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It’s the time of year when many people take stock of their lives and decide to make some changes. Or at least, they try to. And I’m no different. But beyond the usual “get in shape” and “save more/spend less” pledges, I put together five steps that I’m hoping will help me move forward as a designer and as a marketing professional.

 

Challenge my skill set

I’m as guilty as the next designer of falling back on things I know will work. Photoshop gimmicks, type treatments, color combinations, printer tricks; things that’ll wrap up a project faster and with fine results. But looking back at a year or two’s worth of work, you see a lot of things that look similar. Is that a problem? I mean, the client liked it and they got good results, right? Sure, but at what cost? If you want to get better as a designer, it’s important to push yourself. This year, I’m going look for opportunities to add a few new tricks into my repertoire.

 

Finding a Second Solution

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was early in my career. I was really excited about a design I’d just finished and I took it into my boss’s office and dropped it on his desk. I stood there waiting for his exuberant response, “your talents are wasted in the production bullpen! Here, sit at my desk and show me how you do what you do, you genius.” His response was slightly more restrained. “That’s fine, but what’s the other idea?” The other idea? I was lucky to get this one on paper. His point was this: the first idea is the easy one. But it isn’t necessarily the best one. When you hit a stopping point, put that idea down and try going in a different direction. Maybe even the opposite direction. Give yourself a chance to explore other solutions. You won’t always come up with a better idea, but the exercise keeps your mind working and often you’ll hit on ideas that you can use later, even if they don’t work this time. I’m going to try to make that more of a habit this year.

 

Tell more (better) stories

At our core, advertising creatives are storytellers. At least, we are when we’re doing our jobs well. And this doesn’t just apply to the big budget videos and flashy digital productions (we do that, too), but even the simplest rack brochure or flyer deserve a story. This year, I’m going to make time, throughout the creative process, to ask “what’s the story?” and “am I telling it as well as I can?”

Put down the screen. Pick up a hobby.

We’re a culture of screens — smart phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. They’re everywhere and they demand our attention. In the coming year, I’m going to make time to do something beyond consuming media. Something that’ll keep my mind active and maybe improve myself personally, if not professionally. I’m not sure what it’s going to be. A couple of years ago I picked up the guitar, but frustration and distraction sidelined me. Maybe I’ll revisit that. Or maybe I’ll try sketching a little more. My art skills could definitely stand improvement and they’ll never get better without practice. Just don’t expect to see them here on the blog…. we aren’t there yet.

Agency Cross-Training

I’ve spent my entire 20+ year career as a designer, working my way up from my first agency job as a production artist, where my days were spent boarding up the work of older (and more talented) artists for client presentation. Now, I’m an Associate Creative Director, where at least part of my day is spent guiding younger (and more talented) artists in their creative tasks. And by virtue of spending so much time in this business, I have a pretty good grasp of what goes on in the various departments in our shop. But I think that, to be a real asset, it’s important to really understand what’s happening throughout the company, beyond what I learned in school and what I pick up via agency osmosis. And thanks to the generosity of our leadership team, I’m going to dedicate some time this year to getting a “boots-on-the-ground” view of the inner working of some of our agency’s other departments. This will start in the Media department, with a crash course in audience measurement with Nielsen in February, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m going to make a concerted effort to keep the momentum from that and find other opportunities to expand my knowledge base. 

What are you working on this year? We’d love to hear your ideas.

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