Career Shifting Adventures: Lessons I learned about Design for the past 7 months

The Tumblr Tree Planting meetup

Wow, its been years since I wrote anything here, and if I wrote anything, its book related – I’m starting to think that books are keeping me from doing things that I need to do. So the year’s winding down, and everything’s pretty crazy. For those who know me personally, they probably know of my adventures of jumping the IT ship and wading through the design world around April, and it has been 8 months since I did that. And now friends go, “So you’re a Designer now?”…uh, yeap, pretty much. (I still can’t believe I’m saying that, actually)

It really has been an adventure. I think I’ve met as much more people withing those 8 months than the people I’ve met for my entire life. Its like undergoing a Second Teenhood: studying, projects, internships, volunteering, going to tumblr meetups (apparently its the in-thing with kids these days), free concerts, household chores, and finally “graduating” from school. Luckily I still look the part and I could still pass for a 20-year old, unfortunately I do give off the ate-vibe.

Anyway, some observations and learning on past 7-month stints:

With the folks back at Atalyer Design, the studio I did an Intership with

1. I still a have long, long way to go -I thought that finishing a certificate program will make me much much better than my previous state. Well, not necessarily. I guess every fresh graduate feel this way: that you’re good, or at least a pretty decent designer. And then go apply, get hired, and then you find yourself actually struggling at work. I felt this during my internship, and I really hated the feeling of letting people down, and others having no choice but to pick up my slack. But then a designer at the internship said to me: “Ganyan talaga. Actually dapat matuwa ka nga na ganyan, kasi pag-nalampasan mo yan, ibig sabihin nun, gumagaling ka na. Pag hindi mo nararamdaman yun sa mga ka-trabaho mo, na bano ka, ibig sabihin nun wala kang natutunan.” (You should be happy about that feeling, because once you’ve surpassed that, it meant that you’re becoming better. If you didn’t feel that you’re not good compared to your colleagues, it means that your not going to learn anything from them). Accepting this as a fact also makes you humble enough to actually learn something, and follow the advice of someone before you. Aside from this one, whenever I encounter this experience, I was also told to:

2. Practice! Practice! Practice! – It might sound cliche but really, its not. The best designers are those who just kept doing what they liked doing, got better at it, and look where they are now. I guess that’s what doing things with a passion means, and doing what they do doesn’t feel like practice.  I do create something but I need a homework, a grade, an obligation to do it. And I think that shouldn’t be the case. Add to that the Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers quote that it takes 10000 hours of doing something to be good at it, and the T.Harv Eker’s creating new neural pathways by doing a thing more often so that things become more easier to do. Besides, I really could do with more practice, I need to make ideas and executions flow easier. In relation to this, you should also:

3. Never stop learning – At a linked-in group somewhere it said, if you do not learn, you die. True enough, there will be times at work when you have to learn how to make a certain effect in photoshop by reading a tutorial over the net and applying it immediately to work, or else, your team is dead meat. So learning Photoshop tricks beforehand will really do help you.

4. If it makes the work faster, why not? A college friend taunted me that I’m really not that good since all I knew about Photoshop was using Photoshop Brushes. Though that drove me to learn the Pen tool (dreaded among Photoshop newbies), I virtually stayed away from brushes, not knowing that even professional designers use them. I had this stigma that to be good, you need to do things the hard way. I told this story to my “bosses” at work and they said to me that: Grabe, Kung makakatulong naman sa trabaho, bakit mo naman hindi gagamitin yun? (If it makes the work faster, why not use it?)


5. The Design Industry is Big, Really Big – As a typical newbie you often follow the people you idolize, but as you dig deeper you realize that no, your idols do not make up the whole creative scene of the Philippines. There are less popular but equally or more competent designers out there, and they’re scattered everywhere. They’re in advertising, magazines, print, doing freelance, doing web design, doing packaging, doing designs for clothing companies, outsourcing companies, tarp makers, located in the Visayas or in Mindanao, or in California or in Singapore or in New York or in Dubai. They’re on tumblr, behance, and ODesk.  They’re doing comics, toys, galleries or blogs. They’re in bazaars. I became a witness to the talent and the size when I did a stint as a volunteer at PGDA. At some point though, there will be a connection – somebody will idolize, loathe, or both, the popular ones.

6. Design varies across social classes, age or exposure. There’s a place for everything – I really find myself classifying the things I see here in Manila, and it really applies to a social class or a setting, depending on where your work will be used. A Designer’s work can fall under one or more of these categories.

a. Design na pang-Tarp – the designs you see posted in Salons, Spas, Debuts, and Birthdays, or sometimes, posters of government agencies. Designs that overkill Gradients and Outlines, placing black text above those gradients, super contrasting color combinations, desktop publishing fonts (Curlz MT anyone?). Now imagine applying that aesthetic in a Salon located in Greenbelt 5, would that Salon be patronized?

b. Design na Pang-Commercial – Much more professional looking graphics, the one you see in posters of softdrinks, billboards of clothing companies, telecom company ads. Subtle Gradients, pleasing to the eyes, much more color coordination, good choice of fonts. Doing this kind of design can probably land you a job in an outsourcing company, since this aesthetic is preferred by people overseas. Your design will have a wide range of audiences as well. Now imagine applying this to an artistic publication somewhere, will it be sold?

c. Design na Pang-Mayaman – Minimalist Fonts, Simple Clean Designs, good choice of paper. There’s a typical look, mukhang mamahalin. Now try placing that aesthetic in a Salon in your nearest Bayan somewhere. Will there be people daring to enter that salon?

d. Design na Pa-Art – Taste acquired from foreign sources. Whimsical text placed in circles, use of textures, can be usually seen in design/art circles tumblr pages, blogs of fashionistas or blog famous, hipsters, band posters, or applied to the DIY merchandise of merchandisers in bazaars such as those you see in Legaspi, Amorsolo or Cubao X. Design aesthetic of art school students and design fans. You might not that kind of design in a supermarket though, or you might not find that in the next telco poster.

Its funny, you can even see the gap between the rich and the poor, even in design. (Hmm, I should probably make a thesis about this). And if you’re the type of designer who can shift from one type of design to the next, I absolutely salute you. You are the ultimate.

7. Everything is a Balance between what your aesthetics as a designer, and what the client wants. Once in a while, this balance is overthrown, mostly in the favor of the client’s taste. Modifications are inevitable, but learn how to stand up for your design, at least have a reason for it. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones that pay you. But I remember getting berated on modifying a designer’s work because the boss said so. I guess it is a matter of respect for the designer and the design, because there’s a reason why the design is that way.

8. Your work will speak for itself – Doesn’t matter whether you graduated from art school or not. What matters is your body of work. There are a lot of awesome self-taught designers out there, as well as there are graduates who are not that good either. Sometimes, I can’t help but compare myself to others, but the advice I often get, is that I don’t. Each person has his or her own talents. Whether they’re good or not, depends on how hard they worked to be one the level they are now.

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