Design message: be vocal, be flexible and be yourself

I had the great privilege last week to open the first part of New Designers, the graduate show organised by London’s Business Design Centre. And, as is often the case with speakers on such occasions, I found myself doling out advice gleaned from years of talking to would-be clients or employers to the talented hopefuls making their official debut into the design industry.

After the event I realised the speech, following similar lines – though not as eloquently – to that famously given by Polonius to his youthful son Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, might have a relevance for those already established in design, but who for one reason or another are at a turning point in their careers or whose consultancies are going through a life change.

No one needs reminding that it’s tough out there. We hear much about the slimming down of teams and the fierce competition to win work. But it’s always been tough for creatives, especially for those aiming to make their mark or take a new direction. It can be very hard to hang on to your integrity and motivation when facing what might appear unreasonable demands from everyone from the client (if you’re lucky), to the bank manager.

One key to sanity and perhaps success is to be yourself. We’ve all seen the candidate for a job, turning up in clothes they won’t wear again and exuding fear rather than personality. Yet the right blend of personalities is what makes a creative team tick and what every employer is looking for.

By the same token, so many design groups claiming to be different unwittingly try so hard to conform that they too lose their point of difference in front of the client. Yet these are the very people urging clients to look to their inherent culture for clues when sorting out their branding.

A way of showing who you are is to be out there, getting involved in industry events and initiatives, and starting your own. And be vocal – Design Week, for example, welcomes letters for publication on topics of burning interest. You also need to be flexible. For design groups this can mean withdrawing from an ailing sector and changing tack before it becomes a real problem, while individuals might consider jobs on the design fringes – on the client side, say.

And if you’re touting round your creative ideas, make sure they’re protected. This week, lawyer Travers Symons explains your legal rights and how to hang on to them.

The main thing is to be good at what you do, to enjoy it and be confident about it. It might not lead to immediate success, but a positive approach can influence your colleagues and clients more than any other factor.

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