The making of you

Posted by Keith Noble

OK, so I’ve been doing this job for quite a while now and even though I finished Uni (or rather, Polytechnic, yes, I am THAT old) 31 years ago this summer, it only feels like yesterday.

But believe it or not, I was just like you once (yeah, I know). And a part of me still is, 31 years later. I’m still a hungry design student at heart, with an appetite for ideas, creativity and beautifully executed work – I’m just a little more ‘lived in’ than most of the 2021 cohort. I’m still trying to prove I’m good enough to do the job and still trying to get the next opportunity in the bag. That will never, or should never, change.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to wax lyrical about the ‘good old days’ when everything was done by hand and it was a ‘true craft’ and how we managed to still produce timeless pieces of creative design in spite of the analogue nature of the ‘technology’ available (if you class Rotring pens, French curves, Safmat and Grant enlargers as technology*). And how cushy it is now for the current generation of designers with your laptops, Dr Google and virtual everything.

The change in technology isn’t really the point. Or the changes in education, in the workplace or to the creative industry as a whole, for that matter. The important stuff that makes a great graphic designer and creative thinker still holds true, whether you graduated in 1990 (ahem!) or in 2021.

My advice to all 2021 graduates venturing into the world of work? It’s probably the same as I would’ve given to the 23-year-old me, way back when…

10 Designer Do’s:

1: Be proactive – It’s not going to be served up to you on a plate, mate – sorry.

Get your name known, get to know people, make friends, contacts, tap into the network of the industry, become part of it. Be nice, be sociable, talk to people (actual humans) on the phone or in person if you can. Don’t just send an email and assume they will come chasing you, they won’t. But equally, don’t be annoying, and don’t p*ss people off – it’s a fine line.

Take opportunities. Get experience.

2: Love what you do – give a sh*t

If you don’t love what you do, then why should anyone else care? Have passion for the job, give everything you can. If you’re a “that’ll do” sort of person, don’t bother.

Have passion for the subject no matter what it is. We’re not all going to be working for Nike or Apple (spoiler alert), so whoever the client is, or whatever the project is, give it 100% – be bothered.

3: Love ideas – ideas are everything.

I repeat… Ideas. Are. Everything. Never lose the central focus of a great idea.

Anyone educated at Preston/UCLan Graphic Design course, or been exposed to it, will tell you it’s still the No.1 prerequisite to great creative work – but also make sure you learn and demonstrate you can execute those ideas well too. 

If ideas are at the heart of what you do, you’ll be OK.

4: Be a creative sponge – listen, learn and absorb

I’m talking about filling the creative ‘think sponge’ – learn from other creatives, of course check out agencies’ work, but also watch films, read books, go see art, listen to music, travel, climb a mountain, have banter in the pub with your mates – go to the pub, just go to the pub (now that we can).

Spoiler alert. Being creative isn’t a 9-5 job, it’s 24/7, sorry. But I’m not talking about working all day, every day, I’m talking about constantly taking things in, topping up the old ‘think sponge’ wherever, and whenever, it happens.

The skill is then being able to wring out the creative ‘sponge’ when it’s time to deliver.

5: Be prepared to fail – keep taking creative risks

Not every idea is perfectly formed when it pops out into the world. So, get them out and get them down, even the bad ones – though I don’t think any idea is ‘bad’, just maybe not right for the moment or the project.

But keep pushing boundaries, try new things, go crazy if you need to, you never know when someone might say, “You know what, I LOVE that idea”.

It’s a lot easier to rein things in than it is to breathe life into something that’s ‘meh’.

6: Practice, practice, practice – it won’t make you perfect, but it will make you better

If you were a budding musician, you wouldn’t just grab a guitar and step up on stage to headline Glastonbury without a little practice would you? So, the same applies when it comes to creating ideas, designing, thinking and doing – the more you do it, the better you get.

Practice makes progress.

7: Explain yourself

Explain your workings out, show your thinking, explain your why and your how. I know a good idea explains itself, but you have to be able to explain to others, colleagues, clients, clients’ audiences – most of the time people who are not creative thinkers. It can be a nerve-crumbling experience and you WON’T always get it right, or find the right words.

8: Be a people person

We can’t teach you this, no one can. You can only learn this by working with real people. It’s what our business is all about – colleagues, customers, freelancers, accountants, the people that interact with that great piece of creative work you’ve just done.

Whether it’s behind the bar of a pub serving the locals, dealing with tricky customers at Currys PC World, or contributing to the team in an agency environment, you HAVE to be able to deal with all kinds of people – great people and challenging people.

