Sunday, 28 October 2012

Seeking validation for your design efforts

When you are a creator or a maker of any description or even a consultant, there is always this obscure line to be drawn between motives and passion for your craft. You find yourself asking questions like,

"is my work good?"

"who is this person to tell me if my work is good or not and why should I value there opinion?"

"how much is my work worth or is the reward for the process not actually monetary?"

"would I do this if I wasn't being paid?"

"does the deadline and the payoff add to or take away from my creative edge?"

"do I even have a creative edge?"

"how much of this design is truly mine and how much of it is just regurgitating somebody else's idea?"
and so on and so on.

These questions are pretty much unavoidable and I think that if you aren't asking such questions then you probably aren't really doing enough work to merit the asking in the first place. Don't worry you'll get there, we all do! The underlying point though, is about achievement and a sense of purpose. In our choice of field we seek recognition and reassurance for our work and more than that, who we are in the world, and what our place is in the community. It is a measure of stature just like everything else in our day to day social lives. Lets face it you work more than you do anything else so your work actually is your life. It is a microcosm in which you mould yourself to fit your surroundings just like you did at school. So you as a creative probably have more power to shape and move around your world than most people do. Its a blessing you should use it.

Speaking of school, you may still be studying in which case you may be slightly less aware of what I am getting at but the questions you ask yourself now, be it at school, college, university, or work, are universal, and they apply equally to whatever it is that you spend the lions share of your time doing. This gives us a good insight as to why we seek so much approval in our work and creative choices, but it doesn't give us much direction or any answers for that matter. I believe that if you can get a good handle on what exactly you are trying to achieve and why you are trying to achieve it then you are ahead of the game. If you can do that then you will have taken a grand leap from just creating stuff for the sake of it and for someone to tell you its good, to creating a vision, your vision. You might say you have become a visionary! Not everybody can be a visionary of course and nor should they be, but to have a guiding light in a dark tunnel is most certainly an advantage. If your goal however, is to become someone who others describe as a visionary, then I don't think that you are really going about it the right way or really getting the point of what I am trying to say here. It is about more than anything trying to find a path on which you are challenged and grow but at the same time you don't beat yourself up too much about the failures along the way. So how can we ensure that we do actually get the validation, or if we need it in the first place?

You might be super philosophical and believe in the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching which teaches us "The talented person who is also wise, retains humility, and so does not create rivalry. The person who possesses material things, and who does not boast of his possessions, does much to prevent stealing. Those who are jealous of talents, skills or possessions of others easily become possessed themselves by envy." Truth though there may be in these statements, in the capitalism driven marketplace that the world currently is, avoiding competition and remaining a model of zen and humility in crowd full of bloodthirsty wolves can get a little tricky. That is the way the marketplace and indeed nature was designed. You must play the game and compete or be cut off from all the relevant benefits and left to fend for yourself without a helping hand in sight. It can get pretty mercenary out there. Now lets not forget that we are in fact talking about being a designer and where you get your sense of achievement from, not survival of the fittest, but the principle is a effectively the same. Your average person will trip themselves up regularly trying to compete with the person next to them, without ever really questioning if winning that particular battle will aid them in any way. In fact a lot of people (creatives in particular) will take any fight they think they can win without realising that they are damaging the original vision. So you see that having a vision for yourself is important, its a necessary part of shaping your world around you. It's important because it helps you to pick your battles in a more educated manner (in your work, and in your life). It also helps you to take criticism in a far more constructive manner because you will have a much better grasp of who is helping you and who is blowing smoke up your arse for there own competitive aims. Last but not least it gives us perspective, and perspective makes the load lighter for all those who have it.

There is nothing wrong with seeking validation in your work at all, but there are bad ways to go about it. For example if you are a perfectionist and you cannot let anyone see your work until it is finished, or more likely until you believe that its finished in the eyes of your imaginary benchmark (we all have one of those). Then the chances are you aren't going to produce a lot of work or make many mistakes, or learn how to deal with a failed idea. As a graphic designer this is terrible news. You are going to be pissed off more often than you are happy with it and fall out of touch with your craft far sooner than is necessary this way. More importantly though you are probably going to stagnate and stay at the same level for longer too. Now you are just giving your competition a leg up. My tutors used to infuriate me by saying that you have to learn how to fail and then telling me all about how my designs were rubbish and that is because I was still so precious about my work and not only that but didn't have the confidence to decide what was or wasn't good for myself. I didn't know what my my end goal was so I was just shooting wildly in the dark trying to find a target. If you need someone else to tell you if a design is good or not and why, then you are still not confident in your own work really. You most likely are unsure of the main vision or end goal and that is why it feels like such a kick in the face when you get it wrong. I'm not by any means suggesting that you should ignore criticism just that you should be able to anticipate what a lot of people will say about your work early on and if it is relevant to you in the long run.

I hope that this little speech has helped to shed some light on what will be a life long (or at least career long) challenge. I would therefore like to end with a few questions that might help you to shape your creative vision for the future.

"who was it who first inspired you to be a creative and what about it was so awe inspiring"

"is it genuinely in your power to do something like this (long term discussion with yourself on that one)"

"who exactly would you have to impress in order to be happy with how creative you are"

"does it matter if you never reach your goal"

"who do you already know that can help you take steps toward your future awesomeness".

Good luck!

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