Talent and Justice mean nothing here.
I’m still digesting all of the information I learned at the HOW Conference, but, in the process of working through my notes, I was reminded of an experience I had in college that, at the time, infuriated me. Turns out it was far more educational than I took it for.
My senior year of college centered around building our final portfolio. The portfolio we would take with us into the real world as we begin the process of selling ourselves to potential employers. I worked my butt of on this thing. I spent hours in the computer lab tweaking fonts, cleaning vector paths, printing, re-tweaking, re-printing, cutting, gluing, the whole nine yards. It was my baby, my ticket to a future. I was proud of it, and my professors gave me constant praise.
For four years, in all of my classes there was this other girl, we’ll call her Pants (Oatmeal reference). Her work was crap. She argued with professors daily and was consistently told that she should consider another degree. She held on. She argued her way into maintaining mediocre grades, and finished the program. No one had the tenacity to fail her without fear of repercussions. She was the master of manipulation.
Towards the end of senior year, we started meeting with design agencies. They would do portfolio reviews with us, share inspiring stories, and conduct design seminars and exercises.
One of these design exercises was to design a CD label for a made up company. We all put words in a hat, and two were drawn at random. This became our fictional company name. For the sake of this entry, we’ll call the company Curly Frog. Curly Frog was a fictional company akin to iTunes. We were given two hours to conceptualize this CD label. We could go wherever we wanted, make mockups however we wanted, the sky, and two hours, were the only limits.
After two hours , my class of 10 or so returned to the classroom. Everyone pinned up sketches, some done on the computer, some of them done on napkins, some with big frogs, some with little frogs, frogs with headphones. Tons of ideas. Several beaming with true genius and thought behind them.
Then walks in Pants. She hangs a single paper circle, covered in nothing but scribbles, and sits down.
One by one, we go through each piece. The artist stands, says a few words about their thought process, and how they reached the ideas presented before us all. None lasting longer than a minute or two at most.
Pants goes last. She talks about her scribbles on a circle for well beyond 2 or 3 minutes. She goes into the emotion, the desire, blahblahblah. Her speech is thick with conceptual bullsh*t. Any moment I’m waiting for the agency designers to cut her off and let her sit back down. The entire class, after 4 years of dealing with her less than mediocre half-baked work, is done dealing with this. The professor is visibly biting her tongue.
But the agency designers love it! They eat it all up like it’s being served to them with fine wine.
No. Nonononononononono. This is a fluke, they don’t love it, do they? It’s crap! We had two hours and she panicked. She didn’t want to walk through the door empty handed, so she did this! “Jackson Pollock inspired” my ass, don’t insult an artist like that, you’re a no-talent hack!
I just watched the injustice unfold in front of me, as my hard work stayed pinned to the wall, silent, because I didn’t talk a great game.
But, I’m an artist, my work should speak for me!
That’s a lie. If you believe that, stop.
50%, if not more, of becoming a successful designer is being able to sell yourself. Being able to talk yourself, and your designs, up. Being a sales person for yourself. I had to watch as she verbally convinced an agency that she had more talent than me, and at the time I was infuriated. But, I was also completely ignorant to think it was a fluke. It happens every day.
As I’m going through all my notes from HOW, I’m realizing that a lot of the advice I just got, pretty much boils down to you need to learn how to talk the talk. You need to learn how to sound impressive, because as a designer, especially an in-house one, how you speak and how you carry yourself will impact your career far more than your portfolio. And you’ll need to prove yourself constantly.