There are many things that I look back on throughout my journey to design. I don’t have any regrets on the path I’ve chosen, but I realize that with a little more guidance things may have been a little different. This post will consist of my influences and creativity that lead to design. As well as my failures and learnings for designers who are either looking for their first gig or transitioning into their next one.
Creativity in my childhood
Growing up I was always fascinated with creating things. In my younger years I was deeply rooted in hands on activities like creating epic stories with articulated wrestling toys, building minimal structures with that massive box of multi-colored legos and who can forget about Play-Doh (the smells man, the smells!).
As I grew fonder of my existence and the world that was expanding around me, I had my first encounter with an action packed animated show featuring awesome storylines and an interesting line of characters. I had discovered Dragon Ball Z *throws confetti* which lead to Dragon Ball Z GT and back to Dragon Ball and multiple movies.
Wondering how these awesome animated series and movies were made ignited my passion for drawing. I tried my hand at sketching but was terrible at it, so the next best thing was tracing and coloring. Over that time period of my Dragon Ball Z kick, I became extremely obsessed with colors. Every time my parents went to Home Depot I would hoard all of my favorite paint cards and take them home with me to add to my collection.
Post childhood creativity
Fast forward and I’m now in my teens, I’ve taken a strong liking to the Harry Potter saga and stay locked in my room sprawled out on my bed immersed in a world J.K. Rowling designed. I would spend time reading the HP books and then writing my own short story spin offs with my favorite Pilot G-2 gel pen and my Mead Five Star notebook. A few of my other favorite books were “The Outsiders”, anything written by Edgar Allen Poe and the thoroughly enjoyable “Odyssey”.
I spent a lot of time reading literature and poetry in High School. I was fascinated by how timeless, eloquent and captivating the poets’ works were.
Being so moved by their work I decided to give writing poetry a shot. I was so determined to make other people feel the way the poets made me feel. My first attempts were Haikus before later deciding to go for an open format with free writing and loose structure.
After my first handful of poems I became frustrated with my minimal vocabulary. The next logical step was to pick up the dictionary. Everyday I would memorize sets of worthy words and study them before moving on to the next page. After a while of learning new words I began to build a diverse vocabulary, in turn I became more confident in sharing my work.
Along with my newfound interest in literature and writing, I grew curiosity in how songs were constructed. Growing up I appreciated a wide range of artists including: Lupe Fiasco, Big L, Asking Alexandria, System of a Down, Lincoln Park, Daughtry and Nickelback (Yeah I said that, Nickelback!).
Music was something deeply rooted in my family, my dad had managed many artists in his younger years and was involved in more recent endeavors. He had a Michael Jackson vinyl displayed above the fridge and I considered his Moon Walk to be pretty magical. Growing up my dad had two younger brothers who were also into music. They performed, wrote and recorded music to cassette tapes.
After my on going experiments with poetry I decided to give writing music a try. I started out reciting and emulating songs from Lupe Fiasco and Big L, shortly after that I graduated to writing remixes to famous artist’s instrumentals. The first song I ever wrote and recorded in a professional studio was a remix of Lupe Fiasco’s song “I Gotcha” titled “Introduction to the World” (unashamed It’s still on iTunes for $0.99).
I went on to record 100s of songs, released 8 mixtapes, performed at my high schools talent show and multiple venues. My curiosity in writing and recording music and naturally progressed into scoring and producing music in multiple genres.
The internet taught me
My first taste of the internet was my Freshman year in High School. I was enrolled in an Introduction to Computers class where I learned about HTML, flew through vigorous typing tests and played games like Bubble Trouble when the teacher wasn’t looking.
The first social networks I ever became heavily invested in were Myspace and Tumblr. The interesting thing about these networks was how customizable they were. You could choose pre-made themes or even get your hands dirty building your own. I would customize my pages and blogs by modifying HTML code and building layouts in css while editing my profile photos using Adobe Photoshop.
Around the same time that I became involved in music I also experimented with graphic design. I got tired of dishing out money every time I wanted business cards or a simple cover made. I remember my childhood friend giving me a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS2 and I went home to learn it so I could create my own album covers and design collateral to brand me and my friends as musicians.
My first gig
The debut of my design career was working for a small company who sold diabetic supplies, insurance and funded giveaways. I had prior experience working on branding and designing websites but had never done it professionally with a team or a purpose. There’s a different dynamic that is introduced when you start involving real people who make key decisions and real people who use the products you release into the wild.
The core things I took away from my first job were:
1. Don’t just do, listen and ask questions after you’ve listened intently
2. Business will always be a priority even if you can’t sell your design
3. Visually pleasing designs aren’t always effective
4. Alignment tools are your friend
5. Sweat the details
Learn by doing
I never really chose a style for learning but I’ve always been good at it. From writing short stories, poetry and creating music I always learned best by doing. Reading about things only ever took me so far without building muscle memory by repetitively carrying out a task.
One of my favorite quotes is “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” – Ira Glass. I have a terabyte hard drive full of folders with songs and design work I’m super ashamed of. It’s hard (really hard) to stay motivated when you’re in the trenches trying to learn new things but the biggest enemy of progress for me was overthinking. Stop holding off on that side project and don’t be afraid to screw things up, dig in!
Impact or growth
Planning has to be my least favorite thing above anything else I do, but I do wish I would’ve planned more earlier on in my career. Sara (Miso), a good friend of mine asked me a question recently that totally stumped me. “Are you looking for impact or growth?”. We came to the conclusion that both being present in our lives would be amazing. At a certain point in your career growth is so crucial to your future in and outside of this industry.
From my personal experience growth should be a priority earlier in your career, but can also be a great focus at any skill level. “Surround yourself by people way more talented than you are and learn as much as you can”.
Know your worth
What I struggled with the majority of my career was not only acknowledging my worth but also communicating that to employers and teams. What I’ve learned overtime is that the teams and companies I want to work with Hire People, Not Skills. Skills can be taught but you can’t (and shouldn’t want to) change a person, they have to be willing to change on their own.
One of the main things I have done to build self awareness was writing a simple list of strengths, weaknesses, things I accept for what they are and areas that I want to grow in. Another step I took with this process is breaking these areas down into categories.
Other ways I have benchmarked my skill level is by looking at job descriptions for companies I’m genuinely interested in working with as well as interviewing. Even if I didn’t get the position I would learn A TON about myself through these processes and lay the floor plans for improving my skill set in the future.
Mentors are friggin’ awesome!
I’ve identified a huge chunk of my rapid growth in my professional and personal life are due to open collaboration and having a solid mentor to lean on. With that being said my time at GoSection8 was life changing. I shared a plethora of first challenges, failures and wins with my buddy and mentor Chris. I joined the team at Go8 as a junior designer with a sense of good design, an open mind and a background in Front-End development. Overtime a lot of the questions I had were answered through direct conversations, questions and observing how Chris approached problems, communicated and tackled challenges. I’m not afraid to say the majority of the knowledge and experience I obtained throughout my life was a byproduct of emulation and remixing until I developed my own style.
When it comes down to it everyone has their own journey they are embarking on. A self tailored way they perceive navigating through this journey and so many routes to take to accomplish personal goals.
I hope this blog post finds you earlier on in your career. To recap on the key points I’ve discussed: learn by getting your hands dirty, identify and leverage your strengths and weaknesses, find the awesome companies you want to work for, grow your skills and sell yourself to them, find a mentor ASAP, observe and learn as much as you can from the people you surround yourself by.