by George Garrastegui Jr.
Picture this: you’re at an event, a meetup or just talking to friends… you’re having a great conversation, listening to some killer advice and tips about the industry and you feel rude pulling out a sketchbook to jot notes down, so you resort to memory… and then you get home and realize that your memory sucks. Yeah, it happens to all of us.
It’s the reason I started my Works in Process podcast. I was having those conversations but couldn’t remember them all. I didn’t want to remember only the work; I wanted to remember the behind the scenes stuff too! So what better way than to hit record. This is what Works in Process is built on: conversations with creatives to discover why and how individuals work the way they do.
When I was asked to put something together for the EMERGE blog, all I needed to do was look back at my episodes. I’ve pulled five quotes from WIP episodes that I feel work for emerging designers. These are things we all have, and will continue to struggle with, being creatives. I share these #WIPwisdom quotes to remind emerging designers and myself that we are not perfect but we are also not alone. The creative profession is very forthcoming with its shared abundance of knowledge. We all want each other to succeed. I hope these pieces of wisdom—combined with my extended notes and point-of-view as a designer and educator—provide some guidance as you forge your own path to becoming a seasoned creative.
Thanks EMERGE for allowing me to share these tidbits beyond my podcast. OK enough of me. Here’s some #WIPwisdom…
1. On having self-doubt. — Lisa Pertoso: Learning Designer, Writer, Comedian
What is self-doubt? Is it that voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough or is it external? It comes in many forms, but it seems to be most prevalent when you compare yourself to others. I know it’s hard to stop comparing ourselves especially when we are constantly flooded with visual stimuli from online portfolios, visual bookmarking websites, social media, and brands we admire. But we tend to forget that what we are comparing ourselves to are the countless hours of collaboration, revisions, and feedback. Also, in most cases, these are the best versions of the work, stylized, mocked up and photoshopped to perfection.
So since you’re are starting out, it’s hard to achieve that same level of perfection. I’m not saying it won’t happen soon, but as someone new in the field, it will take time. So follow Lisa’s advice and “just stop that!” When you stop comparing yourself and continue to practice your craft, you’ll get better and find new ways to make your work stand out.
Design is a career of comparisons from our peers, bosses, and the industry. Don’t start out by looking down on yourself. You’re a creative for a reason. Own that and begin your journey.
2. On becoming too confident. — Nick Misani: Designer, Letterer, Lover of ornament and decorative arts
More and more, people are picking up the tools of the trade at a younger age. Today we can view and share so much great design and inspiration, but because we see it so instantaneously we think it comes easily or even worse—quickly. To make something look easy, you should understand all of the work that has gone into it. Design is built on history and the ability to take in passed down knowledge. As in any master-apprentice relationship, you learn by doing. Nick calls it “toiling away in the dark,” and as you grow you apply your own stylistic interpretation before making it your own.
Overconfidence, I feel, stems from superficial accolades. We get so caught up in the number of likes, shares and retweets that we sometimes forget the time it takes. Who doesn’t want to rise through the rank quickly and fast? But there’s something to be said about learning the proper ways of the profession and being guided to greatness. Being overconfident can get in the way of your creative growth. Don’t let it. As you learn from all the creative and art directors, let them build you up. They should push you to make you a better designer, a better person. And if they are not willing to do that, or can’t, it’s time to move on. Being humble in this field is a virtue and there’s a fine line between being proud and being cocky.
It’s better to know other people feel that you’re good, rather than you exclaiming it yourself. You’ll have a lot more longevity in this industry, and then you’ll be the one teaching a young designer some day.
3. On moving passed a creative block. — Justin Teodoro: Artist and Illustrator
So you’re stuck (again)… it’s the worst! That moment when you stare at the page or screen for way too long and nothing comes out. All of these ideas floating in your head are trying to spill out, but just can’t. It’s like being stuck at the top of a rollercoaster. It’s scary, and you’re just anxious and waiting. Now you’re overthinking all your ideas and concepts and questioning your decisions. But the best way to break free from any monotonous task is to listen to Justin and “mix it up” and break your routine.
