Sunday, July 4, 2010

First year students and my own bad design work

Along with my lovely wife, I gave a presentation about working as a graphic designer to a lecture hall full of beginning design students.

The instructor wanted us to give a small kick in the pants to these guys and let them know how freaking cool it is to be a designer.

Well, shoot, that's easy. Right?

So as the presentation began, we spoke about our early years in design school: commuting, working full time, and completely broke. BROKE.

Many students related to that. Score.

We told them about how their passion for design will reflect in their work. We told them how to make the most of their time while learning design principles in school.We told them that school assignments aren't like pain in the ass math story problems, but rather a journey for their creativity, and school is the one place where they will be able to shine and build that gorgeous portfolio to entice future employers.

Sounds great, eh?

Oh, it wasn't all pie-in-the-sky talk about passion and creativity. We also warned them about dangerous office politics and how to avoid the dreaded Weaselsnake-worm, but we only touched on that. Most of the presentation centered on how it completely rocks to be a graphic designer. Infinity.

Now while this might have been a pleasant eye-opening experience for the students, I had a bit of an awakening myself.

It happened while talking through some of my design work. I brought with me mostly print pieces - ads, campaign posters, newsletters and the like.

As each slide clicked by, I had a great time explaining process, grid and concept. Then it happened.

One of my favorite pieces popped up on the giant screen. I looked up at the oversized ad, ready to dive into the what's and the why's of the piece, and all that came out of me was, "Uh..."

As I gazed up, it was like I saw the piece for the first time. I designed it a couple years ago and it always stuck in my mind as a very cool design piece. However, now it was up on the big screen and after a few seconds I thought, "What a colossal hunk of crap!"

After thinking that and realizing that the students were all looking at the same image I was looking at, I had to say something a bit some substantial than "uh".

"Okay, I don't like this piece," I said, as if I had thought that all along. I went on to explain why I added a bad design to the slides. I explained to the students what I was originally thinking when working on the design and why it really doesn't work (zero eye flow, hits you over the head, a "try too hard" look to the design, etc.).

This actually gave me a bit of cred. An designer who could keep his ego in check long enough to speak about his own design mistakes! Yes, I exist, although by accident. I really thought it was a good piece at first.

So after speaking about the mistakes I made, a student raised her hand and asked, "If you designed that today, what would you have done differently?"


I JUST found out that I hated it. Now I had to quickly deconstruct the design and see about how to do it right.

Thankfully, I was able to explain on the fly by reversing what I said about the design's major flaws (pay attention to eye flow, be more subtle, don't over-think, etc.).

I was a little more specific than it sounds, and in the end, my explanation worked.

After a rather successful presentation, i went home to think about how I need to go back over some of my past designs to look and learn from previously unnoticed mistakes.

Putting past work under a magnifying glass might be a great idea. Not only can it help a designer see what he or she may need to clean up in their portfolio, but it can be a nice affirmation of one's growth in the profession.

If we can keep our egos in check long enough. ;)


Lynn Brown said...

This is a good article that only proves that whatever you do, design work, freelance writing or even starting an online business - we will all make mistakes that we may not see as a piece of 'treasure' later. I am happy to make the mistakes because I have only to learn and grow from them. No matter how many years experience or expertise. And your article did just that for you - wishing you much success always!

Lynn Brown
Online Business Professional

Chicken Awesome said...

I agree, Lynn.

Designers definitely need to learn from their mistakes to help them grow.

If a designer wants to continually trim down his or her talent, all they need to do is be 100% satisfied with everything they create.

Thanks for the well wishes!