Creative Freedom …or not.

“Not having a specific purpose or goal in mind creatively is like paddling in the middle of an ocean with no land in sight. Where do you start? Who is going to give you approval? What is the product you’re trying to sell? And wouldn’t it have been easier to have just stayed on the boat?”

— Anna of Door Sixteen

The hardest projects for me to wrap my brain around as a graphic designer are the ones where there are no rules; the ones for which “the powers that be” have given me “creative freedom.” These projects are usually things like thank you cards and desktop wallpapers; things that could depict anything. Projects like these seem like they should be the easiest ones; just come up with something cool and slap it on there. But, then my designer brain thinks, “Yeah, sure, but what does this super cool design mean? Nothing? Right. So, go back to the drawing board.” I have a designer friend that would describe this strange inner drama something like this: “Designers are problem solvers and, if there is no problem to be solved, it’s hard for us to know what to do.”

I had this mental battle with myself last week as I was designing for a client. It was something that could literally be anything; I had total “creative freedom.” Therefore, as usual, I was at a loss for what to do. While I’d known about the assignment for over a month, I waited until literally the last day to come up with something. …not my best decision, but it ended up turning out alright. Ironically, I ended up making it mean something. I guess my designer brain just can’t shut off sometimes.

Oddly enough, I was introduced to the blog post from which the quote above was taken just as I hit my “I’m never going to think of anything” moment. The post was written by Anna over at Door Sixteen. You should go read it :). …Anyway, It’s always nice to know that there’s someone else out there going through the same thing. And the post serves as a nice reminder that sometimes you just have to create something and not worry about the consequences. Best case scenario; you end up liking what you created …and perhaps someone else will too.

Fear of Failure


Milton Glaser on the Fear of Failure; Watch it on Vimeo

One of my graphic design professors once said that sometimes the craziest ideas are the best. These are the ideas that might initially promote boisterous laughter and a, “That’s stupid!,” by a committee of critics or that guy you always meet in traffic on your way to work. I’m pretty positive that Henri Matisse was talking about this stage of the design process when he said, “creativity takes courage,” because it truly does. It takes guts for designers (or anyone, really) to put their ideas and craft out there for clients to judge. Sometimes they judge it fairly and with tact, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it will be judged by people who know what they’re talking about and sometimes they won’t have a clue.

As Mr. Glaser mentions in this video, the fear of being judged by others is often what leads to the fear of failure. We assume that if we fail, if that crazy idea doesn’t turn out to be the best one after all, people will judge us and our work because of it. …and they will. But, in reality, people will judge us and our work no matter what. They’ll criticize the work because it contains the color pink; they’re least favorite color, don’t you know. …or because the design doesn’t “pop.” In these instances, it’s simply best to meet the client in the middle. If they don’t like pink; try blue. If there isn’t in enough “pop;” spice things up a bit.

Sometimes, though, clients will turn the opportunity to criticize a designer’s work into a personal attack on the designer. Though it may be hard at first, it’s best to ignore this type of criticism. It’s not constructive in the least because it doesn’t do anything to improve our work. It also doesn’t give us any perspective on how to make our work more pleasing to the client.

But, before we ignore all the criticism that comes our way, it’s best to remember that, more often than not, it’s meant to be constructive. It comes from a place of honesty and from people who genuinely want to improve our work. As a designer, this honest and constructive criticism is the kind we want to hear because it teaches valuable lessons and helps us grow.

Not Much for Words

“Not much for words.” It’s part of a lyric from the Civil Wars song called “I’ve Got This Friend.” It also happens to be one of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever heard an introverted person described.

{Have a listen to the video below. …The Civil Wars are awesome!}

Also appealing to those “not much for words” {and people who might like to understand them better} is this TED Talks presentation by Susan Cain entitled “The Power of Introverts:”

Weather the Storm

I love this photo! For me, it serves as a reminder that there is no perfect time to accomplish something wonderful. Sometimes we have to decide to do something and do it; make no excuses. I’m sure whoever designed this beautiful table setting was not expecting it to have to weather a storm, but here it is doing just that gracefully.

If we truly commit ourselves to accomplishing our goals, cast aside what others may think, and just do what we need to do, we can weather even the most torrential of metaphorical (or actual) downpours. On top of that, we can do so beautifully. …I need to remember this.

Let’s Pretend


One of the graphic design courses I took in college focused on learning about different cultures and determining how best to relate to them through graphic design. The lesson I took from that class is that it’s the designer’s responsibility to learn about the culture for which he or she is creating. The designer can then use that knowledge to tailor the design aesthetic of the piece so it appeals to that particular culture. For example, say you’re designing for a company that works heavily with the Latino community. Instead of grabbing a stock photo with people of Latino heritage smiling cheesily at the camera, learn about their culture and present a design that will actually be meaningful and memorable to them.

While this in itself was a valuable lesson, the class also offered me the opportunity to research and design for my own cultural heritage. Because of this, I learned a lot of interesting things about the German culture; its design aesthetic, its cultural tendencies and values, and the stereotypes with which it has been marked.

Practically every source about German culture that I uncovered mentioned the German peoples’ tendency to be stoic. They are apparently a community of strong, silent types; the kind that suffer {or rejoice} in relative silence. I’m not sure if this is an actual tendency of the German people or just another of the many stereotypes that have been perpetuated about the culture, but it interests me because I can relate to it.

Maybe it was caused by watching too many spaghetti western movies as child, but I always viewed stoicism as a good quality. To me, it meant you were measured and able to handle your emotions; you were in control. As I’ve recently discovered, though, stoicism can be taken in many different ways. People could mistake it for shyness, quietness, or meanness. They may even think you just don’t care.

Since noticing this, I’ve been trying to be more open about my emotions and thoughts. But, I’ve found that it’s pretty hard to do. It feels forced; not like the genuine person I want to be. I couldn’t decide how I should overcome this until I found this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on Swiss Miss. It’s about how body language can not only change how others see us, but also how we see ourselves. It provided me with a major aha moment.

I’ll let you watch the video yourselves instead of explaining it all and spoiling the epicness and passion of Cuddy’s speech. I will say that it’s a truly inspirational talk and very much worth the watch.

After the video, you’ll understand why I started off this post with a quote from the FX series Justified.

{original photo at top via Pinterest}