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I was lucky enough to spend some time recently with a friend who
plays in a band, a pretty brilliant and successful one. Like all
the greats, they make amazing work look easy. After the show, we
started to talk about process: song making and making design.
We both shared stories about how hard it is to make good work,
and how nearly impossible it is to make great work. And how
terrifying it can be to share that work with the world. It gave me
comfort to hear that I wasn't the only one who really needed to get
a lot of bad work out of my system before getting to anything good.
My friend talked about the 20 songs that need to be written to get
to the one that makes the album. I talked about the hundreds of
sketches and work sessions that lead to the final piece.
It reminded me that in all worthwhile endeavors—creative ones,
especially—you need to grind it out. And you need to be scared to
death that the work won't be good enough, isn't better than
anything you've done before. I find that it helps to set the bar
high. And yes, at times that leads to some anxiety, but it's all
worth it when you create something that makes you proud.
Sadly though, in the world that we find ourselves in today, hard
work isn't enough. As a matter of fact, beautiful, award-winning
design skills aren't even enough—they are the cost of entry.
For a young designer to succeed years from now, you had better
have some serious design chops—so start working hard. But in
addition to this, you'd better understand how to deploy those
design skills in a way that helps solve the business problems for
your clients. So you've got to understand business, as well as how
to tell that client's story across a wide variety of media. Print
may not be dead, but the tools that we have to tell stories these
days are dramatically different from those of even just a few years
ago. In other words, there are plenty of designers out in the world
who know how to make a nice poster, but the select few who are
going to thrive in the months and years to come are going to be the
ones who can tell a complex story across a range of media in a
simple, clear and elegant way. So learn from the great
storytellers—watch tons of films and read lots of books. And while
you're at it, read the business section every day and start to pay
attention to the analytical studies that your strategic planners
keep talking about. It will pay off.
And of course—keep working your ass off at the job of
making great work.
This essay originally appeared in the 2010AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design
Benjamin Dauer is a senior product designer at National Public Radio in
Washington, D.C. and was recently the lead product designer at
Berlin, Germany. AIGA Baltimore took a field trip to interview
Benjamin about designing in-house for NPR.
Section: Tools and Resources -
INitiative, information design, experience design, in-house design
Based on recent analysis of the U.S. Census conducted by the NEA, designers make up the largest segment of the
creative community in the United States.
Section: About AIGA -
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