Being adaptable as a designer is an essential skill. That’s not to say as designers we don’t have a natural inclination towards certain styles, techniques and methods. There are styles we can employ in our sleep and processes that come naturally. We spend hours honing our craft, upping our skills, perfecting our technique. Yet, favoring any one of these comforts over another may hinder your ability to work with different types of clients.
When presented with a new task (especially one that may not be that exciting) identify a small goal at the start. In other words, look for the challenge in every task. It could be as simple as learning something new to add to your design arsenal. For instance, research a new style or technique and take your time to execute it well. Given the project, your goal may need to be broken down into smaller pieces or it could be fairly straightforward from the start. Below are 3 pieces of advice I can give you that will help you play to your strengths as a designer:
Basically: get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is probably one of the most difficult in practice. It means that you’re going to be pushed, stretched and stuck creating stuff that isn’t easy. It's uncharted territory. This doesn't even mean you have to like it. Growth will happen even if a small part of you is receptive to the process. Try not to be put off by laundry lists of client requirements. I've found that limitations can actually give you more control over the creative process (even if it doesn't feel like it). Use the requirements and parameters as metaphorical guardrails to guide the best possible outcome. Test the waters and depending on the reception, scale back or blaze a new path. Lean into the discomfort, accept the unfamiliarity and just get weird.
I make a point to keep learning and moving forward, whether it's new processes, trending style or lessons from more experienced designers. I’ll even create spec projects for myself on my free time to further my abilities and knowledge. Often side R&D will help inform my current work and vice versa. You don't necessarily have to attend an expensive conference to pick up new skills either. A simple way to stay fresh without having to look far is learning from past projects. Apply new techniques to old ideas. Take another crack at a design or project to see how you'd do things today. What's different about your process? Your technique? This will help train you to be more critical of your work, track growth, and prevent you from falling into a rut.
This ties in with #1, but it's worth periodically reminding yourself. Feedback, scope changes, timeline adjustments, all contribute to the ever-evolving nature of a project. It's impossible to predict the outcome. Acknowledge that you can't read your client's mind. How do you manage in the face of all this uncertainty? Be firm and steadfast in your technique and ability but fluid when it comes to the final deliverable. Similar to basketball, keep one foot firmly planted (your skillz) and pivot as needed (the original plan). The point is to stand your ground, but be not so rigid that you'll be easily knocked over by your opponent.
Playing to your strengths is part perseverance and part knowing how and when to manage your expectations. It's being able to identify opportunities for self growth in less than ideal situations and actually acting on them — at least we happen to think so.
What's been your experience? Drop a line below and let us know how you play to your strengths.