#TBT – A Decade of Figuring it Out
It was April, 2004. Four amazing years were coming to a close and I was walking across a stage in front of my peers and family. In that moment I was "done" – I had just completed the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I had earned my college degree. But this end also marked a new beginning, and the next leg of my journey would prove to be even more thrilling. The decade that followed has led me through my start in the design field: some entry-level jobs, some longer stints at an agency and a large church, and eventually the opening of my own business; not to mention lifelong friendships, a beautiful woman I now call my wife, and the birth of my two children. A lot can happen in ten years! But let's go back just briefly to that sunny day in April and the young man, now equipped with degree in hand and a willingness to go out and make something of himself. Just a month before, I and several other soon-to-be art grads held our senior show… the culmination of our best work during our college tenure. To look at it now, it's student work at best, but in that moment we were all so proud. We had accomplished great feats of creative passion, and it was time to show it off to the world (or at least our fellow students, friends and relatives).
I share this work with you now, not in an attempt to impress anyone, but perhaps just to illustrate how far one can come in ten years. Not that it was all bad… some of it was actually pretty unique and interesting. In some ways it showed that I was willing to attempt any style and make it my own, which, I think, is still true of my work today. In other instances, it showed a young artist's ambition and budding talent in its rawest form, unrefined and unpolished.
The last decade has certainly taught me a lot, and not just primarily about the nuts and bolts of graphic design but about life, teamwork, self-worth, and pursing one's dreams. It's a tall order to summarize everything I've learned over the first ten years of my professional career (and I'm not even going to attempt to list it all), but I've compiled a few thoughts that have either stuck with me over the years or influenced me more recently. Here's some of what guides me each day in 2014…
Whether you make it or break it often depends on the last 10% of effort you put into something. In many cases those are the finishing touches or details that most people will overlook or disregard because of the time and effort involved.
Function over aesthetics: It may be the most eye-catching design ever, but if it doesn't do the job of connecting to its intended audience and compelling them to take some form of action, it's really just visual noise (and potentially a waste of talent and resources).
A brand is a perception and a reputation, not a clever logo. Every day, you either contribute to or dillute your own personal brand by how you work, how you communicate, and how you treat others. Be consistent and resolve to always do things the right way, even if it's more difficult than the easy way.
Your value as a human being is not determined by the work you produce. Your worth, rather, is spoken by God, and your character can either uphold or deny this truth, but nothing can nullify it. The work you create can certainly bring glory to God, but what you (or others) may judge to be successful or a failure does not have any bearing on how your life is measured.
Similarly, your work shouldn't necessarily be thought of as your mission. Some may disagree with me here and that's okay, but what I've learned the hard way over the years is I can get a little over zealous when it comes to what I believe I've been "called to do" – and that can lead to an unwillingness to adapt or heed valuable advice. Whether you work for a church or an organization that carries out "Kingdom work," such work is truly valuable but it is still work. It provides a paycheck and when money is tied to mission, motivations can be easily tainted. The key here, I think, is to hold all such work loosely with open, palms-up hands. God will use the work you create how He pleases, or He may have you abruptly change course, so don't be so tied to what you perceive as your calling to notice.
People first, stuff second. Value the people you trust to do the things you can't do (or don't have time to do) yourself, and make sure they know you value them. This should go without saying, but so many times the busyness of the day and the stress of deadlines can prevent us from speaking kindly or showing appreciation. A lot of times, it's the little things that can go a long way in building key relationships that last.
Finally, keep it simple. We humans tend to overcomplicate things and convolute the point of what we're trying to accomplish by adding too much to it. In marketing, the simplest message usually sticks out most in consumer's minds. In design, an uncluttered layout is easily the most attractive and clearest to read and understand. In life, we should seek to live simply and allow the beauty of that to shine forth in an often-cluttered and ugly world.
I wish I could say I follow these principles to a tee, but I often struggle with at least one of them on a daily basis. The goal is that I keep trying. The next ten years will hopefully unveil even more wisdom through experience, trial and error, and when they do, I hope I'm ready to hear it and put it into practice. How about you? What are the principles you've discovered that now guide your day-to-day?