Need to revitalize your creativity? Try pushing the limits of your talent, you lazy ass.
A five-minute read about staying sharp and proving something until the day you die.
I’m an idea maker at Nothing Something. Some designers wear many hats; mine say creative director, branding specialist, and experience designer. Anyway, it isn’t important what we’re called, it’s what we create that matters: a look, feel, intellect & spirit for somebody else’s dream. The best of us wearing “creator” hats in the modern marketing world know that the history books won’t waste time remembering our names. In the end, you may judge your career only by whether you’ve enjoyed your work and made the world a more beautiful place.
For 15 years I’ve been designing and leading unbelievable talent. We’ve conquered a broad range of commercial projects, and I recognize each for their unique, relatable stories. I cherish knowing that we’ve helped companies tell their story with maximum impact across social, digital, and print outlets.
Why, though? If 10,000 work hours makes an expert, how, after 30,000 hours, could anyone still care?
Warning: Here comes the advice.
Constantly expand the reach of your talent.
I think if you’re a designer — truly — a pure designer — you should be able to confidently design anything, in any medium and on scalable platforms. If your platform is big, try going small and battling limited reach, or working pro-bono for a charity or a friend. If you primarily serve independent clients, seek out some corporate work and discover your flexible side.
Design as a cultural anthropologist.
If you’re a marketing professional, you’re empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated. You’re excited by changing linguistics. You’re fascinated by food culture. You follow economics, cultural analyses of value, debt, capitalism, and globalization. You’re a social animal, and you love to study folks in their natural environment. Make sure to get beyond your tribe though — can you design for moms as well as millennials?
Design as an ambassador bridging the human/digital experience.
If you’re in marketing, you’d better be keeping your client relevant. That means you’re digital first. More importantly though, it means you have to innovate. You have to take cold technology and and communicate soulful charms that warm the soul.
Design as a writer, a painter, a calligrapher, an actor, a bartender (same thing?)
You get the idea; bending your talent into adjacent or closely related derivatives feeds your talent. Beyond that, try working within the constraints of various creative fields. How would a painter design a poster? How would a bartender improve a coaster? How would a dancer have done your commercial? If you gave a writer from the 1930's a flux capacitor, how would they design a website?
Master a complex skill that compliments your discipline.
This is where, by a power of ten, you will really sharpen up. As a creative director working in digital environs, it was an absolute revelation to take it further and design branded spaces. Observing people interacting inside my design enhanced my understanding of how we connect customers to a brand, a product, a website, SaaS and more.
So how does it apply to you? Only you can answer that, but it usually presents itself as something your clients ask you for that’s just out of your skill set. Like if you’ve been directing commercials for ten years and you’re overly reliant on your writers, enhance your wit with a year of improv classes. Awww, c’mon. You can do it! I mean, the entire point here is that you kind of already have what it takes, #amirite?
Wondering how marketing & graphic design professionals segue into environmental concepts? Simple: We told our client we could do it better. Our pitch? If you want a fresh message, pull creatives from beyond the echo chamber.
Our clients wanted to see just how attached to their brand customers could become. We were happy to do whatever it took to create lasting moments with brands. Now, you may know that part of the XD discipline improves the online experience; but the other side of the concept revolves around designing brand-supportive moments which integrate naturally into the ways we experience the world. And so, without much fuss, we just did what we do: we took it further. Well, okay. A lot further. Did it work? Sure it did. Let’s look at some social data.
I guide brands through difficult problems using a combination of empathy & first principles. What’s really there? Not the paradigm, not the perception; what’s actually happening? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we addressing real problems? Identify not just what works visually, but what caused the problem in the first place. Once you’ve nailed that down, the rest is execution. The magic will flow.
Which brings us to my recipe, one I’ve cultivated over the years:
Does the work have texture?
Does it engage the human experience?
Is the storytelling alive?
Does it give the brand soul?
Marketing seeds with cold analytics and consumer insights, and succeeds by connecting us to the beauty of our shared humanity. It’s what makes it all so much fun; we’re just working hard, everyday, to be more human... and I promise — being human, feeling alive? It never gets old.