Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Alec Marko: a student looking to gain some insight into the design industry. He had questions; I had long-winded answers. I highly recommend checking out his blog as he writes a hell of a lot more often than I do. For those wondering what the content of those long-winded answers was, I’ve included the full interview below.
What has been a unique challenge you have faced while becoming a Graphic Designer?
The biggest challenge getting into the field for me was mastering things I hadn’t been formally trained in (but it’s also the thing I love most about the job). Six years later and I’m still learning things at a rate that makes my brain feel like it’s had a run through a Quiznos toaster oven.
If you’re like me and end up working in a small design firm, be prepared to be more than a designer. Specialists are probably great in large firms, but in smaller firms we don’t have the counterspace for a unitasker. I don’t expect you to know everything, but I expect you to learn fast and never stop.
Have faith in your ability to learn. I tell every design student the same thing:
“You’d be surprised how fast you learn something, when you’re put in a situation where you have to.”
Oh, and if you’re looking for a place to start, get comfortable with code. One way or another, you’re going to need it.
What helps you to be creative? Where do you go for inspiration?
The trick to inspiration is to never stop being inspired. A common problem with creativity is that we naturally put walls up around our projects. You find yourself sitting at your desk with a deadline looming, pencil in hand, beating your head against the desk, waiting for inspiration to hit. In reality, everything is inspiring. Look at the world as if you’re an outsider looking in. Cannibalize everything you can see, hear, touch, and smell. Especially pay attention to your emotions; think to yourself, “how can I capture this feeling and give it to someone else.” Anyone can make a brand beautiful or stand out, but the brands who truly “get it” can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
For me, street photography is a great way of capturing inspiration. I always keep a 35mm camera on me just in case I see something that could help me later. I challenge myself to bring a camera to anywhere something is happening and try to capture the essence of that event. Designers need hobbies/side projects — something we can stretch our creative muscles with. Otherwise people start questioning where the bruise on our forehead came from.
What is the most common problem you run into while working with clients?
Timelines are a big hurdle for a lot of clients. As designers, we’re used to juggling multiple strict deadlines, all at once, and almost automatically; it’s part of our nature. However, the problem lies in that we assume everyone is like us; understand that not everyone is deadline-driven, and that’s okay. We rely heavily on clients to provide us with necessary information, give us feedback, etc by very specific dates so that the project can remain on time, and that’s not always an easy task to accomplish for a busy client. However, too many projects like those and you end up with boulders in your workflow — stalled projects that your other projects have to flow around. It can turn into a scheduling nightmare sometimes.
How important is your workspace to your creativity?
Pretty damn important. I’ve worked (way back in the day) in a place where every designer and developer was walled off and had their headphones on; it almost scared me out of becoming a designer. An environment like that is creatively suffocating. A creative space needs to be bright, open, and encourage conversation and collaboration. Music should be communal and played-out-loud so people aren’t yelling over earphones to get someone’s attention.
It’s not just about the space, though. The people who occupy it are just as important; the team needs to work well together. If someone gets a creative block or can’t figure something out, the team needs to step-up and help them out. If, on the other hand, the environment is ego-driven and dog-eat-dog, the only significant thing the studio is going to produce is stress.
Who are some of your influences in design?
Wow, where to start… Of course, I’ve got to mention the greats from history like Herbert Matter, Piet Zwart, Saul Bass, and Peter Behrens.
I’ve also drawn a lot of inspiration from the ideals of the Bauhaus, and the timeless work of those from the modern movement.
Then finally there are the designers, artists, and studios that seem completely incapable of failure like Pentagram, Taxi, April Greiman, David Carson, Neville Brody, James Victore, Banksy, Lawrence Weiner, and Shepard Fairey. This list goes on and on; there is definitely no shortage of phenomenal people doing phenomenal work out there.