The theme of the week is Skills & Making, and encourages us to investigate our skillset, identify any gaps and reflect on our findings. The concept of a ‘skills gap’ immediately struck me as ‘things I’m not good at’. However, there can be a multitude of reasons behind gaps in our skillsets as designers. This week encouraged me to take a closer look at what design categories and techniques I regularly practice both personally and in my employment, and what areas I neglect; for lack of requirement, knowledge of, or a combination. My professional role heavily focuses on publication and editorial design. As part of an in-house content team, I adhere to strict brand guidelines, which can at times limit the realms for creativity. There are particularly strict guidelines on typography styles, and therefore I’d consider type manipulation to be a gap in my skillset. Also, I predominantly work digitally, and have little opportunity or need to use offline, analogue tools and techniques in my design practice. This is something I would love to change going forward. Although I love digital design and illustration, this module has really shown me the value of crafting with your own hands, too.
I also consider feedback I have received during my Masters study so far; that I am somewhat reluctant to show myself in my design to better illustrate my process. As someone who has struggled intensely with low self esteem and body image, the notion of documenting, photographing, and including myself has been a daunting one. As I have grown slightly more comfortable in my own skin, this is a gap that I would be open to trying to bridge.
This week’s two lectures revisit practitioners that we have become more and more familiar with over the course of the module; Simon ManChipp (SomeOne), Sam Winston, Regular Practice’s Kristoffer Soelling and Tom Finn, Sarah Boris, and finally Julian House and Adrian Talbot of Intro.
Lecture 1: What would you like to be doing that you are not doing in your work?
The first lecture’s title question examined whether the practitioners feel completely fulfilled in their work, and where their interests and ambitions lie. Simon ManChipp of SomeOne immediately states he would not want to be doing anything else, going on to describe a diverse range of exciting projects that he is currently working on. He says, “the projects that I’m personally working on at the moment are stretching me in so many different directions that it’s really, really compelling.”
Tom Finn, of Regular Practice, highlighted the importance of continually sketching, documenting and collecting inspiration for future practice, thus allowing him and Kristoffer to look back on design that excited them and incorporate it into new projects. His approach is highly proactive. Whilst I reflect on the type of projects I would like to work on, I admire Regular Practice’s determination to take those projects to fruition.
We draw sketches of things that we think are really cool, then a project will come around a month or two, or a year later and we’re like, remember that thing we saw that was really cool? Maybe we can do it in this project or work with it. So, actually we end up doing, or working with the things we’d like to be working with because we kind of make that happen.Tom Finn, Regular Practice
Interestingly, Sarah Boris highlights her desire to put her design skills to the test on materials other than paper and screen, expressing an enthusiasm for homewares and tablewares. Already having designed a rug, she expresses a keenness to collaborate with product designers. She says “I think you learn a lot from collaborating with people who have a completely different background”. This quote stood out to me as a key takeaway not only from this lecture, but from the entire Process brief. In my work examining process models earlier in the module, I was intrigued by Edward De Bono’s Six Hat Theory, which shows six different perspectives from which to consider a project brief and solution, ensuring that the message and output will land as intended. Similarly, Boris highlights how people of different backgrounds will have their own unique experiences, and that working collaboratively can lead to exciting and innovative outputs.
Lecture 2: How important are side projects and are you currently working on any?
In the second lecture, the practitioners explore the idea of side projects – what is a side project and should we all be working on some?
I think I’ve made a full-time career from side projects, basically. Which has its own problems because if all of your side projects, like, this is going to be a birthday card, or this is going to be a just a game that I’m going to play with some friends, I’m like, ‘oh that would actually make…, that would work as a Kickstarter or that would work as a thing’, then you turn that into a thing. You basically keep on ruining all the ‘fun stuff’Sam Winston
Sam Winston’s description of his career as ‘full-time side projects’ is really interesting, in that you might assume this style of working to allow him to solely work on projects he enjoys and finds to be fun, which he does not deny is the case. However, he raises an important point, that as a result he is constantly thinking about work, searching for inspiration in every day life, and therefore is rarely ‘off the clock’.
In my consideration of ‘side projects’ I had only considered projects similar to what I do for work – designing logos for friends, assisting with branding, and illustrations – which I am extremely proud to have begun printing and selling to friends and family during lockdown. However, Sam’s point here emphasises the importance of side projects that challenge you, and therefore can allow for some skills development, learning and bridging of gaps. If, like Sam, you ‘basically keep on ruining all the fun stuff’ – side projects can allow you to discover new fun stuff.
Leading on from this, Julian House also states “I think your side-line should be something that offers you a little relief, and also feeds back into what you do in your
day job”. In considering this alongside Sam Winston’s insights, we can learn that side projects ought to be fun and exciting, offer some light relief from the demands of a day job, but you can also implement your learnings back into your role. This really brings home the importance of side projects as a designer; in that they can facilitate growth whilst enabling a sense of creative freedom outside of the office. Adrian adds: “You feel validated as well as it fulfilling your creative needs.”
Away from Intro, both Julian and Adrian work on side projects based upon their interests and passions. Julian is passionate about music, and has created a small label, Ghost Box, with a friend, whereas Adrian explores typography manipulation at his side project, Talbot Type. They talk of how beneficial their side projects are for when they feel as though they have run out of steam.
Whilst we may look at our schedules contemplating whether we have capacity to incorporate side projects into our existing workloads. The takeaway from these two lectures is side projects can be hugely beneficial for us, both personally, and in bringing back our learnings to our day job desks. They allow us to develop upon our skills and ultimately facilitate us becoming better designers.
