Now that I’m nearing the end of the Circus design program, I want to record some lessons I’ve learned and observed in these two years. This program is quite an undertaking and it feels a bit odd that it’s almost over. Odd and very exciting. I hope some students might benefit from these thoughts in the future. Yes, the student(s) who finds this blog by searching “scary first design class at The Creative Circus.” It has happened. Hello, friends. You don’t need to be that scared.
So, some thoughts:
Part of our responsibility and jobs as designers is to create experiences, and the best way to create experiences for others is to actually have experiences. This sounds obvious but will be harder than you think. Go do something else for a bit to be inspired and clear your head. It’s going to make your work better and your body happier.
Save everything. And keep it organized. Save your thumbnails and your sketches. More than once, I have neared completion of a project, paused to review my thumbnails, and realized that one of my first ideas could supplement or enhance my final project. And there might be an option in there that you can consider for another project in 3 months. Properly named files are a lot easier to locate than “FinalFinalFINALBookJacketsReallyOkayToPrint.psd.”
Work very hard. Work as hard as you can. Prioritize everything. Try to make everything great. Don’t brush off the projects you think you might not love. Make yourself love them. Everything starts with the potential to be a book piece if you want to put in the work to make it terrific.
Do get some rest. You will do better work and work more efficiently. Naps are good things.
Take control of your time at school. It’s your education. Every class has value, so make sure you’re taking the ones that you’d like to take. Audit classes if you can. Keep learning and absorbing.
The teachers and faculty have your best interest at heart. They really want to make you better at your craft. Let them help you. Be receptive to feedback. Respect their time and advice. Be grateful for everything they’re giving you, because they’re giving you a lot.
Surround yourself with talent. Everyone is talented, of course, but if you admire someone’s aesthetic or critical eye, have them take a look at your work. And if people ask you for help or advice, help them.
Be an excellent team player and partner. Contribute, show up, and do what you said you’d do when you said you’d do it. I have been fortunate to work with fantastic partners, making team projects an enjoyable and exciting departure from solo work.
Experiment. When you have three hundred things to do and three days to do them, this step in the creative process can be difficult. I continue to learn its importance and although I sometimes struggle with this, I have certainly identified that weakness in myself and am working on it.
On that score, know your strengths and weaknesses. These will evolve, but the sooner you can identify what’s natural for you and what’s not, the better you’ll be able to approach future projects.
Don’t be mean. Don’t be annoying. Be yourself, but don’t be these things.
Ask for help when you need it.
Be confident if you want to be, but don’t be cocky. Everyone has a lot to learn. No one knows everything. No one is perfect. There really isn’t a perfect in this field, in my opinion.
When you have a handful of projects that are in some state of completion, assemble a website. This is an important exercise in itself. Figure out how to articulate what the project is at its core. All of this will help you start conversations and prepare for any unexpected interest from agencies, firms, mentors, random people that want you to freelance, crazy people on Pinterest, and the like.
That said, you will likely have opportunities to freelance or take on a part-time job while in school, and this kind of experience can really, really help you when it’s time to find a full-time job. It will also give you experience that is valuable for you as an aspiring creative. Make sure you’ll get good experience before agreeing to 20, 30, 40 (valuable!) hours a week.
Be overwhelmingly passionate about what you’re doing. A school like this is a huge investment of time and money and your life and sometimes health, so you need to love it.
Be forever grateful for the people that are supporting that overwhelming passion for what you’re doing. This is not something you can do on your own and without the support of a person or people who love you.
Keep asking yourself “why?” Also know when “why not?” is the better question, and enjoy exploration and experimentation. Don’t be scared to do this often.
Once you do get a book together or start showing work to folks, know that you’re going to get wildly different opinions on what’s good, what’s bad, what’s ready, what’s not. “This is a truly fantastic campaign” and “this doesn’t make sense, scrap it” might be said about the same project. This can be confusing, of course. It’s all subjective. Get opinions from a lot of people, and then trust yourself.
Finally, enjoy this time for what it’s worth, and know that there will be moments when you question everything. Because you might find yourself sitting cross-legged in Aisle 13 of your local Home Depot surrounded by scads of plumbing pipes, sketching how they might fit together to create an eight-chute candy dispenser that forms an abstract spider, and some nice gentleman will offer to help you select PVC for the home he assumes you’re building, and you might tearfully, carefully say that you’re trying to build an eight-chute candy dispenser that forms an abstract spider, and he’ll look at you like you’re a bit nutty. And then you’ll wonder what the hell you’re doing with your life. You might also find yourself explaining to your dermatologist that while trying to install a zipper on a scalloped box made of cardboard, you carelessly got super glue all over your arms, and listen, please, could you help me because LOOK AT THIS RASH! IT ITCHES! And you might find yourself smacking a roach with your flip flop and then placing him on your scanner because, let’s be real, you might need a high resolution scan of the underbelly of a dead insect someday, and you’ll thank yourself at that time.
These little silly, sometimes infuriating, occasionally blissful, always emotional moments are part of the process of being a design student in a program that is intentionally structured to push you in every way you can be pushed. And as the pushed and the pusher, I can confidently say that it’s worth it, and you can survive.
Good luck, and have fun, because this is only the beginning!