Designers and ‘creatives’, I’ve got some mid-week info for you to chew on and spit out as a refreshed perspective on doing your best work. Having travelled to Munich for Forward Festival last week, I’ve gathered key learnings that were dished out by the creative industry’s crème de la crème.
Open-source architecture, David Guetta music videos, and making Louis Vuitton cool again — this is a taste of what Forward Fest’s speakers have created. What they shared with we in the audience, is how they come up with such goods. For a few express lessons on how you can approach your design work with the same creative rigour and originality, just read on.
How To: Leverage a personal project to get the work and clients you want
Vasjen Katro’s talk about his project Baugasm (Bauhaus + orgasm) delivered some ever-welcome advice on making a personal project actually happen.
You really, really, really have to share your personal project with the world right from the beginning. Whether your weapon of choice is Instagram, YouTube, Behance, Medium (the list is endless), the internet is handy for this. It seems that many creatives will concede, the only real way to overcome the desire for your work to be ‘perfect’ prior to the big unveil, is to deliver constantly to a following who counts on you to keep delivering. This is why promises like Baugasm’s ‘a poster per day for a year’ has worked. Starting with an interest in music artwork, Katro created an Instagram account to throw his daily poster designs onto. The challenge of consistently creating something every single day seems to resonate a lot with audiences, as he has 133K followers.
Some helpful reminders from Katro, if you’re mulling on that personal project:
• If you think that you don’t have time for a personal project, you are wrong. Just don’t go out with your friends (gasp!). Spend those two hours on your project and maybe you’ll begin to see a following and an expectant audience. This is also known as better time management. On this, he says he wakes up at 9 or 10 in the morning and then freelances. Sometimes he doesn’t start on his personal project until late at night and often just puts it on the net prior to it feeling ready, because he would like to sleep. And this part of putting it out there is the final, most IMPORTANT part.
• There is no finish line so you have to draw it. See above point — a daily deadline is one way to do this, but if that doesn’t work for your project perhaps there’s another metric for you, like a weekly deadline or a number of followers.
• You WILL get better with time. To illustrate, Katro referred to some of the pretty average posters he began with, saying he would spend 10 minutes or so and work with a medium he was comfortable with. This inevitably got boring for him, and the repetitive process of putting a new poster out everyday drove him to experiment with the software, discover new capabilities, and reach new levels of distinction in his output. Had he not committed himself to the reiterative obligation of a poster per day, I’m sure he would not have discovered these new capabilities and better work. The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is unwavering true!
• Consistency is key. This means work on your project every. single. day. Do you think Katro let a few days in hospital stop him? Nope, he asked his girlfriend to bring his laptop to his bedside, and he worked through those broken bones.
• If things are going well, people will copy your work — you must get over this, and recall that it’s just a sign that your project is in fact succeeding at making an impact. There are now 8700+ posts on Instagram hash-tagged ‘baugasm’. Katro himself didn’t acknowledge this, but this fact means he’s actually coined a style — what more could you want? (other than income).
• Engage with other creatives. Collaborating can result in some of the best friendships. Digital work means difficult human connection, which I’m sure a lot of us are familiar with. Kill two birds with one stone by reaching out to peers whose work you like. Create something together and acquire a new buddy too!
The beauty of a personal project is that it showcases a talent that is purely yours, because it hasn’t been asked for by a client. It demonstrates an aspect of your aesthetic abilities, but it also demonstrates initiative and commitment, things that high-profile clients prioritise in their search for creative talent. As Baugasm has picked up momentum, Katro has been approached by Adobe, Coca-Cola, and MAC Cosmetics for projects where his established aesthetic are what they want. This is a great example of getting paid to do the work you want to do, and I think it can be said that it wouldn’t have happened without Katro’s commitment to his personal project.
How To: Apply the art of storytelling to any medium
Matt McCue, editor-in-chief of Adobe 99U magazine, shared some gems that cast the subject of storytelling in an easy-to-remember light. Even if your skillset is not in the area of writing, this is still relevant to you! If you are a communicator of any kind, the fact remains: good stories are good business.
Why are stories good business?
Because stories allow you to promote yourself (or your client/the brand/whatever) without looking like a self-promoter. Put simply as a golden rule, you can’t talk about yourself without adding some value to the listener. Holy moly, if there is one thing I’m going to memorise, it’s this. It doesn’t matter if you are writing content, designing brands, or creating music videos: nobody in the audience cares, unless you’re offering them something they want or need.
McCue says this is how you win over a fan for the long run, and hold their attention rather than grab it; engage them to continue tuning in for your fabulous advice and other forms of guidance:
“Teach your audience something that can benefit them. Storytelling is often talking about yourself, but you have to go beyond yourself. I’m trading my insights for your time and attention.”
