1. Surround yourself with people who inspire you
The people that you choose to spend your time with in life are going to have a profound influence on your beliefs, aspirations, and mental outlook. Whether it’s work, school, or life, don’t waste your valuable time with anyone who leaves you feeling drained or frustrated. Life is too short. You should seek out people who are smarter than you are and that see each day as a chance to try something new, to learn a little more, and to do a little better—people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world. It doesn’t even matter if they’re in the same field as you are. If they’re energized about what they do, it will have a positive influence on you. Here’s the classic Think Different ad written by Steve Jobs; it was brilliant salute to the game changers out there.
2. Make goals and face up to them
When working with clients on future vision exercises, we start with the end in mind. It’s no different when thinking about your own creative aspirations. Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years? Think about it. Do you want to start a company? Work in landscape architecture? Maybe you want to write a children’s book? Whatever it is, start your brainstorming process with your specific goals in mind and work backwards. Keep asking yourself, “In order for this to happen, I’ll need to ________ and then in order for that to happen I’ll need to ________.” If you’re not sure, look at what job listings are asking for, or learn more about what your heroes did. Keep going as long as necessary. You’re creating a step-by-step guide in reverse! Now find a place to put your goals where you can see them every day. Could be your fridge, or next to the bathroom mirror—it doesn’t matter. Just give yourself daily reminders of what’s important and make sure you’re always heading in that direction.
3. Work small and move fast
Every new design project starts with a blank piece of paper—scary, I know! But the best way to slay that monster to do is to grab your black Flair pen (yes!) and simply start doodling. Just start brainstorming the various aspects of what your infographic—or logo, website, etc.—will need to convey and let your mind run wild. No need to overthink things, just draw. Jot down words, too. See what happens! Working quickly allows your thinking to be less literal and more fluid. The drawings might be simple and loose, but your brain fills in the details and you’ll be able to tell what’s going to work. Famed architect Frank Gehry has designed some of the most distinctive buildings in the world, and he always started small. Check out some of his preliminary doodles.
4. Strive to make others look good
When we’re hired by our clients to create presentations or visualize big ideas, what I believe they’re thinking (but not saying) is “Please make me look good.” It is going to be a collaborative process, but in the end it is about them and not you. If you want to make it about you, OK, great—then become a fine artist. As a designer you’re providing a service to your client, so let your ego go because it can sabotage your creativity. At Second City, actors strive to make the other actors on stage look good. The idea being that if you’re all helping each other, communication will be better and the entire experience will be better—for everyone. This is what makes improv relationships—in some ways—the perfect relationships. Rather than looking out for yourself, you’re always looking to support others, knowing that they’ll do the same for you.
5. Pay it forward
For about the last 20 years, I’ve enjoyed taking part in The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis’ Senior Capstone presentations, where semester-long projects are presented to a panel of working professionals and classmates. It’s a yearly reminder of what it’s like to be an energized, budding young creative coming out of school and wondering where their artistic talents will take them. I’ve been out of school for cough, 30, cough plus years—but still remember what that’s like and I empathize with them. This is why Tremendousness has always made a point to hire interns as often as we could (we have two right now, from Wash U). It’s important that we all do whatever we can lend a helping hand/pencil/mouse to the next generation of designers. We try to show them how things work and give them the latitude, opportunities, support, and time they need to succeed. It’s a win/win proposition.
5 1/2. Lastly, I’ll leave you with the wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut…
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
Illustration by W. Scott Matthews / Tremendousness.