WORDS OF WISDOM (life advice for my students)

pretavoyager-beausoleilThe last couple months on my blog have been a bit of a radio silence as I’ve been pursing many great adventures, one of which included teaching a class I created called the Designer/Entrepreneur at Parsons Paris. A lot of the class was inspired by what Lauren and I have been working on for Studio/Practice – a curated library of tips + tools for creative business, the #thingsiwishilearnedinschool – which I hope will launch in the new year. The past 15 weeks of classes now feel like a whirlwind. Teaching is one of the more challenging things I’ve done (in a good way), and I’ve gained a new appreciation for all my past teachers. It really is something that everyone should try at some point. I’m looking forward to seeing my students present their final projects this afternoon, but for now I wanted to impart them with a few life lessons that I thought I’d share with you as well. One day I’ll work this into something more polished, but for now I think it’s something important to share.

  • The process is just as important – if not more important – than the final result. Ups and downs are natural and a sign you’re probably on the right track. If you nail what you’re working on after the first attempt you’re probably not challenging yourself enough.
  • Design is in the details.
  • The most rewarding projects will always feel like a work in progress and there are always things you want to improve, change and try.
  • Imperfection is more interesting that perfection. Don’t sugar coat things just because you think that’s what people want to see.
  • Failure is a really valuable learning process. Be honest about it and you’ll go further.
  • Learn from each project you work on and use those skills and experiences to help your future work.
  • Communication is key. Fundamentally it’s easy, but rarely is properly executed. If you can learn to be a good communicator early, you will go far.
  • You need feedback to raise the quality of your work. It may be a brilliant idea and beautifully executed, but you also need to test the market or target audience. Sometimes the timing just won’t be in your favor.
  • Grow from criticism, don’t see it as a bad thing. Be an active listener. In your own criticism, be constructive.
  • Always proof read and spell check.
  • Have a fresh set of eyes look over your work. (I find parents are a good start, and it’s a nice way to keep them abreast of what you’re working on).
  • When you think you’re “done” you’re rarely ever actually done. Just accept it, and realize every job will take longer than you think.
  • Revisit your “archives” of ideas.
  • Keep a notebook. Scribble in it. Write down ideas and things to look up later. Don’t edit yourself. Ideally keep it by your bed at night. Those brilliant ideas don’t always stick if you don’t write them down.
  • If you don’t know how to do something, learn it. For starters use the Google search bar. (I know it sounds obvious, but people can be lazy).
  • The best inspiration likely won’t come to you while sitting in front of your computer. For me it happens in the swimming pool, making connections in the metro (the literal act often translates to connections in my head as well), or walking down a street (at a different time of day, on the other side of the street, or looking a different direction to help see it in a new way).
  • Working with an editor for the first time can be a jolting experience. Their job is to help make your work stronger. Most of the time this is the case, but sometimes it is not. If you want to get paid, you’re going to have to learn to bite your tongue sometimes.
  • Don’t work for free, especially if it’s a for-profit business.
  • Give back – volunteering is a great way to attend conferences and events beyond your budget; pro-bono work for non-profits can help you build your portfolio, while also helping an organization that needs it.
  • Find a balance between “passion projects” and projects that pay the bills. Don’t be afraid to say no to work if it’s not a good fit.
  • The kind of work you do is the kind of work you’ll get known for.
  • Paying rent is also important, so at times you will have to take jobs you don’t love in order to help pay the bills, and there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Be smart with your money. Value it. Gain an understanding of accounting. Hire an accountant.
  • There is a time vs. sanity trade off.
  • Ask friends in the same position for advice, but always consult a profession when dealing with legal and financial matters.
  • You often don’t hear the full story on social media. There tends to be more hustle behind the scenes than you realize.
  • Create a “side project” to help get you where you want to be.
  • “Rush jobs” are never that rush and almost always get pushed back.
  • Part of your job is also to help educate the client about your process and what is expected from them throughout a job.
  • Take the time to create a contract up front. It will save you time in the long run, and make you look more professional to your client. (Even if they’re pressuring you, don’t start work until the contract is signed).
  • Contracts are designed to protect both parties. If you ever receive one that is completely in the other party’s favor, it’s probably a red flag you don’t want to work with them. However, that being said, you totally have the right to negotiate.
  • Use proposals and contracts to help manage your expectations.
  • Document your progress. This is a great tool for sharing your story. Photos, sketches, outtakes, Twitter timelines, etc.
  • Fill your down time with inspiration. I love watching Creative Mornings talks, listening to After the Jump, Design Matters, and Happy Monday Podcast, and reading The Great Discontent and Kern and Burn.
  • Read books. Geek out about the subjects that interest you and learn as much as possible as you can. Become an expert.
