Learning from other creative people, and getting frustrated
The best method to improve your overall design and creative skills is to work with people who’s work you admire. People who are as good as you want to be. However, this requires a strong mental resolve – inevitably, you’re going to get frustrated when your work isn’t as good as theirs after the second project you’ve done. This is both a positive and a negative, but ultimately, positive wins out.
I’m not naturally talented. In fact, I have no natural creative abilities, whatsoever. I struggle with everything I do, whether concept development, graphic design, illustration, whatever. My gift isn’t my creativity, it’s that I can sponge up information I see and learn from experience pretty quickly. I have also been fortunate to work with some very talented people, and that’s been my greatest source of personal growth. But, I can also say that I’m still, even after 20 plus years experience, very frustrated by people with natural gifts. They appear to have great ideas tumble out of their minds with such ease, I feel like I should just go get a job in a gas station somewhere, and give up this charade that I’m an art director. When I feel this way, I remind myself of 2 things: 1) my hard work over the years “trying to get it right” has earned me my seat at the creative table, and 2) that frustration I feel is the key to improving.
If you feel frustrated that your work isn’t where you want it to be, and you can imagine design you love, but can’t seem to get your fingers to make it happen, then go right now to a mirror (I’m serious – do it), stand there and look at yourself. While you’re doing it, just know this: you’re looking at a creative professional in the making. That frustration is your desire to be great. And, let me tell you something right now – you’re already there. If you feel that burn, just watch out – one day (way sooner than you think), you’re going to be a creative beast, and people will look at your work and think, “Shit, she’s good. I feel worthless – I might as well go and work in a gas station somewhere, and give up this charade that I’m a creative person. I’ll never be as good as her.” That frustration and desire is gold. It’ll keep you honest, motivate you to improve and increase your sensitivity to good work.
One of the best things you can do, is to volunteer yourself to help work on a project with a more experienced team. You might not always have the opportunity to make your own schedule, but talk to your traffic coordinator/studio manager/creative director/whomever and just say, “If a project like ‘this’ comes up, I’d like to be on the team if possible.” Work with people who’s talent frustrates you (if you’re able) and learn their process. See how they approach a situation, and watch them work through the concepts, designs, objections from team members, all that stuff. You’ll learn a couple things from this: 1) they likely work the same way you do, 2) they likely have all the same struggles you do, and 3) they have techniques to get them past the humps. It will demystify their work, and give you some great tools you can incorporate into your toolbox. And …it’s okay to be frustrated.
If those opportunities don’t present themselves, hope is not lost. There are plenty of ways to reach out and get a creative opinion on your work. Show your work to other designers and just ask honestly, “Hey, I’m struggling a little – any opinions about my layout?” Just ask, and observe.
Take one thing at a time. If someone you know has a great style of typesetting, just try to make mental notes about how they approach it. If their page layouts are “electric” with coolness, ask them how they begin a page, or what their personal design rules are. During all this, just remember, you might think your work sucks, but it doesn’t. A world-class tennis player didn’t serve an ace in his first tennis lesson. He put 1,329 into the net before he won his first competitive match. You’re at layout number 132. Stay in the game, and just know your work improves with every layout. We all struggle with self-worth, so don’t worry …you’re doing it right.