After receiving such great feedback from the last article in this series, “On Raising Rates”, I’ve been buzzing with ideas for this feature. As a business owner, it’s important to me to discussing pressing topics with others who may be struggling to understand certain concepts. A lot of the responses in this feature will be submitted by fellow designers but I’m encouraging any freelancers to let me know if you’d be interesting in chatting about things that may be swept under the rug.
As an introduction to today’s feature on authenticity, I wanted to share a little back story as to how this came up. After designing for seven years, you see a lot of trends come and go. Web 2.0 anybody? With easy access to thousands of creatives via sites like Pinterest and Dribbble, it’s hard not to be inspired. When do we do notice that we might be come a little too inspired? Authenticity is an important trait, no matter what field you’re in. It’s important to remain unique and avoid giving into what’s popular. As designer/blogger hybrids become responsible for delivering design trends from agencies to the screens of the everyday consumer, I find myself becoming slightly responsible for the way I represent design. It’s important for me to know when to indulge into trends and still remaining authentic to my creative vision. More importantly, it’s important for me to connect with other designers who feel the same way which is why I reached out to Rashi Birla of Bucket of Squash and Kelsey Cronkhite of Pinegate Road.
Although I was introduced to both ladies via their blogs, upon the first glance, I could easily tell these were ladies who believed in sticking to the basics while remaining authentic. Rashi’s work with patterns has been something I’ve rarely seen anywhere else and Kelsey’s blog design alone showcases her ability to utilize uncommon elements in design. I both admire and respect these women for their work and their words. There are many blog trends I come across daily but I can always say visiting their blogs can be a breath of fresh air. I don’t believe all trends are bad, and some are even fun to take a part in. However, I do believe remaining authentic is important and you always want to reflect yourself in your work. Imitation isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery.
Why is it important to remain unique as a freelancer?
Kelsey: I think it’s important to most of all be uniquely passionate. Passions come from within and when they work at their full potential, they start to create unique qualities we find in so many great designers. As a freelancer, more so than working for a firm or a brand, it’s usually important to have a certain something that clients can come to you for. Your uniqueness does need to stand out a little more, as oftentimes you are your own brand and it’s your unique offering that helps you do what you’re passionate about for a living. You don’t want someone describing to their friends — and potential new clients — that you’re that someone who paint purple polka dotted cats, offers web templates, and has an Etsy shop. As a freelancer you probably just want to be know as that girl who is really excellent at painting purple polka dotted cats. Those unique qualities are what will make you memorable as a freelancer, and oftentimes be the jump start to some pretty big things town the line.
What makes a designer unique?
Rashi: Some designers are known for a particular style, some are known for their ability to be a jack of all trades, and some are known for pushing the boundaries of design. A common thread I find in all designers that I think are really unique, is how they are unabashedly true to themselves. We are all unique as people, but to be a truly unique designer, you have to not only know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses but you have to let that permeate in the type of work you do. You have to create a niche for yourself and aggressively go after the work you are really good at. All designers are capable of this, but I think this is one of the hardest things to learn. It’s something I still work on everyday.
As a designer, do you feel pressured to indulge in design trends?
Kelsey: Oh my gosh, see here. If you get to reading you’ll find that the trend thing goes hand-in-hand with scary subliminal messaging. Sometimes as a designer you can’t help but follow trends, no matter how hard you try to do otherwise. We are all influenced by our environment, and when our environment becomes more digital and less physical it’s my understanding that we tend to start speaking and designing in a common language. Trends end up popping up in work even when you think you’re being completely unique. I wouldn’t say I feel pressured to indulge in trends, but there is definite value in understanding what is out there, how other designers are using them to solve their problems, and storing that information in your arsenal of deign tricks. You never know how the thought processes behind one singular design could influence how you go about solving your next one — in a totally different and unique way!
On the flip side, my day job requires me to know trends and use them appropriately for mass markets. When your products are going into Target and Wal-Mart, the larger and lasting trends are what we need to lean on not because we can’t come up with something different, but because it is what the consumer need dictates. You can’t deliver one unique style when it’s your job to meet all the needs for a mass market.
How do you own your style to stand out among blog trends?
Rashi: You own your style by not worrying about the trends. You do what works for you and your blog, and you keep practicing to hone your style. I think this goes beyond just your blog and into all the personal creative work that you do. If you have a strong personal style, you will find your “tribe” of people that resonate with it. If everyone is using a certain font or color combination, you are doing yourself no favors by doing the same thing. You are only diluting the value your brand can have. Just because there are popular trends out there doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of starting your own trend. Stick to your guns and try to stay ahead of the game.
Can you be unique while utilizing design trends?
Kelsey: Of course! In graphic design, the value of design often lies in it’s concept. Why is the designer using this certain shade of blue? What does that mix of geometric shapes and organic line quality signify or make you feel? Why did the designer pick a humanist-inspired sans serif to pair with their hand-drawn yet still vector illustration? For non-designers, these details might not matter, and it’s all about the over-all picture and how it communicates with the audience. As designers looking to other designers work, it’s important to dissect what they do and why so you can use the concepts behind the work to inspire your own design processes. Does this sometimes involve including trends? You bet. Just make sure that you’re designing with purpose, and you should be good. “Because it’s trending” isn’t usually a good enough reason.
When should freelancers embrace trends?
Rashi: There is never a particular time a designer has to or should follow a trend, but if you are going to use them, use trends smartly and apply them where it makes sense. To be honest, sometimes it’s hard not to follow some trends. But if the work calls for a certain style or concept that might be trendy, twist the trend to make it your own. Infuse your own design personality into the trend and help it evolve. It’s a lot like following fashion trends— Take a few pieces that are in season but combine them with other pieces you already own so the look is uniquely you and not a replica of what you see in a magazine.
How do you avoid being too inspired by others work?
Kelsey: I think the key lies in finding the meaning behind the trends or design and using that to influence your process. That is if you’re working directly from a certain inspiration. Sometimes, you just can’t help it. You see an image, or you like a certain style, and it marinates in your head until it looks like your own idea and you spit it back out as original work. It happens. I don’t think anyone wants to intentionally copy work, and it’s something you get better at realizing and avoiding as your career goes on. My one word of advice would be to not beat yourself up about it when it does happen. It will, especially in your beginning years. Learn from your own process, reflect, and use that as a foundation to grow from as a more informed designer. We’re all on our own particular journeys, and all I can say is to get out there, keep doing work your passionate about, and don’t worry about this too too much. You’ll find your way to a unique perspective and you’ll be better from the bumps along the way.
Why is copying others work never a good route to take?
Rashi: Besides the fact that it’s in poor taste, people can see right through copied work. Work that is blatantly copied just looks like average work. Most times, it’s not as finessed or as well thought out as the original. These days, a lot of our work overlaps since we get inspiration from the same resources and we are inspired by each other, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But if you are directly influenced by someone else’s work to the point that you find yourself copying it, try to push it further and add your own style to it. Chances are, if you spend the time and effort to really push the work far enough and let yourself be inspired by other things, your work will not look like a copied replica of your original influence. It will also be much more true to who you are as a designer.
Thank you so much Kelsey and Rashi for taking the time out and being amazing by being a part of this series!