I know… what’s the point of having a process if you aren’t gonna use it? But when you have a creative block, you need to change it up. Your methods have gotten you this far and are solid, but when that time comes—and it will, when you get stumped—stop what you’re doing. It’s time to break free of the systems you built because right now they’re not working. So look at doing something that allows your mind to wander and give it a breather. I read somewhere that Louis Pasteur said “chance favors only the prepared mind” and it’s true. You are probably overstimulated and can’t focus on the tasks at hand. It’s all there: the research, the inspiration, the direction. Just give your mind a rest. Let it do its job.
When you identify that activity: a walk in the park, a coffee shop, a visit to a museum or a meetup with friends, let the day happen. You will eventually get back on track. But remember, you never know when that spark will come back, so keep a sketchbook handy and finish what you were doing. 🙂
4. On learning as you go. — Eli Neugeboren: Illustrator and Educator
Eli’s insight is one that resonates with me a lot. You’re a newbie and you’re not going to know all the answers at your first job or freelance project. But you have to be willing to go the extra mile and put in a lot of work. What happens if your boss asks you to create a web wireframe, but you are only a print designer? You do it! You research, you stay up late watching YouTube, you ask a friend or coworker for help and start to figure it out. This is the time to absorb new techniques and focus on the problem you are tackling today.
A designer is only as good as their approach to solving problems. Take this opportunity to add to your skillset. Learn to pitch that concept to the client, edit that social media video, update that creative brief… You never know what you can do until you dabble a bit. What’s the worst that can happen? Ok, so your boss may not ask you to work on that kind of creative again, but then again maybe you’ll find out you really enjoy it. Now you’re no longer intimidated by it, and it opens up a new roles for yourself.
It’s good to know what your strengths are, but also to identify your weaknesses. Either accept the limitation or turn it into a strength. Bravo, now you’ve made yourself more valuable to the team.
5. On having a side-hustle. — David Soto: Graphic Designer, Hand Letterer, Forever a student
How do you learn? By expanding your skills and getting out of your comfort zone—but also by constantly creating. David’s creativity doesn’t stop with his 9-5pm. Like most creative people, he has ideas that need to get out into the world. And it’s that creative itch that needs to be scratched. Personal projects and side projects are what can soothe it.
Your side-hustle is a form of expression that allows you, the designer, to let loose. You don’t have to solely focus on what you’re currently working on, but you can branch out. It’s very satisfying to unleash some of those other creative abilities that you’ve not been able to flex at your job, or just not the way you want to. With a side hustle you are now your own boss (sort-of) and can work on the projects that bring you joy and highlight what you’re passionate about. But it’s also a way to make some extra loot. And who doesn’t want to save up for that next vacation or large purchase?
Either way, a side hustle allows you to explore more of what it means to be a designer. You manage your own deadlines, deal with clients directly and become more of a creative entrepreneur. You find out a lot about yourself and the way you work with a side gig.
But whatever the case may be, remember the side hustle is for you. It should feed your passion and make you feel complete. What have you been working on? Nothing?! Then get to work!
Thanks for taking the time to skim through this post. Hopefully some on my guests’ wisdom begins to get you closer to where you want to be. There are no quick fixes to getting better as a designer, but hard work, hustle and humility are a good place to start. So keep on doing what you’re doing and trust in the process.
George Garrastegui Jr. is a designer, a creative catalyst and passionate educator. A native New Yorker, he can’t help but be enthralled by its history, architecture, music, art, and culture. He sees himself as a jack-of-all-trades in the design industry working and crafting creative solutions for such clients as: Aéropostale, Cadillac, Ford, Popular Mechanics, Road & Track and Esquire. But above all, he is most passionate about the personal projects and affiliations that have increased his definition of what it means to be a designer. Whether it’s sharing his take on the creative process, producing an online magazine, sparking new creative initiatives, or joining the national design association (AIGA’s) Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, he is committed to the belief that you are not a designer because it’s your job, but because it’s who you are. Since the year 2000, George has moved past the job of design and established additional outlets that have armed him with the skillset, desire, and courage to fail better.