2012 was one of those boundary-pushing, sometimes-out-of-my-comfort-zone-but-ultimately-dynamo growth years. On both personal and professional fronts I stretched and stretched and sometimes just flat out fell down. My mountain biking improved. I starting making art again. I gained a new sense of peace with the adoption process. New, amazingly talented people entered my world. I came to see greater value in my perspective and gained more confidence in sharing that. I've found it a rather cathartic process to document what I learned last year, particularly when it comes to my business, as I look ahead to what's in store for this next. What follows is a summary of the major ah-has from 2012.
Good design is about relationships
It's not just about white space, visual contrast, sleek lines or snazzy interfaces. What makes design really good for me is observing what people do when they come in contact with it. I find it fascinating to watch the play of emotions across someone's face as they study a painting, browse a site or use a functional art piece. Then what words do they say? How does their body move? An apathetic response is design failure. Resonance, even discordance, is design success. The crux is understanding how someone sees themselves in relation to the design, whether they want to be closer to it (literally and figuratively) or farther away. I was surprised to learn that I enjoy the human process of discovery and interaction with design at least as much as the design itself.
In hindsight, any of our projects that had less than ideal outcomes were a result of us not setting expectations in the beginning or not readjusting those throughout the course of the project. Well, in all cases, we had expectations, and our clients had expectations, but the times when those expectations morphed into assumptions were the times when things got derailed. The kind of expectations I’m talking about go beyond a shared understanding of project goals and budget. More essential to success with our clients and projects are the expectations about what the working relationship is going to be like, what the creative collaborative process will be like, and, most importantly, how will we all feel throughout the course of the project and at its completion? When you consider that as creative professionals, we’re not just creating a website or a publication layout, rather we’re building our clients’ confidence and pride their communication efforts, getting on the same page with emotional expectation is very important. And equally important is making sure to revisit the expectations throughout our work together.
The tip of the iceberg
What has come into clear focus for me this year is that a critical element of our work lies in addressing a client’s internal communication processes and workflows in addition to solving their external marketing and outreach problems. It doesn’t matter how shiny the website or punchy the printed piece, if the client has no viable system for managing their materials, if they keep getting tripped up and distracted from their work by clunky, unusable communication tools, then outreach efforts to their customers will be ineffectual at best and nonexistent at worst. At least as much thought, perhaps even more, now goes into planning and creating sustainable systems and behind-the-scenes administration tools that ensure our clients can easily create and manage their own content. There is a beauty to a highly organized, efficient internal system for communication materials that the end customer might not always see but deeply impacts how our clients interact with them.
Embracing your inner critic
So often people advise you to ignore your inner critic, don’t give them a voice. But I disagree. While I don’t want to ever give her too much power over my inner creative, my inner critic serves to bring attention to those areas of my work and life that I find sub-optimal. My inner critic's whispering (okay, sometimes it feels like shouting) causes me to examine my relationships with people and with myself. This is a good thing. I’m a better artist, a better business owner, a better person if I acknowledge that I hear her instead of ignoring her, and take her commentary as a challenge to push through the confines of my fear to stretch and grow.
The more art I make, the more articulate I become
This year I committed to two stints of making a piece of artwork for 21 minutes of every day for 21 days. Not since graphic design and fine arts classes years ago have I created so much art in such a short period of time. The art itself hasn’t been all that good and that hasn’t been the point, it is the process of creating something for myself that is so beautiful. Making all this art hasn’t made me any better of an artist, but surprisingly it’s made me a better communicator. I find my writing is more effortless and when I’m verbalizing my thoughts, I’m more eloquent. I have always known how important the creative process is for my clients. I’d forgotten just how important it is for me.