Have you ever met someone who was so outrageously skilled in their chosen field that you felt they must have been born with their talent? I absolutely have. Some people just seem to have a knack for painting, cooking, re-envisioning a space & making it come alive. It comes to them with what seems like minimal effort. But is this truly something they are born with?
A certain level of artistic or creative talent can be attributed to genetics. However, to become a master of any craft requires knowledge & practice.
While a natural talent certainly helps, a passion for design & a willingness to learn & put in the work is more important. For people who have the fire for this work but feel like they just cannot quite grasp it, there are things you can do to improve your eye & your confidence, which will make you a better designer.
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Build Your Talent: Find Your Personal Design Style.
Whether they realize it or not, everyone has a style & uses it in their life daily. For example, you decorate your home, your desk, even the rearview mirror in your car. You design your look through the way you wear your hair & your clothing. You may not be designing your clothing, but you are choosing what to wear to cultivate a specific aesthetic that suits you.
When you start to pay attention to the things you choose, you will begin to see patterns emerge:
- Colours that you favour
- Patterns (floral, chevron, or damask)
- Do you choose ornate items or sleek & simple?
Knowing your personal style will help you be more intentional in choosing things for yourself, & it will also make it easier to identify other people’s styles. Being able to understand clients’ style is crucial because sometimes they do not understand it themselves. People will give you a list of seemingly random things they like or dislike & it is your job to take that input & build something they will love.
Cultivate Your Niche.
Having a solid idea of your own style will also help you to find & develop a niche. One of the best ways to grow your brand is to have a specific skill or style that you excel at. Are you the person whose name comes up when someone needs a bold new design for their dining room? Or when their webpage needs to be made more modern & streamlined? Know your niche & own it.
However, you should also take care not to pigeonhole yourself into one style. Be willing & able to take on projects that are outside of your comfort zone. You will not grow as a designer if you only take the easy road.
Build Yourself a Design Community.
Even the most ingenious designer draws a blank sometimes. So it is essential to have people you can turn to bounce ideas off of or ask for feedback in these moments. Pull people from all aspects of your life who you can turn to when you want to pull your hair out.
- Friends, even if they are not designers themselves, everyone has that one friend with impeccable style.
- Colleagues, seek out people in your field whose work you admire & build a working friendship with them.
- Online communities are a great way to interact with & share ideas with other designers who you would never have the chance to meet without these forums.
Sometimes ideas or inspiration can come from the most random places & you are doing yourself & your clients a disservice if you are unwilling to look for them outside the confines of your own head.
Read, & Read, & Read Some More.
It does not matter which branch you work in; the design field is in a constant state of flux. Paint colours, hemlines & page templates are moving in & out of style all the time. A huge part of being a good designer is knowing what is on its way up & what is on its way out.
Publications, blogs, even podcasts, there are so many ways to consume information these days, there is really no excuse for not being aware of current & upcoming trends.
Current trends are not the only thing you should be reading about. Read about art, architecture, or the history of design. If you work in a web-related field, there is an astounding amount of information out there about website & graphic design.
Read up on other fields of design. Trends tend to cross domains. For example, you will notice the same colour is used to paint walls & the background for web pages. Or the same style of art is being used as wall decor & on t-shirts. In short, you can never have too much knowledge about design as a whole.
Build a Private Design Portfolio.
Every designer has a portfolio of their work that they cultivate to attract clients & potential employers, but you should also have one just for you. Fill it with things that appeal to you or that you could see using in your work someday.
- Clippings from magazines
- Colour swatches from the home improvement store
- Samples of fabric
- Pictures of items at a thrift store or flea market
Take these odds & ends & use them to build miniature mood boards. Remember mood boards? We used to cut pictures out of magazines, decorate poster-boards, & hang them around our teenage bedrooms. Who knew that would one day become a professional skill?
Even if you never get to use the entirety of one of these boards in your work, they will come in handy on days where you are struggling for inspiration.
As time goes on, be sure to clear out the things that no longer spark your interest or that you know are no longer relevant. Maintaining a running catalogue of ideas & inspiration will help hone your eye & keep you up to date on your own style as well as things a client might want.
Prioritize Your Designs.
Design is an artistic field, but it also requires an enormous level of organization. You have to be able to organize & prioritize multiple elements all within one project.
- Clients wishes
- Your time
Client communication is absolutely crucial to your career as a designer. Clients are how you make your money & your reputation. You have to be able to understand your clients’ wishes & prioritize them. Some clients will have 83 ideas that they want to be implemented & it is up to you to figure out which of those are the most important & the most realistic.
Which items are a want & which items are a need?
I know, budgeting is such a bummer. Every designer dreams of being handed a project with no monetary limits, where they can let the clients’ dreams & your creativity run wild. But, unfortunately, those projects are like unicorns.
Prioritizing a budget is much like prioritizing clients’ wishes; you have to find out what the most critical items are & build from there. Going over budget can be a huge problem & it is crucial to have good money management skills.
Occasionally you will run across a client who is fantastic & you will feel passionately about their project & find yourself wanting to promise them the moon. Doing so will only end with you both disappointed. It is essential to know your own limits & what you can realistically produce within your deadlines. & then manage your time accordingly.
Are some designers just born with an eye for design? Yes, those people exist. But what is much more common are people who have a passion for design, who have put in hours & years of hard work to become great at what they do.
Do not feel discouraged if a successful design career does not fall into your lap. Dig deep & continue to focus on your craft. Remind yourself that Vera Wang did not design her first dress until she was 40 & there is always space at the table for people who truly want to be there.
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