As a kid, The Lion King was one of my favorite movies. Actually it is still one of my favorites – I own it on 3 disc Blu Ray…and I have the soundtrack. So many great tunes. One that crossed my mind as I began thinking about this post was Be Prepared. In case you had a deprived childhood and have not seen this animated masterpiece, I won’t give away the story behind the song. Let’s just focus on the title – Be Prepared.
Because working for a media company is like working for a government agency I can’t share what I am specifically working on. As an intern, it also means I have to be prepared for just about any project or task that comes my way. Some things are as simple as resizing an image, other projects involve developing comps for a show from scratch. Whatever the project, I just have to be ready to apply my skills and possibly acquire new ones.
A few posts ago I mentioned I was involved in a project that would be part of Spike history. This past week my involvement got a big boost! Spike, like many networks, brands each of their shows. This week the creative team got a logo design assignment to develop some new concepts for one of them. The project manager included me on the list. I was pumped! I got out my sketchbook, special pens and pencils and started thinking about directions. By the time I put pen to paper to sketch, one of the art directors had already sent in 4 ideas…then another designer sent 4, then 3 more.
I have done some relatively quick turnarounds before but not for in-house projects from scratch. This logo could be on TV, I needed the colors, layout, kerning and all that stuff my professors told me to do to make designs look good! In an effort to keep up, I skipped the pen and paper and jumped on the computer and knocked out a few comps in Illustrator, emailed them to the project manager and waited. I have had a chance to work on comps before but it was more of a creative exercise that would not be seen outside the creative department. This was going to be sent to the “top”.
Despite having to cut my process short I still did my best to deliver a few solid directions. After lunch an email came back with the logos the “top” wanted to see rendered for the final selection. One of mine made the cut! Looking at the selections really gave me an idea of what they like. After the selection process the logos are sent over to the on-air creative team for a 3D makeover that will be presented during a big meeting. I had the chance to watch them transform my Illustrator comp into a rendered work of art – at least that is how I feel about it:-) Seeing my logo rendering along with the others made me feel like a really have what it takes to roll with the big boys and I believe it is because I was prepared and willing to adjust my process to get it done.
As the day progressed, I started to think about the differences in the ways I have approached projects as a student compared to projects as a professional. If this was for school I would have had a multi-week timeline in place to conduct research, find inspiration, sketch, develop then deliver ideas. At Spike – and UNC Charlotte – I usually don’t have that sort of time for every project. The “clients” in the professional world are more interested in the final deliverables, picking one and moving forward. In the education setting, professors want to make sure you have the foundation in theory and design practice. Both sides are important and as designers (or design students) you have to know the best way to manage your time for the sake of budgets and even your grade.
The majority of what I learned about being a designer has come from observation and professional practice. School provided me with a strong foundation in theory and how to pair tools with the right project. I would encourage any student to seek professional experiences that can build resumes and provide opportunities to apply classroom-gained knowledge to real-world projects. How do you do this? I am glad you asked. Here are a few things I did (and still do) to help me prepare for whatever projects come my way, as well as push beyond what I learn in school.
- Network. I’m not saying you should camp out at your dream agency but start small. Social media is a great way to connect, especially for creatives. When you are ready send and email or pick up the phone to reach out. Keep business cards and other self promo pieces handy.
- Attend conferences and workshops. You will leave feeling refreshed and hopefully with a few new buddies and contacts. This is also a great way to stay ahead of trends, know what new tools are emerging and see all your favorite creative minds up close. Some great conferences to check out: Creative South, HOW Design Live, AIGA, Brand New, Weapons of Mass Creation, 99U Conference, and TEDx.
- Online tutorials. There great free and paid subscription sites that offer great tutorials for learning new programs and techniques for to build your skills set. I use: Lynda, Tuts+, Abduzeedo and Adobe the most.
- Creative exercises. These are like brainteasers for creatives. Some of my favorites. Some of my favorites are: Creative Workshop, Creative Grab Bag, and just about anything by Stefan Mumaw. Some activities only take a few minutes and can really improve how fast you think of ideas.
- Self-driven projects. These are great ways to learn something new and experiment with ideas and materials. I am a big fan of Matt Stevens work. His self-driven project centered around his love for Air Max 95 led to a project collaboration with Nike.
- Find a mentor. I have so many people in and outside the creative industry that have shared with me and been a constant resource of support and encouragement. Mentors can be designers, teachers, fellow students, team members or anyone who may be a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
- Be a mentor. As you start to grow, others will take note and may ask for guidance or advice. You don’t have to be the best to be a mentor to someone. Just be willing to share your journey and experiences and occasionally check in on them. Watching someone else grow and advance is a special feeling. It also keeps you on your toes:-)
- Be versatile. While I believe I have found my niche in design, I still like to have and understanding of other areas and applications. If I need to communicate with a web designer, I should understand the basics of what they do in order to deliver what they need to bring a project to life. As a freelancer this also means understanding business and communication.
- Build a creative support system to bounce ideas and critique work. I text, tweet and email my design crew a few times a week to share projects and ideas and the occasional movie quote.
- Break out of the comfort zone. There are areas of design I love and others I have avoided for so long because I have been afraid I would mess up. I love designing logos, but I know if want to keep up with the evolving demands of design I need to venture into other areas. I’m thinking about motion graphics and interactive design…
Forget spoilers. Here’s the song and Scar in all his sinister sassiness (especially at 1:06):