Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It Takes Curiosity: An Unconventional Path To Becoming a Designer

Design / Culture

I’m a designer, and always have been. There are things that some may point to as obvious indications of a budding designer, such as obsessively trying to re-create logos or spending hours playing with my Crayola Calligraphy Markers. There are other things as well—such as needing to learn the history of every place we went on family vacations, or people-watching at the mall with my grandfather—that, in my opinion, are much more suggestive of my eventual career path.

I wasn’t ever necessarily considered a creative person, particularly good at art classes, or constantly doodling like many other eventual designers might have been. I was, however, a fan of choosing a book from our Encyclopedia Brittanica library at random and reading about something I’d never heard of before (the absolute best was the anatomy section with transparent overlays). Later in my life I would find myself in college as an “undeclared” major. Meaning, I couldn’t decide what I really wanted to focus on. (Most) everything to me seemed so interesting, how could I possibly focus on one? At one point or another I found myself considering the following options: Psychology, Accounting (whaaa?), Natural Resources, Religious Studies, Criminology, French, Biology, Ethics, History, Architecture, Sociology…and the list goes on. For my parents, this must have been incredibly annoying (sorry). For myself, I didn’t want to settle when I knew there was so much to discover.

It took me a while—and a very well-rounded education—to decide my path. Happily going back to school after a stint in another profession, I learned design can be taught (and I’m still paying off the school loans that prove it.) Design concepts (color, layout, typography, balance, etc.), illustration, basic HTML & CSS and software skills were all taught to me. I was not born with any of these. I, like many people, thought that in order to be a successful designer one needed to be a “born creative.” So for a long time I was self-conscious that I wasn’t the “typical” designer—doodling, drawing, painting, and so on. What I did have, however, was curiosity.

I’ve been in the field for a while now—long enough to be able to take a step back and think about the big picture. What brought me here, why I do what I do, what excites me, and what gets me up every day. It now makes complete sense that I’m in this profession. As a designer, we work with different types of clients with a broad spectrum of needs and industries. From health care to fisheries to a children’s sticker line, I’ve designed for many different types of clients. And that’s exciting—because each client is like reading a new chapter in the Encyclopedia. With every new client comes new information; who they are, what they do, why they do what they do, who they serve, what their need is, what the problem is, and on and on. Really, the more information the better.

Much of what designers do is about informing themselves about the client and problem at hand. And, for me, this is the best part. For each industry, there is a huge amount of information that is completely unknown to us. The best thing is, we have to engross ourselves in a new subject every time we start a new project. And digging down into the meat of those subjects is incredibly fulfilling, because it’s really about satisfying that ongoing curiosity. To me, this is GOLD. Instead of focusing on one path, I can continually explore and discover new ideas and fields. It’s like having an undeclared major for my profession without annoying my parents.

But here’s the great thing: I’ll never really be forced to declare a major. Because I can be curious all day, every day. I know that the need to learn, explore and be curious is what keeps me going. I now feel pride in entering the design world in unconventional ways. Like I mentioned earlier, the surface-level pieces and parts to design can be taught. What really drives someone—the thing that’s way down deep, that’s just quintessentially you—is the thing that matters. Lucky for me, I’m curious.