Play to your creative strengths
I studied martial arts for years, and I find it holds many relevant concepts that can be applied to every day life. If you watch mixed martial arts competitions, there’s a recurring theme in the fight approach used among the top fighters – fight to your strengths. If you’re a striker, don’t try and grapple with a grappler. Hit him. Then, hit him again. Work on your grappling at the gym, but don’t try it when you’re in the ring and the title is on the line. Get good at it first. Same goes for the creative business. Exploit your strengths every chance you get.
I happen to have a strong typographic intuition. Mostly because I worked hard at it, but also because I love good typography, and tend to see opportunities to sweeten the words pretty often. It doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t do the other stuff – I certainly do. It just means that when a project comes along, I place a high priority on message clarity, the font choice (if it’s up to me), and the overall type composition. The benefit to exploiting my strength is that if I lead with type, I know the creative will be solid. I play around with colour, shape, negative space and all the design disciplines, but the beacon is the type. That’s not the right or only thing, it’s just my thing.
The point is, you have a strength as well. I recently started some emails with a young lady in Egypt – it’s amazing to be able to communicate world-wide about design – and she shared some of her early work as she contemplates a creative career. Her typography needs some work, her compositions are good and she is very motivated. Her sense of colour, however, is amazing. I dare to say that when she develops into the Graphic Designer she wants to be, that she’ll be known for that strength. The great part is, when you exploit one creative strength, your work looks better, overall. People may not specifically recognize your strength is colour, but they’ll know your work when they see it and they’ll like more than just the colours. That’s gold – pardon the pun.
Learn all you can. Try everything. Experiment. Just identify your strengths and lead with them. It’s not that your work will improve more quickly, but rather that your work will look stronger right off the top, because your skills are front and center. Others will notice and it will get you more of the work you enjoy. I’ve had plenty of cool assignments come my way, specifically because the Creative Director said, “We have a project coming up and it’s really type-driven. Can’t think of anyone else I’d rather give it to.” When that starts happening, you’ll get the ego boost you needed, and the cool work will start coming your way.