Two weeks ago the Upstate NY AIGA Chapter held its first Design Week and hosted the second annual Create Upstate conference. We were lucky enough to attend and found inspiring and creative takeaways in all of the talks from local designers, developers, and entrepreneurs.
Lesson 1: Attention to detail is important, but don’t let that overrule the whole picture.
Mitch Goldstein, professor at RIT and co-host of the Through Process podcast, gave a great talk entitled The Trouble with Kerning. Designers can easily get caught up in perfecting every little detail of their work, but the whole picture is important, too.
Goldstein showed us works from renowned graphic designers and artists that embrace imperfection and are still lauded as important despite the imperfections. These imperfections included bad kerning, printer errors, messy drawings, and even misspellings. Everything we do as designers feeds our designs. Goldstein emphasized the importance of realizing this, and when the details do and don’t matter. “Badly kerned amazing design work is still amazing design,” according to Goldstein.
Lesson 2: Everything counts.
Not just in terms of design, either. We have all heard by now that side projects and personal projects further our overall design aesthetic. This also refers to types of design and inspiration we weave into our design. For example:
- Tyler Finck, a type designer from Ithaca, shared works that ranged from identity design, to looping video, to his ambient soundtrack for his talk.
- Derek Crowe of Virgin Wood Type showed us his ultra hands-on work with wood type for letterpress printers. Each piece is machine cut and then detailed by hand, in an incredibly analog fashion.
- In contrast to that, Shaun Andrews of Automattic (creators of WordPress) taught us the basics of putting together a website and custom coding a theme for the site.
Lesson 3: Don’t stay loyal to the same process if it doesn’t work for you.
Ken Woodworth of Aten Design and the principles of Iron to Iron both covered this reminder multiple times in their talks. Finding a process that works and applying it globally to all projects can make a lot of sense to both designers and clients. However, sometimes not every process works the same way for all clients – so be flexible and change it up when needed.
The Iron to Iron team takes a non-traditional approach compared to most design studios and agencies – they work with a single client at a time and work directly with clients to figure out exactly what they need. Aten Design uses a different process for design inspiration and understanding from every client, from mood boards, to collages, to style tiles, to giant brainstorming sessions. This flexibility keeps their viewpoint fresh and challenges them to think of every client and project in a unique way.
Lesson 4: You can create world-class design work from anywhere…
…it’s up to you to market yourself and push yourself to do amazing work, no matter where you’re located. Being in Upstate NY, this was a huge message throughout the whole conference: you don’t have to be in a big city to do amazing work.
Jason Occhipinti of Positive Space reminded us that many amazing designers today (such as James White of Signal Noise) live in small towns across the world. Doug Bartow of id29 not only reminded us that marketing ourselves is everything (and so accessible now through the internet and all types of media), but also reviewed amazing design studios in our area.
Lesson 5: Contribute to your community and it’ll give back to you.
It’s cheesy, but true. Be a part of something – don’t isolate yourself. If you are a part of the local community in design, you stay connected to individuals in your field who are doing new and different things every day. Doug Bartow even told us if there isn’t a community in your area – start one! There are bound to be others interested and looking for the same inspiration you are.
Michelle Bersani, professor at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications said, “Everything we do well in our field helps all of us out. If a designer goes out into a community and inspires other designers – everyone profits from it, including other designers, clients, potential clients, agency owners, students, and more.”