What I'm Not

mouth illustration by Kyle Steed I feel there's a lot of discussion, not just in the design community, about how we label/market/brand ourselves. I'm no brand expert, but let me tell you what I do know... me. I know who I am and more importantly I know who I'm not. That's what I want to tell you today.


I read a great article last week, Death to Creatives!!!, explaining the way we misuse the word "creative". It's not a noun, it doesn't describe a person, place or thing. Rather it's used to describe the person, place or thing in context. So me telling you I'm creative really makes no sense, albeit sounds good. But me telling you the way I design a website or illustrate a graphic is creative does make sense.

But there are other ways we can be "creative" outside of our careers, take cooking for example. I love to cook and enjoy tweaking the recipe to see how it turns out. Sometimes it fails, but every once in a while I get it just right and the food is delicious. Try it for yourself once in a while, shake things up, and most importantly have fun.


This title should only be given to people like Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler or Rick Astley (just kidding). I also hear it makes for an incredible energy drink. But the one thing "rockstar" shouldn't describe is a designer. Whoever coined this phrase for the design community should be ashamed. The lifestyle of a true "rockstar" in no way reflects the lifestyle of a designer. Unless you know designers out there that are on world tour, being followed by hardcore fans and more women than you can shake a stick at AND the millions of dollars flowing in, I think it's a little absurd to label yourself as such. (Please excuse the run on sentence.)

Plus, no client deserves to have their house trashed, liquor cabinet emptied and women stolen (a.k.a the "Rockstar" treatment). So it's time we put aside childish things and take a good look at who we really are. Hopefully we'll see that we're not some jackass "rockstar" but more of a confident designer.

Know It All

I don't know everything. Please don't assume I do. There is only one person who ever will. But I am always learning and improving, from past mistakes mostly. And when I approach a new client, or a new project, I focus on keeping an open mind. Listening to the goals of the client/project instead of hammering them with my own ideas will lead to a better working relationship. Sometimes though you don't always get to work with the optimal client, so knowing when to input your "2 cents" is a fine art you learn by experience.


I was created for dependence upon others. I thrive off the relationships in my life. From my personal relationship with Jesus, to my marriage, to the great group of friends I connect with face-to-face, to the larger creative community I interact with online. I can honestly say that I have a need for you all in my life. It's only when I think I can hold the world on my shoulders that my feet fail me and I crumble under the weight, tired and beat down. And the same thing happens in design. When we try and handle a project all on our own it wears us out. Without those wiser and more experienced watching over us we wouldn't be able to better ourselves. We need to bring back the master/apprentice model of working.

world on shoulders illustrations by Kyle Steed

Final Thoughts

I hope you learned more about who I am than what I'm not. My goal here is to help you think before you speak when describing yourself and what you do. I know words have a lot of power and when we use them loosely we usually end up putting our foot in our mouths. So that's why I think it's important to be as transparent as possible, and be the first to admit our mistakes. We can all learn from each other, but only if we're willing to open up and share.

Chance of brainstorming

brainstorming Well, well, well. Glad to see we meet again young reader. You may have thought me a fool for not posting anything for quite some time, but ah-ha, that's where you're mistaken. Things may seem silent on the outside, but inside there are enough thoughts, ideas, earth-shattering plans to make you wet the bed at night.

But before I lose any more of you to unrelated topics like bed wetting, I would like to share some insight to my life over the past few weeks.

Collaboration Celebration

Over the past couple of weeks I have been collaborating on a small project with Ben Pasley for a website he has. He asked me to come up with a new brand/header image that would convey the message of his site to the readers. From the start I was given total creative freedom to do so, with no real boundaries except sticking to the site description; "Worship House Concerts". The site itself is part of the Ning network, so there wasn't much in the way of customizing the layout besides color. The existing theme on the site was dark and didn't feel very inviting or personal. So I chose a lighter palette for the new theme, which uses more natural warmer colors. The new branding/header image is really what sets this site apart from others though.

House Concert Resources

House Concert Resources

House Concert Resources

Collaborating on this project with Ben led him to call me up for another project he needed done on short notice. But I was more than happy to take on the challenge and deliver something of value and quality. What started as a small header image has now turned in to an ongoing creative relationship.

