Creative Work is a Marathon

I have a few people in my life that I consider mentors, they might not even know that they are… but they are. I am very blessed to have a few friends, current and former teachers, and all around good people in my life that are much more experienced and talented in design than I am; and I constantly am seeking their advice on how to grow and improve in this craft. There is one common factor in most of the advice they try to hand down to me:

“Be Patient”

Of course they’re right, and I must admit that a lack of patience could be my number one weakness as a designer. It might be because I got into this business later than most, or it might be because I like to produce and share work as often as possible, or it could be my obsessive desire to be ahead of deadlines and please our clients at almost any cost. Whatever the reason is, I can be impatient at times. Chances are, that a lack of patience, effects you in some way as well, and a lack of patience can manifest itself in many ways, here are a few that I can think of:

Feeling anxious or feeling like a failure based on your position in life.

Finishing a project way before it’s due to save time.

Finishing a project right before it’s due because you wasted time.

Rushing to produce things daily for social media.

Taking short cuts in your work flow and process.

Purchasing something with credit because you don’t want to save for it.

I am sure that patience, or lack there of, is something you deal with on a daily basis. I think it’s important to realize this one basic fact that could be the key to your career:

Creative work is a marathon not a sprint

Angela Lee Duckworth, a Harvard educated psychologist won a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship partly based on her study on what factors make people successful. In short, her conclusion was and is grit. You can see her explain it better than me in her TED talk here. But grit is basically the unbreakable and passionate pursuit of long term goals and endeavors. In other words, Duckworth (and I) believe that determination and long term consistent effort is a key to success, in fact it maybe THE key to success.

How does this tie into the creative world? Think about how much time and effort you have already put into your craft, that was grit. Think about all the creative jobs you applied for with no call backs, but yet you kept applying, that is grit. Think about all the times you wanted to give up your craft and do something else but didn’t… that is grit. How many stories have you heard of about the actor, artist, designer, filmmaker etc. that had to wait tables, teach, or do whatever for years until they were finally able to break through and do their craft full time for a living. Are these people more talented, gifted, or skilled than we are? Probably not, but they were and are certainly still are, more passionate and determined to succeed at pursuing their passions than most of the people out there.

Grit is addressing the marathon mentality on a very macro level, and to give myself credit, this is something that personally for me I am not to worried about. My intense, immovable, glacier like passion for design is by far the number one reason I get to do it for a living. You might be like me and are all stocked up on grit with whatever creative craft you want to pursue. But what about patience and having that marathon mentality on a more micro level? I think we can all admit that in a deadline driven results oriented business that is the design and creative industry, it’s not always easy to be patient and to think long term. As I stated in the beginning, it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. How can we address patience on a micro level? Here are some of my ideas:

Give yourself more long term projects: I think the daily challenges seen on Dribble and Instagram are pretty cool and even helpful, but it’s easy to let these challenges push you to rush your work. Build a project for yourself that will go beyond a day.. for example, you might like building logos every day; now take one of those logos and take a few weeks to build an entire identity system around it.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: This was an important issue we addressed on the podcast we did on the impostor syndrome, but I think this issue plays a role in patience as well. We are constantly getting bombarded with other people’s success that can often lead us to thinking we aren’t doing enough and thus will lead us into rushing our work or our career path. Don’t forget that this is your journey, not anyone else’s. Most marathon runners are trying to beat their best time’s not anyone else’s.

Write Down Short and Long Term Goals: I believe feeling accomplished on a short, mid, and long term basis is a vital component to feeling and being more patient. I use Teux Deux and Field Notes to keep track of my to do list and accomplishments on a daily and weekly basis. Writing things down has really helped me be patient and think about the big picture at work and when I am doing personal projects.

Get away from the screen: Obviously this is a thing that is mostly for digital creatives, but I think a lot of digital artists and designers forget to step away from the computer and get inspired and creative in other ways that take more time and patience.

I know this article was bit all over the place because it kind of covered being patient and being determined at the same time. But I think both are intertwined because I think determination or grit can lead to great patience and mastery of your craft. What are some tips you have for slowing down and being more patient? I obviously want to get better at both so any advice you can leave below on the comments or via email at zach@activecolor.com would help a great deal.

