Need to revitalize your creativity? Try pushing the limits of your talent, you lazy ass.
A three-minute read about staying sharp and proving something until the day you die.
Are you leaving things out when describing what you do? Do you feel you have more to offer? Are you indispensably unique to your employer? Have you explored the reach of your talent? Have you considered new ways to help people you work with? Have you tried applying your expertise across verticals? Are you increasingly whatever about the word “vertical”? Do you suspect you are more capable?
Creative types these days wear many different hats. Creative director, brand strategist, communications manager, experience designer, copywriter, web designer — where are the lines drawn? LinkedIn cares, but most doers have done all of these jobs, bundled into one inaccurate title or another.
What we’re called is less important than what we create: A look, feel, intellect & spirit for what usually began as somebody else’s dream. In the end, most of us judge our career by whether we’ve enjoyed our work, made money for our benefactors, and made the world a more beautiful place.
For 15 years I’ve explored a broad range of commercial projects, and while a lot has changed, one thing hasn’t. People need people who do what it takes to get the job the done right, and getting the job done right usually means you have to care.
How, though? If 10,000 work hours makes an expert, how, after 30,000 hours, could anyone still care?
Here’s how I’ve done it so far.
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 if you’re a high old hippie 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.
Create as a writer, a painter, a set designer, 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?
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 after an evasive demo, 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.
Master a complex skill that compliments your discipline.
This is where by a power of ten (or something like that) you sharpen up. As a design generalist working in digital and frictionless experience design, I feel compelled everyday to take it further and design branded spaces. Observing and thinking about people interacting inside spaces I’ve created has enhanced my understanding of how we connect customers to brands, products, websites, SaaS & 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?
More & more marketing & graphic design professionals are crossing over into environmental concepts. Clients who value fresh ideas 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 their brands. Now, we know that part of the XD / Experience Design 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? Make sure to 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.
It isn’t Jedi-wisdom, but here’s my ongoing recipe. Often we rush into asking our clients or our co-worker what they think, either so that we don’t have to think for ourselves, or to relieve ourselves of culpability for a bad idea, or to massage our need for affirmation (I’ve done so much work for you, look at all the options I’ve given you!) Instead, just ask yourself these four questions:
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.