Wait… Don’t Wait

We often hear the phrase, “…good things come to those who wait…”. This is great advice for those who have issues with being impulsive. As designers, for the most part, we don’t have that luxury–We are valued based on our ability to get things done.

I see it way too many times, especially in academia. Design students have a tendency to procrastinate and let a deadline guide their design. There’s no glory in waiting to the last minute to put a presentation together. Although, this seems to be the status quo even in the professional world–our lives would best be served to have project management skills that would create less stress for everyone involved.

Designers, both academic and professional, please consider adding project management as part of your repertoire. In this day and age of increasing speed from concept to production, our tools can only take us so far. Our design skills are what differentiate ourselves from our competition (and there are plenty out there). So, utilizing the right skills and the right tools at the right time is paramount to a designer’s success.

Good things come to people who wait, but better things come to those who go out and get them. Design waits for nobody.

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Courage

Having taught Design for over 11 years, I’ve seen students come and go through the academic design world. A common denominator amongst the students is their underestimation of the complexities of being a designer. Many call themselves a designer because they have access to software and equipment. Others call themselves designers because they’ve taken an art class or they’ve been told they’re talented. Whatever the reasons for being a designer, the discipline of design requires much more than software, hardware, classes, or talent. One of those is Courage.

Courage is defined as having the ability to do something that frightens oneself or having strength in the face of pain or grief. Describing fear in the same breath as design is strange. But, consider our comfort zones that we have to expand in order to succeed in this field that has no right or wrong path and whose target is constantly moving or being redefined. Design is a wicked problem and fear is a natural feeling in all aspects of design.

Courage is what’s needed to overcome those fears. This is one of the deciding factors that will dictate whether a student will make it in the world of design outside of academia. Courage requires a certain humility–an acknowledgement that we aren’t the center of the universe and that we’re bringing to life someone else’s vision. I’ve had students have so much of an idealistic point of view that they aren’t able to push beyond their own egotistical styling. They believe their own hype and when tasked to create something outside of their comfort zone, they crumble. They weren’t able to overcome fear nor garner the strength.

In the words of the great Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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Trust

There are times in our design lives when we have to seek help from colleagues and associates. Whether it’s a technique or resource to help get things done, we have a circle of people that we trust. Students especially have to let go of their apprehension and be able to trust the teacher. Only then are they able to learn.

If at any time that apprehension comes back, we no longer are able to learn. Walls are built up and the teacher’s expertise is questioned. This concept of trust is earned and respected. This only comes with time and experience.

There are no shortcuts to trust. Our personal and professional networks are built based on trust. Relationships are built on trust. We need trust in our lives to contribute to the well-being of our society. Please don’t confuse promises with trust though.

Place your trust in people and organizations that have a track record worthy of your standards. Vice versa, you have to have a track record of standards as well.

Designers need that trust in all that we do, from our tools to our associates. We trust because we are willing to accept the risk, not because it’s safe or certain.

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Work it Out

All too often in my observations of the working habits of design students, I see too much of a reliance on technology. They will give up because the software can’t do what they envisioned. They give up on a concept and relinquish their vision to a software algorithm. This is what makes the difference between pedestrian designers and incredible designers. Incredible designers push their own limits and knowledge with their tools. Pedestrian designers give up and let their tools dictate their design. Designers have to find their own breakthroughs—they have to work it out.

In cases like this, I often remember a quote from the great John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach), “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

By making the best of how things work out doesn’t mean you let things just happen. You must put in the work. You have to work it out. By putting in the work, you have more of a chance of creating something incredible. Draw the extra sketches. Explore more colors combos and type combos. Create more concepts. Only then will you be rewarded with incredible design solutions.

Elegant solutions only come from working out the problem.

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Permission

I have students that keep in touch with me even years after they’ve graduated from UCLAx’ Design Communication Arts Program. Being proud of their accomplishments is an understatement–they’re acheivements send me beaming with pride knowing that they’re bringing into reality what they’ve been visualizing for years.

These students are now my associates, my peers, my co-workers, and my children of design. Like I am a child of design of my teachers and instructors, these students will carry on a legacy that has been passed down through me.

What makes these students great is their confidence in themselves and their abilities as well as being part of a network, a village of designers–because we care about what we create, our worth is enhanced.

We help each other, teach each other, and counsel when needed. But, one thing we never do is ask for permission to achieve our greatness.

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Lessons From a Bonsai Tree

Months ago I was given the honor of planting and caring for a bonsai tree. After working the soil and trimming the leaves and unnecessary branches, I took it home and found a place for it to flourish.

Each day, I watered it; talked to it; touching and caring for its leaves. Days and weeks went by before I found a little sign of growth after the initial shock of planting and trimming. This was a glorious day for it had been months in the making.

This little tree has taught me an incredible lesson in patience, cultivation, and perseverance. I saw myself differently in my role as a teacher. I’ve learned to understand the correlation between teaching and caring for a bonsai tree.

With new design students, I must immerse them into the soil of the world of design and trim away anything unnecessary to their true design growth. Each week of lecturing is similar to the watering and caring for their growth–it’s this perseverance and trust that you hope to see leaves of design growth.

Additionally, as a student, you have to trust you find the nurturing you need in order to cultivate your skills. Until you start having that growth can you reach out and find your direction. Until those leaves of skills grow, let the process happen and concepts will make sense and one day you may find yourself cultivating your own bonsai trees.

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