Organic Creativity

From start to finish, we all have different ways of completing a project. Some stick to rigid guides and timelines while others enjoy a more free-flowing, organic path. I think I would categorize myself in the latter simply because that's how I like to live my life. This is not to say that timelines and guidelines are not important, because they are. Otherwise, nothing would get done and our clients would end up with one hefty bill. But allowing yourself to draw outside the lines and follow that sudden burst of inspiration is what it means to be creative.

Design for the now

As most of you probably haven't heard, I am planning a total re-design/re-structure of my site. There are a lot of bridges to cross and many miles to walk before I will be releasing any sneaky peaks at it. So instead of whining I would like your encouragement to help me get through these initials phases of planning and brainstorming. And if you're feeling lucky (well, are you punk?), give me a call or email and let's discuss what you like, don't like or think would be beneficial to my site. I can handle the constructive criticism of my peers, but please don't make an ass of yourself.


I would like to thank the following people:

Amanda Steed (@sweet_baby_jane) for putting up with me while I work late nights and haven't had much time to spend with you.

Aaron Irrizary (@aaroni268) for putting things in perspective about the design process. This was the boost I needed to quit getting caught up in all the details and just put something out there.

Garth Humbert (@IamGarth) for posing the question "when's your next blog post going up..." to me on twitter. It was like a double-shot of espresso to my monday morning.

The design community on twitter. You guys are such a huge inspiration.

sharing with you

Last week I posted a few lessons I've learned along the way that I wanted to share with you. And in return I asked for you to respond with your own lessons in life, design or faith that you've learned to share with all of us. Now I know this isn't the "end-all-be-all" list of lessons to share with each other, but I'm reminded by what someone smarter than me once said; "you have to start somewhere."

My hopes are that you find something today that will inspire you and help you push past whatever problem you're facing. To encourage you to open up your life and let others help you out. And in the end to help others out the same way.

Aaron Irizarry

- @aaroni268

  1. Slow Down - Life can get pretty hectic pretty quick, especially as a designer with deadlines and fast paced work environments. We have to slow down take a deep breath and regain our focus. Creativity or anything for that matter can really suffer if we don't take the time re-group. Ferris Bueller said it best "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
  2. No matter how frustrating/end of the world/impossible it gets… stay cool.. It will probably be just fine. Many times I have looked back on frustrating situations, and bad days at work where I lost it.... or thought the apocalypse was happening, only to realize that everything cleared up, all the work got done, no zombies came and ravaged the office. In these times it is good to note that keeping a cool head can save a lot of frustration, or embarrassment as well as keep from putting strain on professional relationships.
  3. Don't worry about what others do… get it done and do it right, don't allow others to help you fail. A lot of times when part of a project doesn't get done , or "the powers that be" are laying into the dev team it is easy to point the finger at others for things not getting done. This doesn't bode well in management's eyes. Take responsibility, Don't let others lead you to fail.

Darcy Murphy

- @mrDarcyMurphy

  1. Be happy. Seek out happiness before anything else.
  2. Be afraid, and face life anyways. You’ll enjoy it more.
  3. Listen. Be quiet, don’t judge, simply absorb.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  5. Spend all day thinking about things you need to share.

Kenroy George

- @kengeo

  1. Never underestimate people.
  2. Always speak up.
  3. Do good and it will return to you.
  4. Live your own life and not the one other would like you to.

Khayyam Wakil

- @iamkhayyam

  1. Accountability. There's no one to blame and when it comes down to it, you're the only one that is responsible. Don't point fingers, if you have to, point it at yourself.
  2. Wisdom is what happens when you don't get what you want.
  3. Clients usually pick the worst designs, make sure that one is still pretty
  4. Know what you're worth and charge accordingly.
  5. Learn to say "no". A very empowering word with clients
  6. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Find the best and let them do the rest.
  7. Keep track of all your working hours as a freelancer. The hours you put in aren't all billable hours, so use your data to help estimate jobs, projects etc. Invaluable need for any designer really.
  8. Lists:
    • get that crap out of your head
    • visually see what's required to be done
    • it's nice to check things off, feels good
    • make room for the creativity to flow
  9. Speaking of flow... just roll with it. Everything unfolds exactly the way it's supposed to. Program crashed and you lost the file?! There was a reason. Look beyond what you can control and just accept it was randomly on purpose. You might not know why in the moment, but you will... eventually
  10. Every problem is just a solution waiting to be found. Perspective makes all the difference.

