From Nonchalant to Passionate

Candid picture of me my freshman year — I know "dirty hipster" comes to mind. 

Candid picture of me my freshman year — I know "dirty hipster" comes to mind. 

The year was 2009 when I graduated high school in small town New Jersey; where my supportive parents and art teacher let me take about nine art classes throughout my high school career. I was lost in where I wanted to do — like most other kids they default into something design (because of the job openings and pay) and you always hear that a "friend-of-a-friend's-brother's-friend" was successful in the field of (in my case) Graphic Design. This of course attracted me towards such a major. What pubescent teenage doesn't want to design CD covers, Band posters, T-shirts, ect. It was a life dream of mine to be this big entrepreneur success story before I graduated or during my college career. Sadly this dream came to an abrupt stop when I actually got a glimpse of the actual design world, via art school. 

I was very much a casual designer, thinking I could pass a design off to a professor with Helvetica type and decent knowledge of the Adobe Suite (sorry for name dropping). Sadly, both of those things aren't strong enough weapons to wield when forming a strong portfolio, dealing with clients, and use in class. I was scared shitless when the grades came back in my Intro to Graphic Design course (which I barely passed with a "B" average). I asked my professor "Do you think I should progress in graphic design?" He simply stated "Maybe, you should look into other endeavors." This was a transition point to wear I realized that I had become a nonchalant graphic designer. To me I thought a designer to be a very prestigious title — almost like royalty.   Instead, I was headed down society's stereotype of an "Art School Graphic Designer." Alcoholic, grungy, nonchalant, pretentious,  ect. "graphic designer" (typically wearing the degree they don't have yet as a trendy accessory). I didn't want to be a child lost in the adulthood of design. 

Fast forward to junior year, in a nutshell: I broke my ankle rollerblading and was unsocial for about 8-10 weeks (due to me being in a cast). For those 8-10 weeks, it was me, my laptop and my stolen wifi internet from one of my kind neighbours who forgot to password protect their network. I spent a good amount of time looking at social media, lurking around design blogs, portfolios, websites ect. I can't quite explain it but something had clicked in my head and design made sense. Layout, typography, concept, theory, along with the principles and elements of design. Those were the tools that I needed to wield for the future. I was falling in love with design — spending a good 8-12 hours a day dedicated to something design related. My professor had noticed a huge jump in skill set, concept, and overall design within the projects that I have been handing in (it was the same professor I had from Intro to graphic design). To summarize this: a passionate designer is noticeable, thoughtful and galant; where the nonchalant seems to fall into the cracks of the cliché, typical graphic design lifestyle (in my opinion). 

Here are some tips that I have to help you become that passionate designer:
These are tough to keep up with but if you're ambitious enough to stick with it, you will hopefully see a growth. These are just things I've realized I was doing that helped me progress as a designer.  

  • Always Ask Why: "I like that design"... now ask yourself why; ask yourself the same question if you dislike a design. What's even better is seeing how that particular design is successful and seeing how it's not and asking yourself "Why." Anyone can state that they like/ dislike something, but it takes a designer to state why it doesn't work and how it could be successful. 
  • Time Management: Time is always against you. Time management is a huge key of design. Constant deadlines must be met. I typically try to finish before the deadline so I can have extra time for critiques. Post-it notes, planners, iCal have all been very much helpful to schedule out my life or give a rough idea to where I need to allot my time. 
  • Don't be Afraid to Experiment: "Try to fail," push your designs until they're borderline failure, It's those who give the extra effort that truly become successful. And yes, designers do fail. You need to pick yourself up and jump back into the game with something to make people forget about that mistake.
  • The Critique:Let them give it to you. Also, separate yourself from your design during a critique. If a design isn't working and majority of people feel that way, maybe it's a good time to change. Also if you're critiquing, don't hold back, it's very unfair to the person's progression in becoming the best designer that they can be. It will also take people off of their pedestals and make them into a more level-headed, non-egotistical designer. 
  • Study: Yes study. Designers need to study history of their art, fashion, tech, ect. I typically like to look through fashion and technology blogs. They are usually the precursor to a possible nugget in what's to come in the design world. Really... what's harder than going through blogs, websites, books and news? Study for at least 3-4 hours a day. 
  • Keep a journal / sketchbook: They're so much more mobile than a mobile device. They say something about your personality; they are your personality. My sketchbooks are filled with a conglomerate of sketches from life, wireframes and little grocery lists of what I needed to complete on a given day. It's your sketchbook and it's your process. Who knows? There could be a future gem in there somewhere. Nothing beats the feeling of a pen gliding on piece of paper.  
  • Your environment: It's there and ready to explore. Designers find inspiration in a plethora of unlikely places. Don't limit your perspective to the same four walls that surround you in your study/studio. Inspiration will come to you randomly and when I happens: RUN WITH IT! or save the gem for later for a possible future project. 
  • Collaborate: Everyone needs that friend to tell them, they're fucking up. Surround yourself with some goal oriented designers of multidisciplines. Everyone's background is different (especially if you go to an art school), so take advantage of that. They're backgrounds can generate new ideas. Some of my best ideas came from small conversations with people who are within a different academic major than I am. They will help you dig deeper than the surface —which is where the concept and theory can exist.  
  • Copy: CMMD+C+LEARN. One can learn a lot if they copy some of their favourite pieces of works in design (think of it like a master copy of a masterpiece painting). You learn their process and give you a hands on experience on how they designed that specific piece. It's also great practice to learn the software and will expand your mind on the possible history. Do not put into your portfolio unless it looks almost nothing like the original; add that special twist to call it your own.
  • Don't forget you: Especially your inner child. Embrace your inner child. Children are pure and are unaware of the risks. Our dreams were always big enough to take those chances, so it's time to run with what our gut feeling has.  

I hope that all these tips could help you become a more passionate designer, or for those passionate designers, I hope it will help build upon your great work ethic.

Noah Conk