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Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Dave Dawson, a new friend of mine. As we talked about the industry, I shared my philosophy about staying inspired as a designer. Even I was surprised by the way I verbalized it.

I believe the work you do should reflect the sum of your life’s experiences. The things you go through have a profound impact on your expression. That’s why I find it troubling when something I make looks like something someone else had made. No one else has gone through the same things I have; what did I do wrong? What’s blocking my experiences from influencing this design? Anyone with minimal Photoshop experience can make reflective buttons. My design work should reflect my life.

Those qualities should shine through whatever I create. If I design something that looks similar to what’s been designed by an only child living the Midwest that only speaks Korean, then I’m doing something wrong.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this. Paula Scher, a principal at Pentagram, expresses her views in this installment of Hillman CurtisArtist Series:

It’s done in a second and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that’s in my head.

That’s why it’s nearly impossible for me to do work that I don’t believe in. If my work is inspired by my own experiences, then the work itself is an extension of me. Not just my skills or abilities, but my personality and character. I’ve turned down some great opportunities simply because the founder felt sleazy or the project goals conflicted with my religious beliefs.

How do your experiences influence what you create?


Phil Coffman said:

I spent 12 years living overseas and traveling around the world ('82-'94) which I feel has greatly impacted my work. I think seeing all sorts of people living in diverse environments has caused me to approach each project with a desire to create a unique experience. I don't want each project to look the same. I want that content to exist in the environments it's supposed to exist in. It's far too jarring of an experience otherwise.

I also spent 7 years working for a company doing design work that ranged from print to interactive to motion graphics and 3D. Having my hands in all of those pots caused me to obsess about the details (particularly 3D work) because I didn't want to be mediocre at any of them. That obsession with detail is a key component to what drives me today.

Posted on April 27, 2010 10:26 AM

Josh Hemsley said:

Nice post Dan! As important as function is behind a design, the influence of art direction is just as relative. I think you are absolutely right in that our own experiences should influence our design. Maybe not all the nit bits in life will play a factor but definitely our emotions and feelings towards certain subject matters. I think it simply comes down to design being a form of art. Some people look at it as just a skill set and a job, while others strive on it being an emotional expression. The outcome is definitely noticeable as it is an any art field.

Great post man! Glad you posted this early in the week so it can play as a nice reminder for the projects ahead! :)

Posted on April 27, 2010 10:34 AM

Josiah Platt said:

This is something I've really struggled with in my career.

I have such a difficult time being motivated if I'm in a situation that is contrary to my beliefs, or even my goals, and as I've pursued design, it has been a real challenge to avoid a perhaps too-strong influence from designs(and designers) that I appreciate.

Great post. Food for thought.

Posted on April 27, 2010 12:39 PM

Malcolm McAtee said:

Dood...learn to swim already!

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