The Importance of Vulnerability is a short film from The School of Life on YouTube. It is also the resource that resonated the most with me this week. The narrator talks of our fears of being humiliated, generally unimpressive, and how we spend so much of our lives worried and embarrassed about ourselves. “The inner idiot is carefully monitored and ruthlessly gagged. We have learnt from our earliest years that the only priority around vulnerability is to disguise it completely” (The School of Life, 2017).
At the start of the week I reflected on my own skills, and how I have received feedback to include more of myself in my work, allowing myself to be vulnerable. The video goes on to explain that whilst we tend to focus on the negatives of vulnerability, it also has a significant upside, being the basis for true friendship, sharing and love.
The narrator sums up vulnerability; “Its a gift, in the form of a risk, taken for somebody else” (The School of Life, 2017). I relate this to the feedback I have received, and the structure of the module. Including myself in my work and sharing my work with others are tasks where I feel most vulnerable, yet our tutors encourage us each week to share our work however unfinished, messy and imperfect on the Ideas Walls for comment. The sharing of ideas is a gift in this sense, with the Ideas Wall able to become a valuable resource of shared experience, inspiration and connections. By opening ourselves up to others we are able to learn and grow.
In a second video, titled ‘Keep Going’, The School of Life looks at our perfectionist beliefs, and their being the reason we so often give up projects when they don’t go entirely to plan. Using Lego blocks and characters, the video depicts the character building a tower, only for it to not turn out as he had imagined it. The character becomes frustrated, with the narrator noting that we are disgusted with our own efforts. “The only thing you can think about is the terrible gap between what you wanted to do, and what you’ve actually done, and it seems your taste is way ahead of your abilities” (The School of Life, 2015).
Earlier, I reflected on why we might have a ‘skills gap’, noting that it could be a lack of requirement of those skills in our current lives or lack of knowledge of them. It seems obvious now, especially having watched this clip from The School Of Life – that skills gaps could be down to fear; fear of being disappointed in our own efforts, ‘disgusted by what we have achieved’ (The School of Life, 2015).
Sometimes we may need encouragement to try new things in the first instance. Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is how we can discover new skills and become better creators. Musician Brian Eno, along with painter Peter Schmidt, devised their Oblique Strategies cards for exactly this reason. ‘Over 100 Worthwhile Dilemmas’, each card is printed with an often abstract instruction, invoked when a creator or group of creators require external disruptive influence to suggest new ideas (The Guardian, 2009). Although designed for musicians originally, the notion is one that is relevant and applicable to all creatives.
The School of Life’s ‘Keep Going’ talked of our feelings of disgust at our own creations, where they do not meet the expectation we had in our mind’s eye. The invoking of an Oblique Strategies card, or simply taking a step back from our work to reflect, allows us to approach problems from a new angle, disrupt our typical process, and step out of our comfort zones.
This week’s challenge asked us to create a design highlighting a process model that works for us at the moment, which also pays consideration to what skills we have, and where our skills gaps lie. I started off by listing my skills, in addition to gaps.
SKILLS: Editorial, photography, digital design, illustration, branding
WEAKNESSES: Typography manipulation, analogue ways of working, perfectionism, printing.
I’ve included perfectionism as a weakness as I often lean towards a minimal style, overcautious of cluttering the page, and always feel a sense of shame and disgust at my initial sketches and unused drafts, as talked about in The Importance of Vulnerability video. This week, I am planning to make something a little messier, using a variety of tools and mediums.
I began simply by typing out the words ‘design’ and ‘process’ in Illustrator and starting to experiment with manipulating them. My thinking was to chuck away my usual way of working with type. In my job role, altering the company’s typefaces in any way is not permitted. Beginning simply to slice letters, I began rearranging small sections. In the end I really enjoyed creating my ‘messy’ headings, and if I had more time would have loved to try manipulating type using analogue methods.
I’ve noted earlier feedback to include myself more in my design process. I decided to document myself creating this design by taking photographs at various stages. Determined to use analogue tools, I looked around my home for crafting materials. I gathered wool, beads, coloured paper, washi tape, and a cutting board.
I decided to use the cutting board as a background, with wool connecting each element of the design process that has been working for me lately; Research, Reflect, Ideate, Create, Improve. I found the structure coming together with similarities to a line graph, with my confidence in the project rising at each step as I refine it more.
After securing spots for each of the five steps in my process, I scattered beads across the board, signifying thoughts, ideas, and pieces of inspiration that didn’t make it to the final project. Different angles for research, design tweaks that I immediately undo, these are still part of the process and experimentation is necessary.
Having created my design process model as a mixed media image, I collated my photographs of the design process and turned to InDesign, the programme in which I feel I am most skilled. Here, I made my process graph the main image, choosing to separate my ‘design’ and ‘process’ headings, with my final design first, and then showing the process behind this piece below. I added to my typography using lines, resulting in a clearer separation between my design process and the process behind this particular design.
The Guardian. (2009). ‘Hey, what’s that sound: Oblique Strategies’. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/sep/07/oblique-strategies. [Accessed 13 November 2020].
The School of Life. (2015). ‘Keep Going‘. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1H92b_uLdU. [Accessed 11 November 2020].
The School of Life. (2017). ‘The Importance of Vulnerability’. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJsJ96yyVk8. [Accessed 11 November 2020].