This past week I celebrated another year of life (yaaaaaay). To remind me of just how special, good and talented I am, my mom was kind enough to send me a framed poster from a website she came across called Good Fucking Design Advice. What a gal.

Random thought: Is a birthday gift that reminds you about work really a gift? Discuss…

While it’s true that it’s always the thought that counts (sorry mom), the poster itself is really the basic bitch of the graphic design/home decor world. It’s a simple, black and white typographic poster featuring tidbits of “helpful” advice (read: bullshit) with some variation of the word “fuck” in every sentence spelled out in all Helvetica (of course). It makes sense she would send me this gift. After all, I’m a designer, and I say “fuck” a lot, but I don’t have much room on my office walls for it, so it’s just been sitting on the floor in the shadows, staring at me while I work. I’ve caught myself looking over at it, slowly realizing that most of the oversimplified, overly-obvious advice is not only incredibly trite, it’s also fairly inaccurate and in some cases potentially harmful to our profession. It’s the kind of ultra-quotable, surface level, typographic drivel that gets passed around by navel gazing teenagers on Instagram, but aimed towards design professionals who should really know all of this already. Hey… she meant well.

It should be noted and understood that I hate receiving advice, which clearly makes me a great candidate for giving it, so that’s what I’m gonna do by offering my own two cents. Let’s dissect this bitch…

Believe in your fucking self:
Meh. This is a tired concept. I find that having a chip on your shoulder is a better driving force than confidence, but I digress. In college, I remember being told from day one that something like 15% of the entire student body would actually go on to have successful careers in creative fields. Not exactly a confidence booster, but it was a call to action that has stayed with me throughout the years. Sure, you should believe in your abilities, but in a gracious, humbled sort of way. I’m very aware of my shortcomings as a designer and I’m constantly in awe of my peers in related design fields making up that 15%. Personally, I’m driven by THEIR greatness through a desire to be on that same level myself. The truth is, to be great in this field there can be no self-satisfaction. If you fall out of that margin, enjoy your job at the bank. Design isn’t about your ego and it is certainly not an outlet for self-expression. Let yourself fucking go.

Stay up all fucking night:
People need sleep to do good work, period. It’s a biological fucking necessity! I always find it amusing to view the work I’ve created at the beginning of the day compared to work produced in the waning hours. When you’re fresh, you are working faster, crisper and smarter than when burnout begins, and it’s visibly obvious. For me, working long into the night on a tedious project just means I’ll have more to correct in the a.m. Save the self-martyrdom for something that matters, like reversing climate change and saving sick babies. Get some rest. Let yourself breathe. Give yourself the opportunity to do great fucking work. Nobody cares how much crappy work you can produce in 24 hours. Really, this point should be “don’t miss fucking deadlines” because that’s bad.

Work outside of your fucking habits:
Pop quiz hotshot. How do you become really good at shooting free throws? The answer: You shoot a whole lot of fucking free throws. Design is a process, not a mid-life crisis. Find and develop good habits that work for you and your process. When they stop working, make tweaks that work better, and habitualize the shit out of them. Repeat as necessary. Now, if you wanted to say “broaden your fucking horizons,” I wouldn’t have much to disagree with because perspective, amiright?

Know when to fucking speak up:

In my experience, it’s better to know when not to speak. Maybe you’re less of a jerk than me. Who knows? Choose your battles. There will be no shortage of them.

A computer is a Lite-Brite for bad fucking ideas:
I don’t know what this means. Sound’s like a bad fucking idea written by somebody using a computer.

Fucking Network:
Ugh. It’s necessary and that’s the ugly truth. Never do it without a drink in hand, though. When shit starts to go south, spill some on your shirt and excuse yourself to the restroom. By law, public restrooms require some sort of ventilation, hopefully in your case it’s a window. This is your escape plan. Don’t forget that fucking follow up email!

Have a fucking concept:
I agree with this, but it should probably say, “develop a fucking concept” for clarity. If you enter the room with a concept, you’re either gonna leave disappointed or hand-cuffed to the radiator while the boat starts filling up with water (LEO!!!!!). The concept part comes after the brief, after the kickoff, and after the research gets done. Have a fucking open mind, the right concept will find you.

Question fucking everything:
Okay, David Duchovny, this is how conspiracy theories start. I know I’m taking this too literally, but this just sounds like a great way to get shit-canned for being insufferable. Certain things are exactly what they appear to be and you do yourself a disservice by banging your head against a wall, endlessly trying to find a new angle that probably does not exist. Being curious is healthy AF, but stop pretending you’re going to discover electricity by staring at 40 lightning bolt logos. But seriously, go up to your client or creative director and start questioning everything they say. I dare you. Oh, I double dog dare you…

Still here? You didn’t do it, did you? Ask the right questions at the right times. Use good judgement. Stay grounded. Don’t be annoying. This is real fucking life.

Learn to take some fucking criticism:
No. Learn how to RESPOND to fucking criticism. Taking criticism is inherently part of the profession and you’ve been privy to that cruel fact since foundation year (unless you were that brown-nosing do-gooder that everyone besides your professor hated). Our design decisions are going to be questioned and challenged so often that your skin will become thicker than the head of a Guinness poured by a rookie barback in Catalonia, but it is not your job to roll over every time someone tells you to “make it pop.” It is your job to make sure your concept or idea is being clearly conveyed and understood properly. It is your job to fight for those ideas and justify the ones you know work best. If you don’t have a good reason to back up your decisions, then it was probably a bad one and you deserve to be criticized. Take it, buddy. You fucking earned it.

The main takeaway here. Don’t give a designer anything ever. You literally cannot fucking win.

 

Love,
AD