product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

The Young and Hungry Designer

Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done. –the Done Manifesto

Like most creative people, I suspect, I've found that the "real world" is light years apart from the world I imagined while in high school & college.

You can be at the top of your class in school, get all the honors, have all the right plans in place – only to tumble out of the spaceship on planet Earth to catch your breath, stand up, and realize that all of those accolades are nearly worthless in your strange new surroundings.

The real world for designers really is a foreign planet to almost everything you're taught in school. You don't carry your respect with you – you have to earn your stripes all over again, and in a space that is far more expansive than your small community at home. Competition is fierce, people are crazy-talented, and nobody really cares about you.

So how do you adapt, learn the language, and get started on the right foot? Here are some things I've learned I'm learning:

There aren't any hacks

There aren't any hacks on moving forward in a design career. You just have to go make stuff. Screw it up. Throw it away. Start over. Push for it. You don't earn stripes with a great hairdo in this industry. You don't rest on your laurels. It's a craft – and craftsmen can't cheat. If you cheat, everybody knows, and you lose.

This is how it works: you do great stuff and be helpful to others along the way. You do that, and you'll probably get promoted. You do OK in your promotion, and you'll likely get promoted again. It's that simple.

Right? Well...

It's not that simple

For a long time, I've tried to maintain a picture-perfect image online. I labor for perfection on all of my work, and then I launch it… and it doesn't have the impact I had hoped for.

I'm beginning to realize that the design community respects persistence and longevity almost as much as they respect talent. I love that about our community  – but it doesn't make it easy.

So I'm just now learning to stop striving for perfection with my work. Once I received an invitation to Dribbble, I was thrilled – but I hardly ever put any work up. I spent a lot of time on the popular page, and it intimidated me immensely. I was afraid to publish anything because I wanted to maintain a beautiful, pixel-perfect portfolio.

Well, weeks of not posting my work turned into months, and my Dribbble account started collecting dust. Essentially, I was saying "no" to an incredible pool of opportunity for growth right at my fingertips – all in the name of protecting my image.

Trashing my image

So that's why I'm sick of my image. If I try to save face and appear more established than I really am, I won't ask for help. And if I don't ask for help, I won't meet people and form relationships. And if I'm not forming relationships in the community, then I'm not growing – and worse yet, I'm working in a vacuum.

"A carefully cultivated image must be maintained exhaustive/ing-ly. Better to represent the truth." –@jeremiahlangner

So here's to the new young and hungry me: a scrappy, good-for-nothing designer / illustrator / web worker who's ready to grow. I'm ready to do that not by agonizing endlessly before I ship work – but by shipping work and getting feedback. By having the worst portfolio on Dribbble. By embarrassing myself. By being painfully honest. By admitting that I'm learning – and by asking for help instead of hoping people will ask me for help.

So bring it on - laugh at my work. Laugh me to scorn, you scoundrel perfectionist. I'm going to get my hands dirty - get stuff done and break stuff up in 2013. We'll see how it goes. I'm wagering I'll be a far happier, more well-rounded, and more skillful designer because of it.

As an entrepreneur, Seth [Godin] has founded dozens of companies, most of which failed. –Seth Godin on the Great Discontent

Join me?

PS. A year from now, you'll find me cringing as I delete old Dribbble posts and blog articles.