You have to become a team player, a doer, a problem solver, a diplomat, a peacemaker, a motivator, a confidant, a tea maker, a presenter, a grafter, a driving force.

9: Be a critic – but be prepared to take criticism 

Have an opinion, be a critic, but make sure you have a good one and be constructive. But be prepared to be criticised. You need to have a thick skin as everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will have an opinion on what you do. So, however much it feels like a personal attack, just know that constructive criticism makes you a better at what you do. 

10: Enjoy the ride

It goes so quickly. Enjoy every, single, moment.

10 Designer Don’ts:

1: Don’t be afraid – be brave

Get involved, ask questions (there’s no such thing as a stupid questions), put yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s the only way to learn and improve.

Whether it’s making a call to an agency to chat to someone about a placement, pushing the ideas boundaries, sharing ideas informally to the creative team or presenting the CEO of – don’t be afraid (definitely don’t be cocky) and always be prepared.  

2: Don’t be a Prima Donna – don’t talk about ‘me’, talk about ‘we’

This is a team game, so you’ll have to get used to the idea. You absolutely have to make your contribution and play your part, but no project is 100% “I did that”.

Don’t just say ‘I work well both individually as well as part of a team’, please don’t say that, please, I’m begging you. I’d rather you explain why and how you’re able to do that and prove it. Show me through your work.

3: Don’t be precious – sharing is caring

It’s your ‘baby’ we know this, and it’s really hard to let ideas go sometimes. But ideas are a bit like kids, you conceive them, you nurture them, you watch them grow and flourish, but sometimes you have to learn when to let go (they can also be a right royal pain in the ass too).

So, like kids, they benefit from socialising. Seek other opinions and input, take feedback on board, take care of the details of course, but it’s about improving, or as Nike say, ‘progress not perfection’.

Just remember, the best ideas evolve.

4: Don’t be a lazy ass – you have to graft

You may be incredibly talented (and we hope you are, for our industry’s sake), but you still have to put a shift in, work hard and get better. There’s no short-cut to hard work (jeez, starting to sound like my dad) “You get nowt for nowt” (he actually said that), you get out what you put in, so there’s no room for laziness or apathy.

I don’t care how talented you are, having the right work ethic above all else is what will make you successful.

5: Don’t be a clever-sh*t – no one knows everything

You’re only just starting your journey, only just starting to learn your craft, so don’t pretend you know it all. You absolutely have to contribute, and you should. Ideas aren’t exclusively for the creative elite, you’re there to do your bit, whatever that bit is.

Remember you’re never ‘too good’ for a job. Be humble, but be confident, but don’t be a d*ck (See No.10 on the Don’ts list).

6: Don’t rush – it takes time

You’re not going to be the MD in 6 weeks, sorry. But maybe one day. So, always be ambitious, always look to improve and progress in any way you can.

It won’t happen overnight either. We’ve all seen the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world, a gazillionaire by the age of three. It happens, of course it does, but it’s the exception, rather than the rule. You do have to put some time in, do the work and learn your craft, gain experience and one day that time will come. Maybe not quite to the Zuck’s scale, but it will come. 

So, be patient.

7: Don’t burn your bridges

It’s unlikely you will only have one job in your career. You will meet people (many people), you’ll get a job, leave and move on and get another job. In some cases you may feel a little hard done by and feel you have to leave in order to progress, or get an opportunity you can’t possibly turn down.

Ambition is a good thing, but don’t burn your bridges and step on people’s toes to get what you want. You never know when you will need someone’s help or when your paths might cross again. A Lecturer might become your advocate, a colleague might become a client, you never know. So even if there is a little bit of ‘needle’ with a person or an organisation, leave on good terms, be the ‘better person’. It will be remembered.

8: Don’t be offended – don’t take it personally

Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t mean you have to be enemies. Have a purpose, have beliefs, have your causes, but don’t be offended by people who don’t agree with you or have a different point of view. Stand up for what you believe in, absolutely, but also have empathy. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Listen to their perspective. It’s crucial in dealing with anyone – friends, colleagues or clients (especially clients). 

In fact, I would suggest making sure you actively seek out people with different views to your own, it’s not healthy to surround yourself with like-minded ‘yes’ people all of the time. It can only open your mind to other ideas.

9: Don’t give up – Ever!

10: Don’t be a d*ck – If I need to explain this, you’re a d*ck 😉

In summary

On reflection, I’d say most of these little nuggets of advice and tips are simply life lessons, with a little bit of a creative industry twist. So even if you end up on a completely different career path, I hope they still help.

But whatever you end up doing or wherever you end up going – good luck from me and team Forepoint – Cheers.

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