October 14, 2016
The Advice Question
Since the rise in popularity of long-form interview publications like The Great Discontent and Design Matters Podcast with Debbie Millman, the interview has been widely regarded as a worthy-of-our-time content format. It’s no surprise, really. Compared to articles, listicles, blog posts, etc., the interview is more genuine. It’s personal, not argumentative. We can glean insights from interviews that are resourceful, whether they be personal or professional.
Interviews are not a new form of content, by any means. However, in the era of the internet, they are more accessible now than ever, especially if you can simply pop in your earbuds and listen while driving home from work.
Since we started our own interview series, we’ve been doing a lot of research. What makes an interview good? What is it about this content form that is so engaging? What questions elicit the best responses? What makes an interview worth reading?
The majority of the interviews we enjoy are ones that focus on craft, process, and career development. The interviews that tend to focus on highfalutin theory and critique can seem disingenuous, and are not practically helpful. The interviews that we find ourselves engaged with are the ones that share practical wisdoms, humor, and genuine life stories. That’s the key feature of the interview, compared to the article: the intimate human element.
There are many traditional questions asked in design interviews over the eras. One that often yields an interesting response is the advice question: “What advice would you give someone new in the field?” The answers are often strikingly diverse, some brief, some long, some sarcastic, some inspiring. Though we have avoided asking cliché questions in the past, this one is reoccurring for a reason: it is often both personal and practical. The answer to this question reveals something about the interviewee on an internal level, while also sharing a hard-earned piece of wisdom for the readers.
So, we decided to share with you some of the responses to this question that we’ve found interesting. We wouldn’t necessarily give this advice ourselves, but these are the responses that made us stop and think.
When I was asked by a Japanese publication what advice I would give to design students, I said I would write only 3 words.
Those are: Work – Think – Feel.
Since the editor was not content with an article of only 3 words I was asked to flesh it out a bit by indicating why I have chosen those 3 words. Here it is.
No matter how brilliant, talented, exceptional and wonderful the student may be, without work there is nothing but potential and talk. Although observing and listening may be helpful, one learns by doing. Learning is an active process! I have never known a successful designer who was not a worker and the best students always seem to be those that work a great deal. It seems clear therefore, that work is an essential ingredient of accomplishment.
Design is a problem solving activity. I take this to mean the use of intelligence and knowledge to achieve a desired end. Thinking is the application of that intelligence to arrive at the appropriate solution to the problem or to evaluate it if arrived at intuitively. I cannot conceive of the design process without thought.
Work without feeling, intuition, spontaneity, is devoid of humanity. Feelings are the bridges we use to connect to each other, one to the other. So there is my advice – work – think – feel !
I am a great believer in authenticity. Each designer must find their own voice and path. It is the only way to have any sense of fulfillment and gratification in one’s work.
I always tell students to make work they believe in, they shouldn’t feel like they have to produce a certain kind of work or try to fit in with whatever is fashionable at that moment. It’s important to develop your own individuality both as a designer and a person. Your own experiences inform your personality, we all have different slants on things. It’s boring when things begin to look the same. Do your own thing and find your own voice.
I think it’s very important for young designers to do two things. One: spend the first one to five years learning how to design and present design from somebody who is terrific at it. Having that basic understanding will carry you through the rest of their career. The second is this: develop the ability to explain, defend, and promote your work. Those are the two most important things.
If a young designer’s software skills are spectacular, but they’re assisting all the time, then they won’t get anything out of it. They have to be able to take that next step, which might mean going out on their own. The danger is getting trapped as a technologist. You need to be able to ride past the technology by understanding what it can do, who you are, and where you want to take it. You don’t want technology to lead you; you want to lead it, but it’s very hard to do that when you’re in the middle of it.
My best advice is to find out who you are. Hold on to your passions and dig deep while trusting your instincts. Step outside of what is expected. Embrace accidents and know that eventually you will discover the perfect solution to a creative dilemma and be very joyous while doing it. Understanding the changing dynamics of what’s happening in the world today allows you to dare; and as my idol Zaha Hadid said, “Who dares, wins!”
I try to remind people that being a graphic designer is fun. Sometimes people complain about clients, but my advice is to use design as a secret disguise to infiltrate whatever world you want to go into. If you do that over and over again, and then translate that interest and curiosity into the work that you’re doing, you’ll do great. If you do it right, you can use the excuse of graphic design as a way to go places you’d never go otherwise, learn things you never would have learned, and find yourself in situations where you wouldn’t normally be.
Michael C Place
Don’t look to the design press or books for inspiration.
Have a point of view.
Don’t be arrogant.
Be prepared to fail, but learn from it.