It is a strange fault of mine that I am obsessed with the acquisition of knowledge. I browse articles, attend lectures, scan twitter feeds, read books, watch interviews, and jump in beyond small talk in real-life conversations. I want to know things, dammit. Amid the numbers, the facts, the tutorials, top ten lists, and the war stories, a fair bit of advice gets tucked in there.
If you’re like me, you have a constant stream of internet yammering flowing through brain, and given enough time you will hear a lot of advice that not only differs from what you just read five minutes earlier, but in many cases apposes it entirely. Where someone gives you advice, you can just as easily find anti-advice. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that some questions don’t have answers. There is no silver bullet, x doesn’t mark the spot.
I recently replied to a hugely generic post about how young designers should go about finding their first design job. Some tips are ever-green, but broad advice like “keep learning” really has nothing to do with graphic design or with finding a first job — it’s rather general, don’t you think? The trouble is, there’s nothing full-proof, no single set of action items that will yield an awesome job. What’s worse is that the tips from indsustry pros vary just as widely those from the job-hunters. One day a hiring manager will say “do something bold, impress me” and his partner will say “show you can fall in line, show you’re mature and disciplined.”
Most of us in the design business work toward a point where we don’t have to continue active marketing efforts. We roll our eyes and thought of sending out email blasts and holiday cards, buying ad words and sponsoring events. So how do we keep the projects coming in without having to keep up the marketing side? Answering the age-old question ‘Where do Clients Come From?’ yields many answers. Some swear by local meetups while others have brought in global business through their Twitter connections. Others will put the effort in to being featured in books and magazines, hoping to raise their profile. There is no ‘correct’ way to market one self, and some will even go the other route entirely, and say don’t do anything and redirect all efforts toward the projects at hand.
Giving yourself a title
Here’s another conundrum: what do you call yourself? In many cases, the catch-all term ‘designer’ will suffice, but what if you don’t exactly fit into a well-established category? Or worse, what if your practice doesn’t have an accepted set of job titles. For example, what are people in branding called? Branders? There’s loads of ridiculous titles to choose from, and lately I run into a lot of folks who call themselves Rock Stars or Oracles in whatever field. Maybe you shouldn’t have a title at all, and just make sure people know what you do, rather than what the person who does it is called. Just be sure to avoid anything that sounds like “Life explorer, multimedia storyteller, experience architect” or anything that could be a euphemism for “unemployable stoner.”
Laying out a Portfolio
Everyone has an online presence these days, but there is little consensus as to what is the best way to display work online. I’ve heard arguments for and against slideshow-style portfolios. Do we build a site with clicking in mind, or scrolling? Should it be Flash to wow potential clients, or dumb old HTML so it works on mobile phones and slow computers? How about presenting large images at the risk of having them stolen, or do we go with thumbnails and force everyone to squint? Amazing how many choices abound once we start thinking about it.
This one is funny because most of the people talking about “personal branding” are full of crap. But if you distill all that snake oil, you find that creating a viable graphic identity — what most would consider the tools of branding — is thoroughly important. A strong personal brand is kinda like having a lot like money, it’s usually well-earned, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to hear about it. It’s just rude.
I’m surely in no position to give advice. My career is a chronicle of the day-by-day, a clumsy improv played upon whatever stage will host me for an hour or an evening. But if you, like me, are constantly seeking the advice of a Guru, just make sure he didn’t give himself that title.
This article also appears on The Next Big Design, the blog of the FUSE Conference discussing design, branding, and business.