Knowing What To Do

Today, a graphic designer’s job is to solve complex business problems, challenge impossible social issues, unite the politically divided, and make an adorable hand-lettered invitation for their friend’s party – on the cheap.

In other words, the challenges facing graphic designers can be far bigger and more complex than just graphic design.

In my 15 years running an agency I can tell you that the most difficult part of a project isn’t usually related to visuals. The hard part is taking a complex problem, told from multiple perspectives, and figuring out the single best way to solve it. It’s deciding the way forward, even when the solution isn’t clear.

Deciding what to do is the part of graphic design that you don’t really see on Dribble or Behance, and that you’ll never learn from looking at someone else’s work.

Designers Need Faith

Most designers, especially young designers, get lost thinking that solutions and ideas are someone else’s job. That someone older, wiser, or more qualified will come along, know exactly what to do to solve the problem and lead the team forward.

A designer has to have faith that a solution exists. She may not know exactly what the solution is, but she knows it’s out there, and that she can push herself toward it. She can see a better way is possible, even when no one else can. She’s okay telling herself, “I don’t have the answer right now, but I know it will come.”

And the answers will come. You just have to commit to owning the problem. You can’t go about it half-heartedly, or rely on someone else to do the work for you.

Designers Need To Be Brave

You may or may not have been taught it in school or growing up, but courage is the key factor in every design project. It’s how difficult decisions are made.

It takes courage to declare ownership of big problems, to search for answers over and over again, and ultimately declare the best solution.

To some designers, this might seem overwhelming, and you might be wondering what skills you possess that have led you to be entrusted with solving everyone’s problems both large and small. How you are supposed to know what to do?

As famed designer James Victore said, “Fear is the game.

A designer has to believe in themselves and their abilities. It takes courage to say, “This is the way forward.” It takes courage to pick a direction, and to be audacious enough to proclaim that your idea will solve the problem in a way no one else’s can.

From my experience, half of a designer’s job is arguing why their idea is the best one. To do this, a designer also has to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to expose your thinking to convince someone else to buy into it.

You shouldn’t be afraid to share your ideas. Designers are plagued by what’s called “imposter syndrome,” where they feel like they don’t really know what they’re doing. They feel that at any minute someone will announce that they’re not a real designer, and expose them for the Photoshop hack that they are.

Don’t fall into that trap. That sort of thinking will hold you back. Have the courage to say that you have the answer. Declare that what you have inside you can solve the problem. Your ideas have worth.

The value of design is measured by the difficulty of the problem it solves. Design can be as simple as visual decoration, or as complex as refocusing a business. Whatever the size of the problem, solving it requires talent, a little courage, and faith that it can be done. A designer needs to have all three.

More than 14 years after founding Atomicdust, a marketing and design agency, Mike is actively involved in day-to-day design strategy, art direction and studio management.

As Creative Director, he strives for design excellence and set the tone for the work created by Atomicdust. The studio’s work has been recognized by Fast Company, Communication Arts, One Show, AIGA as well as local and regional Addy awards.


Twitter: @mspako

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By Mike Spakowski
Published October 5, 2016
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