Loving my Bristol home right now! There are so many great people around and about in our design community here, and getting out amongst them is throwing up such brilliant encouragement at the moment.
Last night in an upstairs bar somewhere in Bristol, a bunch of designer-types old and new got together and under twinkly, dimmed lights with drinks in hand, we heard from 10 local design heroes, 10 things they’d each learnt along the way that had seen them through thick and thin. We were there to celebrate West of England Design Forum’s 10th Birthday – WEDF pours such a lot of good stuff out into our creative midst, so I headed out to join the party and listen to some thoughtful gems. It was just lovely.
Each person who stood up spoke wisdom, confessed to messing up quite a lot, they made us laugh, they rapped, and showed us scans of their unborn children, and amidst all this vulnerability they did what really good designers do and gave us some proper gorgeous things to focus on. Many of these ideas resonated, so in the clear air this morning I sifted out my favourites, that I can say are also true for me too. (Please forgive my lack of credits, hopefully I can add these in due course. See note at the end.)
Here goes – my top ten of the ten top tens:
- Keep perspective.
‘No one died because of bad kerning/weird typeface’ etc.
It’s true. In my BBC years, I once had a Natural History director storm out of an edit suite because he didn’t like the shade of blue I’d chosen for arrows on a map of ocean currents, and having nearly missed my granny’s funeral to get it done in time for transmission, there wasn’t time to remake it. As he flounced out and slammed the door, I was left standing in front of the Series Producer, biting my lip very hard trying to not cry. Oh dear! Probably one of my earliest lessons in how and why not to be a massive control freak.
- Humility can be helpful.
See point 1, and remember that while it’s hugely important to fight for your ideas, being able to listen and learn is just as important. I’m not sure a need to be right opens up anything new.
Curiosity, centre stage please!
- Speculate; have fun making personal work.
Just go ahead and make that piece of work, just because you love the story and believe in the cause. You’ll learn something about yourself, and you may also just make that new connection you’ve dreamed about. My film ‘Tree Wisdom’ was a (sort of) case in point. It was a commission, but a totally open brief, and it’s proved so helpful in starting up new conversations.
Chase an idea – you never know what adventure it’ll take you on.
- Be devoted.
Get really good at your thing by doing it with such love, and give all the great ideas in you their best chance of life. I love looking at, or holding in my hands, the work of brilliant craftspeople, who spend years refining their skills.
One from the aesthetic brigade – I really do believe that if you want us to think carefully about something, then make us want to look at it. Make it exquisite.
- Don’t forget the importance of your back yard.
I really liked this way of describing the thing we all know but struggle to manage. Your ‘front yard’ is the polished, online space where your best work is featured – the well-presented 10% that gives everyone a passing impression. But it’s the much bigger back yard where the real stuff happens, the many more hours of play and discovery that really shape you. Don’t underestimate this space. Enjoy it, and celebrate that too!
I went to a talk by Lisa Congdon a while ago, and asked her about sharing work online and vulnerability – she’s so prolific, and puts so much out there direct from a sketchbook, hard to believe she leaves anything out and imagine how much courage that takes. She doesn’t put everything out there, but the point is that this particular ‘back yard’ sees so much devoted action, what comes out of it is all the more beautifully, attractively real for it.
- Keep skills fresh by learning on every job.
Challenge yourself to acquire new technical skills with each project you do. It’s to budget and deadline, so you have the (helpful) pressure of it needing to be just right! I do this on all my animation projects, and I’ll never keep up with the best of After Effects nerds, but I remember point no.4 and try my best, and feel excited by new things.
- Don’t worry about being crap at technical skills.
Even if you were ‘around at the birth of Illustrator’ (or even—ahem—Pagemaker, on one of these anyone? Please say yes…) technical skills aren’t the be-all and end-all. You can learn these in time, but ideas are your true gold, and must come first.
Good drawing skill with a pencil is the best companion you can give to your ideas, at least to begin with.
- Follow your gut instinct.
It’s your business, and whatever advice you receive, you do know, deep down, what you want. Resigning from that previously-mentioned BBC job was a huge leap of instinctive faith, and few people really understood why I did it. Made no sense to anyone. But I’m still here, my smile is much bigger these days, and the quality of my work is so much better too.
- Seek counsel and advice from the older, wiser design owls.
Those who have been there and done it have a lot of gold to share.
- If it gives you wings, even if you’re ‘an 11 year old white kid from Leicester’, it’s okay to rap like a lovely, obsessed geek. Honestly, this guy sums just about everything on this list list right up. Such a sweetie.
Not complicated, but real, and honest, and I’m very grateful to be amongst these lovely people trying to figure out how to keep things moving with bucketloads of style.
Big thanks to all you wonderful speakers, and hopefully WEDF will share a list of who you are again because, I’ll be honest, I’d had some wine and my brain wasn’t taking detailed notes. Here’s to the next 10 years!