Lauren Krause

- @creativecurio

  1. Have to give a big speech or design the hugest project you’ve ever faced? Remember that people want you to succeed. Sometimes that realization is the confidence boost you need to get through it.
  2. If you’re going through a seemingly impossible time, think back to another time that also seemed impossible. How does it look now? That’s how this situation will be, given some time.
  3. Life, including design, is an art. Science is an art, too. In other words, no one has all the answers; we’re all just making the decisions that seem best to us with the information and experience we have at the moment.
  4. Learn what your strengths are and grow them. The Strengths Finder test is a great resource for this if you’re a little lost.
  5. Be aware of yourself—your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, abilities, passions, strengths.
  6. But remember, most of the time, it’s not about you.
  7. Understanding where someone is coming from (especially when they don’t make sense) is the first step in removing him/her as a threat. We are almost always afraid of what we don’t understand.
  8. At the heart of anger is fear.
  9. Life is so much more enjoyable when you’re driven by love rather than fear.
  10. Being constantly busy—particularly with meaningless "stuff"—is often a cover-up for fear and a lack of direction and passion.

Mirko Humbert

- @mirkohumbert

  1. Failure can be funny if you got a sense of humour, don't be afraid.
  2. Being stressed on things you have no control on is just stupid, relax.
  3. People don't give a shit about you, they're too busy with themselves. Try to find a common ground if you want to communicate with people or they won't pay attention to you.
  4. Don't give up, you may not get what you want but at least you'll get something.
  5. Your friends are not perfect, you aren't either. Be cool to them.
  6. Don't watch tv, it sucks. Go out and meet people.
  7. Your parents washed your ass for years, it's not a big deal to visit them and be nice to them sometimes.
  8. Do stupid things, you'll have something to talk about later.
  9. Everything will be fine, don't worry.

R.A. Porter

- @coyotesqrl

  1. No matter how much they cost, if you wear polished shoes to an interview it reflects well on you.
  2. When in doubt, the answer is always 7. Unless it's a multiple choice exam. Then it's 'D'.
  3. Aloe goes on the *outside*.

Rhonda Michelle Steward

- @rhondamichelle

  1. Angry people need more love than happy people
  2. Being the first to set the tone goes a long way
  3. When your dogs want to go outside go with them
  4. Your kids choose you
  5. Relocating spiders can change your entire relationship with them
  6. Knowing where the main water valve in your home is helpful, no...make that essential
  7. The real reason{s} for knowing someone may not be known for many, many years
  8. Cell phones can still work after a dunk {or 2} if you dry them out on your car dashboard
  9. Hot cocoa will always rock
  10. So do grown up versions of mac & cheese
  11. No matter what goes wrong at a wedding you’re still married at the end of the day
  12. There will always be someone who thinks you’re a design wizard and someone who thinks you’re “on your way” - at the same time, of course
  13. The mantra “profit over preference” can focus a design decision with a commercial client

Thanks again to everyone who participated.

A time to be creative

Laying in bed this morning, half awake/half asleep, my mind was flooded with better, more creative, ways that I could be spending my time when I'm bored. Then I thought it would be a good idea to make a list and share them here with you. So here, in no particular order, are creative ways I (you) could spend my (your) time when I'm (you're) bored.

  1. Make a collage out of found objects from walking my dog
  2. make a map of my thoughts
  3. watch 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' for the hundredth time
  4. draw in a journal
  5. take a walk
  6. work through a photoshop tutorial
  7. cook some food
  8. find new illustrations online
  9. flip through the pages of Hand Job: A Catalog of Type
  10. visit
  11. plan a new vacation
  12. paint that empty canvas I stretched 4 months ago
  13. relax

Okay so obviously I couldn't list every possible idea that came to mind this morning. For one I don't remember half of them, since I was half asleep, and also this could go on forever.

But maybe you could share some of your ideas. I would like to here what keeps your creative mind working.