Craft, Organizing & Learning New Things
When I was in school, I had to pick up a lot of random skills that were seemingly unrelated to design. I had to sew for a project that required us to make bags. I learned the basics of photography so I could snap photos of my work for my website. I learned some origami, painted a lot, got really good at cutting straight lines, and built shapes out of various materials.
At the time I thought that some of it was unnecessary. Why do I need to make a cut paper poster made out of thousands of pieces of black, gray, and white paper? Why do I need to make a paper version of a bag before I made a fabric version? Why am I sitting here rounding the edges of 100 cards for a board game?
The answer to all those questions is CRAFT. Anyone can cut tons of paper and paint lots of things. But what will make your paper cut outs stand out is the quality of your craft. How straight are your lines? How clean are your edges? How organized are your PhotoShop files? All through college I was being taught to hone in my craft and make it the best it can be and I didn’t even realize it.
Two people could create the exact same thing, but the person who has better craft will produce a better piece. It’s not just neatness or how straight something is. It is those things, but it’s also being intentional and choosing to go a step or two beyond what is required to make something fantastic instead of something that is just good. Pushing yourself further is huge as a designer. If you never push yourself, you’ll never grow. You may be making “good” work, but it’s not amazing, and nobody is talking about it.
To stand out, you’ve got to learn to amp up your craft. Clean up your sketches, organize your art boards, don’t use 20 anchor points when you only need 3. When sending things to clients, send them an organized PDF that’s laid out in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.
A good place to start is probably cleaning up your desktop. Now this doesn’t directly relate to design, but it kind of does. If you computer is a mess and you can’t find things and links keep breaking in your files, it’s time to clean up. Give every project it’s own folder, and within that folder give everything a place. I like to have a folder for working files (Psd, Ai, Indd, etc.), a folder for image exports (jpg, png, pdf, etc.), and a folder of assets (images used in the files, typefaces, inspiration, etc.). You may not be an unorganized person but that doesn’t mean that you need to make your job harder on yourself by having everything all over the place. It’s worth it, trust me!
As I mentioned before, I picked up a lot of random skills in school. I don’t necessarily still use all of those skills today, but every once in a while it’s nice to know how to use a sewing machine and how to emboss. For some reason I thought that when I started working, I would only be doing design and the days of learning random skills would be over. But that’s definitely not the case. Granted, the things I’ve learned at jobs are much more closely related to design, but they’re still things I never thought I’d actually be good at.
At my first job I used VR for the first time. It’s not exactly a skill, but it was something new and super awesome. They had a VR room set up with an HTC Vive and you could go in whenever you wanted a break and walk through the ocean or draw something 3D. Working at creative agencies definitely have their perks!
My second job is where I learned a lot of new skills. The other designer I worked closely with was also a photographer and videographer, and he taught me so much. I was put in charge of managing social media, which led to me leading the photography team. Photography was never something I was very interested in, but the more I did it the more I learned to enjoy it. I helped on video shoots and learned so much about cameras and audio recording.
This led to a really awesome opportunity at the beginning of this year. A team was going to Kenya with an organization called SERV International, and they wanted to bring someone to document the trip and take a few specific videos. I was the only one available to go, and it was a life changing trip. We brought food to the slums, spent time with the kids at SERV’s House of Hope, and went on a safari through the Masai Mara. I will forever be impacted by that trip.
I never would have been able to get that experience if I had said no to photography. You never know what doors will open up when you say yes to learning new things. I don’t call myself a photographer, and I don’t plan on buying a camera anytime soon, but it’s still a valuable skill that I’ve learned and it’s opened up opportunities for me that I otherwise would have overlooked.
So hone in your craft, learn everything you can about design, and become the best you can be. But make sure to try new things along the way so you don’t miss out on some awesome opportunities. Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean that you can’t be anything else.