I am not a huge sports fan, but I love the spirit of camaraderie that is found in a team. It's the need to accomplish something greater than ourselves that drives us to work hard. But sometimes all we see is the negative side of our work, and that really stunts our growth as designers. So what do I mean by "defending your offense"?
1. Know your strengths, but more importantly your weaknesses.
This past weekend as I sat on the sidelines at my wife's roller derby game, I couldn't help but notice how poor their defense was against the other team. Now granted they were playing last years undefeated team, there were still major holes in their strategy. But I didn't connect the dots as to how this relates to us as designers until I watched Joel Beukelman's new video blog, equality for brand and logos alike.
If we are really strong at creating logos, graphics or websites (our offense) and are weak at getting feedback, networking or speaking to clients (defense), then we will almost always end up with just a good (not great) product. And isn't something worth doing, worth doing well? A good way to examine what your strengths and weaknesses are is to make a list for yourself. Here is an example of a list I made.
I know for me it helps to put stuff like this down on paper so I can visualize what I need to work on. If I didn't do this I would just toss the information around in my brain until I became too tired of thinking about it that I would forget. But now I've accomplished two goals; 1. Get my thoughts on paper and 2. Clear up space in my head for more important matters.
2. We need to take the time to build a strategy for success.
Making a list, and actually going by it, will help build a solid foundation for our success. Remember that it's hard to know where we're going if we don't know how to get there. And while it may be difficult to admit our weaknesses, because I know we're all perfect, it will help us create a "game plan" as to how we can improve upon them.
But lists are just the beginning. Getting it down on paper shouldn't be the stopping point. We need to put our words in to action. And that is the best part about this whole thing, we will each have a different plan of action that is unique to our situation. For me, I landed my current job a year and a half ago with just a small amount of knowledge about the web mixed with a willingness to learn, and now I am able to create fully customizable websites in more than one language and style it all up with some sexy css. But this is just the beginning for me. I am by no means close to the top of my game. But I'm here, I'm working at it and I'm loving the challenge.
If you are doing something that isn't fulfilling you, start doing what you love. Do it whenever you can. Paint in the evenings. Wake up an hour early and write in a journal. Stop wishing you had your camera by your side, and take it with you everywhere you go. Just stop wishing you could do more, and actually do it. There is plenty of time in a day to be creative.
3. We need to embrace, and participate, in the community around us.
Social networking has really re-defined what it means to network. I know that may sound redundant, but we are no longer limited to our local design meetups (even though I highly encourage you to do so). The major players like Twitter and Facebook are at our disposal. We are only limited by our imagination as to how we use them.
Twitter adds a whole new depth-of-field that never really existed before. Even though we are limited by 140 characters, it forces us to refine our message and say what really matters. This opposed to other new networks like tumblr or posterous (which are great) that act more like micro-blogs, and then you might as well just post on your blog anyways. But before I get off on a huge tangent, Twitter (when used effectively) is able to expand your network faster than any other service.
But don't get caught up in the hype of trying to outperform everyone around you. There will always be those people who are smarter, faster and stronger. We need to focus on our strategy and play to our strengths... and weaknesses. I like to think of what the tortoise said, "Slow and steady wins the race".