My relationship with design began as a wild love affair. It was an immediate, electric connection unlike anything I’d ever felt before, and I knew right away that this one was here to stay. We fit together so well, and my first few years studying design were filled with wonder and amazement – like a whirlwind honeymoon in Maui. In short, I had finally found the thing I’d been searching for – true love.
We were inseparable from the start. We snuck away together every chance we could, and this passion followed my everywhere I went. It changed my entire outlook on life –suddenly I couldn’t enter a restaurant without analyzing menu typefaces, and I couldn’t even take a drive without staring at billboards along the freeway. As our connection grew, I realized that design was inescapably everywhere. City layout was design. Interactive experiences were design. Digital platforms were design. And every new discovery caused me to fall deeper in love.
But the honeymoon never lasts, and graduation brought new strain on our relationship. Suddenly I was depending on design to support me in a very real, very scary world. I was hired to work for a company in-house, and my time with design became less enjoyable as the months progressed. For the first time ever my creativity was an instrument for someone else’s vision, and my work felt devoid of the wild passion that had caused me to fall so in love in the first place. This relationship, at one time effortless and rejuvenating, now felt corporate and stale. I was at a crossroads, and I had to make a decision.
As designers, we all have a unique love story with design. Like every story, there are highs and lows that make the relationship dynamic, and if you’re anything like me you’ve probably come to a point when you wondered where that passion went and if it was even possible to bring it back. Like an old recording of a favorite song, or the echoes of a distant lover, you wonder if you’ll ever return to that state of giddy excitement. Well, I’m here to tell you that the flame is still burning inside you, waiting to be rekindled –wherever your discipline takes you, it’s always possible to fall back in love with design.
Here are a few ways I’ve been able to reignite my passion for design while working in the creative field:
1. Get intimate with other designers
Surround yourself with others who are passionate about design. This one is so simple it’s almost silly, but in reality it can be difficult to accomplish. For example, when the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl last year, I didn’t go to a party full of Patriots fans to watch the game. I surrounded myself with fellow Seahawks fans who cheered for what I cheered for and who would celebrate with me when our team did well. It seemed like a no brainer to seek them out on game day, but surrounding myself with a supportive team in the design world was more difficult. And I’m not talking about your Grandma Nancy who thinks every sketch you do is a Mona Lisa–I’m talking about peers and mentors in the profession who come alongside you and encourage you. People who will sharpen you because they truly care about your triumphs and successes.
Fellow designers are invaluable friends and allies in a cut throat profession, so don’t lose sight of the positivity they can bring in times of need. If you’re feeling discouraged, give that friend a call and hash it out. Email that professor or mentor who first opened your eyes to the possibilities of design. Reach out to a local AIGA chapter and get involved in a community of people who cheer for what you cheer for and who can speak design nerd with you.
2. Make your passions work for you
Get yourself in a workplace where design is more than a means to an end. I can only speak to this one through personal experience and advice I received from a trusted mentor, but nevertheless it’s important. Many companies are so set in their ways that there’s little room for creative growth, and along the way designers are reduced to mere vehicles for other peoples’ ideas. Design can feel like a trap when we are shut down as creative thinkers and only used for our technical skills. Someone who comes to you with a specific vision already in place isn’t asking you to design, they’re asking you to push pixels until it looks how they want, and this type of atmosphere will quickly drain you mentally and physically.
Invest in your value as a creator, not just your ability to manipulate images in Photoshop. As designers we should go after jobs that sharpen our thinking, not just our skill sets. A trusted mentor once stressed the importance of surrounding myself with fellow creatives in the work place, and I couldn’t agree more. Designers weren’t meant to be islands, and I believe when we work together we reap exponential benefits.
If you’re feeling more like a workhorse than a trusted creative professional in your job, it might be time to find a new environment that puts the creative process at the forefront of the work.
3. Don’t be afraid to spice things up on the keyboard
In college I had so much going on, I barely knew how to stay on top of it all. Every day I was moving rapidly from one activity to the next, from classes to jobs to homework to intramural sports, and the list goes on. When you’re surrounded by new people and ideas, inspiration comes easy. I was so used to being inundated with new environments that when I got my first job after graduation, I struggled with the monotony of my schedule. Instead of interacting with hundreds of people every day, I interacted with ten. I no longer had a running list of creative workspaces to choose from, because my options had dwindled to one–my desk. I was jolted into the monotony of a scheduled routine, and I hated it. Breaking out of our own routines can be the simplest way to rejuvenate creativity. If you have an office/desk job, work remotely for a day. Pick a local coffee shop and purposefully place yourself in a new environment. If this isn’t a possibility, then use your weekends to get a change of scenery, whether it’s taking a trip or doing something new. We get so bogged down in daily patterns that we don’t even realize we’re in a rut, so take time to deliberately try new experiences.
4. Find the romance in something new
Find time for personal, unpaid work. The notion that human beings can do the same thing day in and day out and never get tired of it is absurd. The nature of many design jobs is what I call the “design grind”–no matter how much you love what you do, there’s always an element of tedious work that comes with accomplishing something great (or paying the bills). Don’t let the daily grind of your day job take away from design that brings you true joy, and if you can devote yourself to personal work that brings you happiness then it will carry you through the times when your day job feels like an exhausting uphill battle. Not everyone has the luxury of making a living doing what they love, but nothing can stop you from pursuing new passions outside of work.
Why is unpaid work important? Because something beautiful happens when you create without expecting anything in return. You aren’t beholden to anyone, so the work becomes an ode yourself. You can shed all expectations and truly get back to the roots of your creative passion, and you’ll find that it casts your paid work into an entirely new light.
5. Add another partner to the mix
The toxic mindset that comes with our career path begins with our professional titles. Whether you’re a Graphic Designer, Motion Designer, Illustrator, Photographer, Creative Director, or somewhere in between, we all accept that these titles are united with our identity and introduce ourselves as such. But this creates a problem when we fall out of love with our profession, as most people will at some point in their career. If I call myself a designer but can’t design, what use am I? I’ve lost my identity as an individual, and I’ll spiral into a dangerous lack of purpose because my self worth is inseparably combined with my professional work.
No matter where you’re at in your love story with design, it’s imperative to remember this: you aren’t a designer, you are a person who designs. Your passions shape who you are, but they don’t define who you are. Every great designer at some point in time takes a step back from the work in order to discover themselves retrospectively, and if your relationship with design is in a rut, it’s important to remember your worth as a person so you can give yourself a chance to fall in love again.