however I feel that what I have is a fairly accurate understanding of what I have to offer.
When trying to figure out how I define myself I thought about why I did things, because that is the clue to what my values are, my ethos and the habits I employ. All those things add into the why, so I just had to work backwards.
I personally believe that focusing on why you do things as a creative (or anything) is the key to defining yourself accurately and importantly it makes it harder to sound generic. As soon as you start to sound like a generic sales pitch (crafting digital experiences anybody?) then you're losing the bits that make you different (in my opinion).
I hope this has been some help or an interesting perspective; we can learn from others as much as ourselves. Maybe one of you guys will nail your 7 word/ 1 line summary and maybe I'll finally figure it out in 10 years.
Peace and love,