The long-time editor and storyteller provided a total of five key steps to telling an effective story, but I’ll only share one more of his key points, because I think this one is broadly applicable to creative professionals, whatever medium they work in:
“On style: make it feel like the work you do could only come from one place and that place is you. This is the one thing a robot cannot overtake. This will often be your unique world view — make this the essence of your work and never let it discontinue being in your work. What do you see that others miss? Share that in your own voice.”
How To: Probe effectively to design impactfully
At the heart of good output, is the right questions. In order to create products, brands, images, spaces, and meaning in general that impacts people positively, you want to raise the important questions from the beginning.
McCue’s advice on style is perfect for the later stages of how to execute your work, but what about the early stages of the conceptualisation; what about the why you follow through on an initial idea?
Various speakers touched on this, and it’s about being a rigorous question-asker. Paulina from creative firm Space10 shared their approach to prototyping sustainable solutions surrounding accelerated urbanisation and the decline in healthy lifestyles this presents to mankind. The firm is doing some interesting investigation into shared living and local food, amongst other things.
Something I learned here is that spirulina is higher in protein than meat and unbelievably easy to grow in abundance in urban locations. This makes it a highly sustainable food source, as well as being categorised as a ‘super food’ (whatever that means). Space10 experimented with replacing IKEA’s infamous hot dog with a more sustainable Spirulina Dog (see scrumptious pic below), because they had asked ‘What’s wrong with the cheap snack IKEA sells to hungry shoppers?’, and found the answer to be its unsustainably meaty wiener.
To decide what problems to solve with design, Space10 asks:
• What will happen when almost everyone and everything on the planet is digitally connected? (This prompts them to ensure that they design digital interfaces in a way that is healthy for humans to use)
• What will it mean when artificial intelligence can sense and learn from the world around us?
• We made this, but what’s the point of it? (This is good for avoiding energy spent on gratuitous, novel designs and instead invest in designs that meaningfully improve life for people)
Space10 doesn’t just ask ‘how might we’, but also asks ‘at what cost?’. This leads to increasing the standard of living for everybody in a democratic, egalitarian way.
“The longer we work on our plans in a vacuum, the more likely we are to fail” is the belief of the thinkers at Space10. Their approach is not only sustainably-minded but socially inclusive, and the firm gets their prototypes into contact with potential consumers as soon as possible. Space10’s open-source architecture project is a fascinating example of this, where they have made the plans for a sustainable ‘Tiny House’ freely accessible to those who want to build it, and potentially improve on its design.
“There’s no reason why you have to be a creative or tech person to have a say in tech.”
In attempt to quash the dynamics attached to a rising digital elite, Space10 hosts regular, free lectures in plain language (no digital buzz words barring anyone from the conversation) around the topics of accelerating urbanisation, demographic shifts, lack of natural resources, and technological breakthroughs. I think when all professionals involved in designing the future take this kind of attitude, the outcomes will have a lot of traction and widespread positive impact.
A quick refresher with points reinforced by multiple speakers:
• Start by asking – what are the human values, what do the people desire from a product or service? Rather than ‘what tech can we use?’
• Always do creative things for yourself (i.e. a personal project), to keep your creativity ‘loose’.
• Show your work to your friends and collaborate as much as possible because it will lead to others doing stuff with your work and sharing it further with the world.
• Fail early and often – there is nothing more limiting than trying to produce perfect work all the time so get failure out of the way early.
• For this, ‘quick and dirty’ exercises that don’t matter are important to do daily.
• To distinguish yourself, always give clients more than what they asked for, e.g. five logos instead of two.
• Talking payment: discuss this in terms of ‘the budget’ for a project, as opposed to what a client is going to pay you. Starting out strong with the question ‘what’s your budget?’ places you as a professional who values your own time. It also removes the idea that your work is valued at a static amount regardless of the scope of the project.
• In listening to Jette Hopp describing Snøhetta’s projects and methods, it’s clear that the firm has established and possesses a beautiful understanding of natural environments and how to build structures that work in harmony with it. Something evident in the better talks over the two days, is that design specifically needs to prioritise a harmonious relationship with our natural environment from this era onward in order to bear the status of ‘good design’.
There’s one more opportunity to take part in Forward Festival during 2018 — otherwise, you’ll have to wait until 2019 for some of that self-affirming, creativity-inspiring advice from fellow dreamer-doers. If your ego can take a little shocking by the amazingness of what some people are doing, go to Forward Fest Hamburg. I got some epic freebies, and that fuzzy feeling you get when you see that there are people out there succeeding in areas you would like to succeed in — it’s not impossible.
Info on program and tickets
All photos used by permission, all except green hotdog copyright @jmvotography