I love it when a good story is broken down so that even the simplest of minds can understand. I’m not the smartest, fastest or most creative person in the world, so I don’t like using a lot of big words or fancy jargon to try and impress you — but I’m learning every day, and that is what pushes me on. Let me cut the small talk and dive right in.
The Current State
When I look out on the hillside of design, all I see are copies of what great designers have done before us. The landscape has become so congested with cookie-cutter homes that seeing the real people living inside has become hard. It’s like watching that movie Pleasantville, in which everything is black and white and no one knows any better, and yet there are those pursuing something different, something original.
My hope is to inspire you to step away from the computer and open your eyes to the world around you. Expand your mind; think beyond the limits of the liquid crystals staring back at you.
The first step in any recovery process is to admit that there’s a problem. Once we’re comfortable admitting that we’ve been copying each other’s style, we can move on. The next step in this design detox, if you will, is to close the laptop, turn off the monitor, put down the iPhone and go find a pen or pencil and some paper. Not so fast with that Moleskine journal! It won’t help you. You understand that Apple and Adobe products don’t do the work for you, and neither will the Moleskine make you a better [fill in your profession]. Only with time, patience and practice will you begin to refine your skills.
Don’t worry if you think you can’t draw. I hear that a lot, and I wish people would remove the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Maybe you’re not good at drawing people but are amazing at drawing monsters, or maybe you’re not good at drawing buildings but are excellent at sketching wireframes. Just because your drawings don’t look like those of people you admire does not mean your drawings are no good.
Live in the Moment
Time does not stop — shocker, I know. You can’t fight it. Rather, think of it as the Rolling Stones do: time is on my side. Realize that time will make you better. The get-rich-quick approach is a cheap substitute for an investment of time: it might work for a few people, but it never lasts. Save yourself the trouble and commit to the long-term effort. Better yet, take an art history class and learn how long it took the great artists to achieve success. You’ll find that some were not recognized until after they were dead.
Pioneers Of the New Frontier
So where do we turn for inspiration? I always look to artists in other media. I’ll mention a few who have set a high standard — one so high that it hasn’t been beat. Still, I believe you have what it takes to run faster, jump higher and think bigger.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was the original Renaissance Man. Not only was he an amazing painter, he was also an extraordinary mathematician, sculptor, anatomist and writer — and those were just a few of his occupations. His career, which left a legacy that is still unsurpassed, is characterized by a passion for discovery and creation. If for no other reason, da Vinci is an inspiration to us because of his fervent passion for learning.
M. C. Escher
Maurits Cornelis Escher is a great example to us because he pursued his passion and succeeded, even without a degree. M.C. Escher’s artwork — an excellent source of inspiration for modern design — has a great deal to do with mathematics, but he never had formal mathematical training. Those of us building the Web could learn a thing or two from Escher’s work on symmetry and patterns.
Normal Rockwell defined a generation. His depictions of the American lifestyle in the early-20th century are iconic. If Rockwell were alive today, he would definitely be one of the all-stars posting stuff to Dribbble.
There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something you didn’t think you could. Whether you want to build websites, paint a mural, design icons or draw characters, I encourage you to make time for practice and to get away from the computer at least an hour a day. Pick up a book, take a walk, call a friend — do whatever you can to take your mind off technology. In those moments when we quiet our minds, inspiration comes and we can just be ourselves.
Just one last nugget before you leave: don’t let a lack of inspiration overwhelm you or make you feel like less of a person. I know from personal experience that drowning in inspiration makes me feel unsuccessful. And yet when we judge ourselves against our own work, we hinder our growth. We have to find a balance between being inspired and being true to ourselves. That’s what makes the journey so exciting.