Welcome to the first installment of the world according to Gyppsy. As part of our Visual Designers Weekly (VDW) catch ups, we all get the opportunity to present a topic to the group here at ustwo™. For one of my recent sessions, I decided to give the other designers a window into my world, by sharing what I’ve learned about myself and the industry over the last ten years. It was part Pecha Kucha, part pep talk and part rant.
Rather than let the presentation sit on Dropbox gathering virtual dust, I thought I’d spin off some of what I mentioned into a series of blog posts. The first thing I’d like to cover is one of my little rants: The Industry of Ideas.
Few of us will have failed to notice the rise of startup culture over recent years, and with it a new bunch of buzzwords that appear in every related shallow-depth-of-field video that gets released: “disrupt”, “fail”, “iterate”, “lean” etc.
Personally it’s the use of the two “i”s that’s beginning to grate on me: ideas and inspiration. Let me explain…
What's My Beef?
The media have understandably been keen to publicise startup success stories, with a constant stream of talking heads often giving the impression that all you need is an idea, plenty of hard work and an obligatory pivot or two before you become the next twenty-something billionaire.
With this however comes a certain degree of pressure - as it can seem like everyone is doing it, so why aren’t you? For those looking for their own success, the hard work part is obvious enough, but how do you get that killer idea in the first place? Off the back of that question have come a multitude of videos / podcasts / conferences / books, all giving the impression that they’ll inspire you to do great things, to have that one idea. But does this content really help or is just playing on people’s dreams and desires?
My first query is the concept that ideas and inspiration can be packaged up and delivered in a conveniently bite sized video or blog post, and that by spending fifteen minutes of your time listening or reading them — a spark can be ignited.
For me, it doesn’t seem to work like this and that’s not to dismiss this type of content completely, as a lot of it has some great value and insight. I think however, somewhere along the lines, the words ‘inspirational’ and ‘interesting’ have got muddled up. I’ll often come away from watching a talk and think, “that was quite cool, didn’t realise that”, but then I’ll just carry on with business as usual. How many of us can truly say that something we’ve seen has really given us a jolt, made us get up and actually do something, or completely changed our lives?
To some extent you could argue that searching for inspiration is a form of procrastination. We’re all guilty of sitting down to watch a TED talk, perceiving this as a more valuable use of our time and ultimately hoping this process is the catalyst for the much needed motivation we’re looking for.
But I struggle personally with the notion of relying on an external source to give me that drive; instead I’m a firm believer in JFDI.
Another concern is that overall it feels like we’re reaching complete and utter saturation. If you were to watch every video, read every book, and attend every talk, then the reality is there’d be no time left to do anything else!
Where do my ideas and inspiration come from?
It goes without saying that during the process of writing this post, I inevitably had to ask myself where my ideas and inspiration come from, and although I can’t give any definitive answers, I think I understand what makes a good breeding ground for them.
First of all: hard work. Success isn’t built overnight, but neither are ideas. Having read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell a few years ago (whilst on holiday may I add, so technically I wasn’t procrastinating) I’m now starting to see the logic in his 10,000 hours theory (at the time I was probably only up to 7–8,000). Do something repetitively, get good at it and that way you’ll see areas for improvement and how you can refine or revolutionise them.
When that time comes, you’ll have the knowledge and experience to realise what you’re on to, and most importantly make the most of it. I’ve been able to draw parallels with this thinking from my own career, and having worked for years learning the art of pixel perfect design, I realised that there was no real guidance out there to help young aspiring designers on these specific details. From that need, the Pixel Perfect Precision Handbook came in to being, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the years of experience beforehand.
Secondly: variety. Take an interest in topics and activities outside your field as this gives you a broader range of references and knowledge. Steve Jobs sums it up beautifully for me:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Lastly: put the bloody phone down… Stop being over-stimulated and do something boring. It’s great to chuck all this knowledge and experience into your head, but like a good beer, it all needs time to ferment. The classic location for a brainwave for me is in the shower, as there’s no external distraction your mind has time to wander and think about random things. If you’re lucky those things may connect. In my case, I’ve had some great ideas whilst doing the washing up, or mowing the lawn (pixel perfect edges of course). So next time you’re waiting for the bus, rather than pull out your phone and jump onto Facebook or Twitter, spend a little time daydreaming. Trust me, it works.
The problem with pontificating about anything like this is that it’s so speculative because we’re all so different, that it’s impossible to come up with some one-size-fits-all solution in terms of advice. For some, indulging in the world of inspiration may well produce some amazing ideas, but I wanted to provide a counterpoint for people such as myself who don’t work like that, and to that extent I hope this has been of some help.