The Vendor vs. Partner Relationship

 

As the universe of the creative economy expands and becomes more globalized, designers, artists and creative entrepreneurs find themselves in a hyper competitive and oversaturated market. The new found appreciation for design thinking and strategy at the C suite of big businesses has created a virtual “gold rush” with scores of freelance creatives and agencies popping up everywhere seeking to get in on the new golden age of creative thinking.

This is all well and good for experienced and established creatives and/or agencies and studios, but as the actual production of design becomes more homogenous and accessible (think Canva and Squarespace) how can an emerging creative professional establish their value and create real return on investment for their potential clients?

This is the vendor/partner dilemma. I see a vendor as a creative that is simply asked to “produce” or visualize an already established idea or initiative (jr. designer, emerging freelancer etc.) while I see a partner as someone in the room with the decision makers, C suite members, and stakeholders working with them to create the best ideas and experiences for their business, product, or brand (creative director, consultant, strategist).

I assume that most of you want to transition from vendor to partner, I know I do and I will admit that I am still in the middle of that transition. I still LOVE to create and to make. I try to populate my instagram and dribbblefeeds with creative work as often as I can to feed the pure production side of what I love to do. However I do know to become a better designer, to grow into a creative director mindset, I have to continue to learn how think at a higher level for my work and for my clients. I want to earn the respect of my clients and in return create design work that can make a difference to them and to my growth as a designer.

Here are some things I am trying to do as part of this transitional journey from vendor to partner:

  1. Building & Maintaining a High Confidence Level: I believe that this is the foundation for a partner mentality in any creative profession. I am not as experienced as I want to be, but I have to believe that I can create real value for my client that goes beyond creating the visuals. Confidence also provides the ability to say no to certain projects and to respectfully but firmly push back on certain client suggestions. The impostor syndrome is still something I feel from time to time, but I work hard to shake it on a daily basis because if I don’t believe I can provide real strategy and thinking to my clients I simply won’t be able to.
  2. Listen: When you are in the on-boarding phase with a client, listen to what they have to say and actively try to discover potential problems and pain points they are experiencing. They are coming to you to find a real business solution to their real business problem, you can’t do that if you’re daydreaming about how you want their new logo or website to look when you should be listening and responding to what they really have to say and as result attempting to discover the real problems that they are hiring you to solve.
  3. Ask Questions: On that note ask questions, a lot of them, and ask questions that don’t always have to do with the budget. Again your job is to provide them solutions, budgets are important, we need to get paid for what we do, but I think other questions are just as important. Who is your target audience/users? What does your business origin story sound like? How do you want your users to feel when interacting with your brand/product? Those are just a few questions I can think of when conversing with a client, especially at the beginning of the project.
  4. Communicate your Value: How are you going to create value for the client? What is the real ROI you are providing? If you have the numbers and analytics then that’s great. It helps if you can tangibly show that value; but if you don’t then it’s even more important that you can properly articulate why a potential client should hire you at a partner level.
  5. Do good work: duh right? But it needs to be stated that at the end of all of this don’t forget to create great work. You need to show that you can translate your great ideas into great communicative assets. If you don’t have the clients yet, don’t be afraid to create great work for yourself. If you are just starting to get clients, don’t be afraid to go above and beyond a project brief if it makes sense for you and the client. In the end try to find a way to do the best work you can do.

Those are just a few ideas I think about when I try to position myself as a potential partner for clients I work with. If you still want to be a vendor that’s okay, like I said, I still enjoy that part of the creative process and I think it’s important for yourself and your clients to produce quality content. However, the vendor market is going to grow and become even more over saturated than it already is; real ideas and strategy could be the last great differentiator in the new creative economy.

Design Thinking

In a time where we are pushing the limits of innovation, how we approach "problem solving" is more important than ever. In this episode, we discuss the benefits of using a "Design Thinking" methodology to come up with more original and efficient solutions; not only for design challenges, but everyday life.

Photo Credit: Quino Al