Inspiration and Evolution

An article by David Brooks on July 16, 2009

 

Things evolve, it’s just a fact. Look at the span of someone’s career in design as an example. When you begin designing things your work is probably pretty bland or boring, unless you were born an exceptional designer. I’m not exceptional, nor am I what I would consider top-crust in the design world.

But I have evolved from the things that I designed before now. (I hope they’re seen as evolution and not steps backwards…) I owe that progress to a few different things:

Conversation

Talking with other people about my work, and design in general, has forced me to push myself farther. I’m not saying that we should find the people who are willing to say “that’s nice, I like it, never change anything about it.”

The people I want to talk with are those who say “you know, it’s not working for me and here’s why…” I’m not usually interested in the subjective levels of it, because red versus blue versus beige isn’t what design is about. It’s really about solving problems and getting people to interact in some way.

If I’m not making you think about or interact with my stuff I’m not hitting the mark that I want. Solving the issue of beauty is one aspect of it, however, and if I create something that is just ugly I do want people to tell me that they think it is. If we disagree, well, that’s another conversation.

Writing

I write articles not because I think anyone actually wants to read my ramblings but because it helps me become better. (I do write things to be read by other people who may be looking for inspiration or a solution to a problem, don’t get me wrong about that.) But there are plenty of other people out there who write about the same things, many of them are better at it than I am.

Forcing myself to write is like teaching. Instructing someone on how to do something requires a more in-depth understanding on the part of the teacher. To be a good teacher you can’t just make things up as you go. By learning something and teaching it I provide myself with the foundation to move to the next level.

When I started writing about web design and development I knew very little about it. I evolved by talking about what I did know, or what I was learning.

Giving People the Answers

Secrecy isn’t going to put me at the front of the industry, in fact it will probably pull me back from it. I’m not saying you have to give everything away, but I think there’s a right way to do that.

Design is like music. When you hear a song you can go back to your piano, guitar, flute, whatever and try to play it for yourself. There isn’t much the musician can do to keep you from reproducing that song on your own. You’re only limited by your own talent and perseverance. The person who goes out and tries to learn your song advances because they took the time and effort to push him or herself. And then the best of musicians can take any song, put their own spin on it and make it their own.

I would venture to say that by keeping a secretive mindset, and not really talking about what you do, you’re actually hurting yourself. You’ll spend more time trying to keep people from replicating your work than from just trying to push yourself to do the next “big thing.” With that, it’s easy to fade into the background and lose touch as those other people move forward. (It’s not about being the best, I’m just saying…)

Reading and Doing

It’s also harder to do anything in a vacuum. By reading and listening to what others are doing it gives us a really good vantage point to refine our own skills. I’m not as good of a designer as the people I look up to, and I may never be. But I read everything they say and consider what they’re getting at.

If I take their “make everything orange” suggestions, that’s not really helpful to me. But if I read their articles on “here’s how I did this, you might find it interesting” or “this is the process I used to develop this work” it helps me get inspired and advance.

Inspiration results in the desire to evolve, taking that step and following through makes it happen. It may not seem like it at the time, but I know from personal experience that it’s easy to see the influence of our mentors and role models after the work is finished.

But that’s just me, and my thoughts. What has helped you evolve in your work?

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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