  • Travel. Seeing things and experiencing them in person is very different than reading about something online or in a book or magazine.
  • Take your research beyond what you find on the internet.
  • Make a point to disconnect sometimes. The world existed once before technology existed and everyone seemed to turn out OK.
  • Be a sponge. Absorb the world around you, but then use it to clean up ideas in your own creative ways.
  • Pull from your own story and life experiences to create something that is both meaningful, but also unique to you. (It will be much harder for someone to successfully copy your idea this way too, when YOU are central to its success).
  • Just because everyone is doing something a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way too.
  • Go to events alone. See the exhibits and shows you want to see. Don’t not do something because others aren’t into it.
  • Talk to people. Don’t network, make friends.
  • Follow submission guidelines. (Sadly not as obvious as it seems). If someone requests a particular image size, way of labeling the images, or a .zip, do what they ask. This is a super easy way to make “friends.” (I can’t tell you how many people send me massive files and waste my time because I ended up having to make sense of them).
  • Keep a spreadsheet of contacts, websites, interesting people/places. (I know mom, I should have listened to you years ago!).
  • The internet is amazing tool when used properly. Most people don’t take the extra step to make it work for them.
  • It feels really awesome to have important people contact you + and jobs come your way because they respect what you do. A blog or online project can serve as a business card. Think show, don’t tell.
  • Email can be a great way to build relationships and contacts. Be friendly, but professional, show a bit of personality, and respond in a timely manner. Think short + sweet and write an email you’d like to receive. (Sounds simpler than it is! I see it used inefficiently on a daily basis.)
  • Respect the time of others. Be patient. Plan ahead.
  • If you want to make things happen you’re going to have to follow up and be persistent (not annoying). It’s ok to check in to be sure someone received what you sent them.
  • Twitter is awesome. I have it to thank for some of my closest friends these days. It may take a couple weeks to get a true grasp of, but it’s an incredible asset when used right. First, it helps disrupt traditional levels of hierarchy, making “important” people more accessible, but it’s also one of those places where you can “interrupt” a conversation and it’s completely socially acceptable. Unlike Facebook, there is no mutual follow, so you can follow the accounts that inspire you most. Following is one level, but engaging and responding and having actual conversations with people is what makes it far more interesting.
  • Building your social media presence – even if it’s just to gain an understanding of how it works – before you have your own business will save you a ton of time, energy and outreach efforts later.
  • You won’t understand social media platforms thoroughly unless you actually use them. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Consider business models. Try to figure out how companies/projects/individuals are actually paying the bills. If you’re creating something yourself, consider how you’re going to pay the talent or users.
  • Stay up to date with new product releases – being an early adopter or using the platforms creatively can help you get noticed. (It’s quite fun having ins with CEOs of companies you really respect).
  • Share and promote other people and not just your own work. Think of it as an ecosystem where everyone wins. At some point you will need help from others, so think beyond your own success and help celebrate others.
  • Karma exists. Always stay professional even in those really awful situations where you want to scream or cry.
  • You never know what curveballs life may through you. When the less than ideal moments happen, think constructively and use them to your advantage.
  • Stay flexible for awesome last minute opportunities. (The photo is from a last minute business trip to Monaco for an awesome client – one week notice. )
  • Never make assumptions. Be as clear as possible, which often means stating the obvious.
  • There are tools and resources all around you, but it’s up to you to actually use them and do something with you.
  • Take advantage of opportunities. Especially as a student, more doors are open to you than you realize. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
  • Be present. Take advantage of having face time in a world where technology dominates. Challenge yourself to hide your phone at meals or while spending quality time with friends and family.
  • Think about yourself as an audience member and the impression you are giving the speaker. Do you look bored? Are you looking at your split ends? Are you checking your phone? (FYI, teachers – like bosses – are not idiots and they see you every time you are “secretly” checking your phone).
  • Take your health seriously. It’s going to be far more stress when you’re too sick to work and the medical bills add up. Know your limits.
  • Never stop learning. You’re in the right field if you constantly want to keep wanting to know more. (Here + here + here are few places to start).
  • Ask questions. It doesn’t mean that you don’t know something, questions mean you’re inquisitive (a good quality).
  • Hard work pays off. But it doesn’t happen over night. It may take years, but keep your focus and good things will come.
  • Thank you is under used. Say it often.
  • Stay in touch! I always love seeing where we start and where we go…

Any life lessons to add?

P.S. Recently I reflected on my own path on Jennifer Snyder’s blog (she was one of my original Skillshare Map class students!) and thought about travel, blogging and design for Joe Lukawski’s Signs of Seeing.


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