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55 Ways to Happiness: Advice for designers

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By William Bardel
(Presented in March 2010 at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia)


1. Get dirty

-Take seconds steps, not just firsts. Design is about conceiving and planning, but don’t forget to take the initiative to act upon these plans. The world is shaped by those who do, not by those who just dream. Don’t stop at the conceptual sketch, try to implement it and see what happens. Think you have a better solution to a problem? Have the courage to do it. Create a small-scale physical prototype, and move from dream to experiment.


2. Seek challenge

-In your professional career, it is a good thing to encounter challenge. When things are tough and you are out of your comfort zone, this is where you know you're really learning. Have the courage to accept design challenges that you may not be entirely sure you can do. You will find that the process of having to figure them out as you go along is a big part of what makes them interesting.


3. Confront the ugly, head on

-Design problems invariably contain aspects that are either particularly difficult or unpleasant –the root canals of design work. From a happiness standpoint, it is best to tackle these kinds of things early on, rather than towards the end of a project. Have the courage to figure out ugly problems first so that they don't loom as a large, dark cloud over the work you do enjoy.


4. Don't eat yellow snow

-You will find that there are a lot of ideas that have already been covered by other designers, some exhaustingly so. Rather than seeking to emulate what you like, have the courage to break new ground when you can, even in situations with significant constraint. Do this through differences of technique, medium, or design context, etc.


5. You will encounter monsters

-We designers are a passionate, if not sometimes neurotic bunch. In your professional career, you will come across colleagues, bosses and collaborators in the world of design with seemingly inane notions about design practice. You might even find yourself in some heated arguments about the smallest, trivial things. So what do you do? In the face of design monsters bigger than yourself, you need to have the courage to be calm and avoid burning bridges, tempting as it may be. Say you don't agree, but that you’ll think about what they said. The long-term fallout and damage to your project and team is just not worth the short-term satisfaction. The world of design can sometimes be a surprisingly small one. Today’s colleague or boss may become tomorrow’s collaborative partner.


6. Don't worry about how the other guy is doing

-Some designers fall into the trap of worrying too much about what their peers are up to. This continues after design school within studios and between competing firms. Competition can be motivating, but if taken too far is destructive. Whole studios can implode from this type of paranoia and emulating me-too designs often fail because they respond to someone else’s work rather than the design problem at hand. Whether part of a team or on your own, have the courage to keep your eyes and attention on making your work the best you can, rather others. Good designers focus on figuring out themselves first, and are happier for it.


7. Peer awards are not the highest compliment

-Some place a lot of emphasis on the list of awards they receive. This is a mistake. We design for the general public, not just for other designers. The biggest compliments come not from what your design peers say, but everyday people who use your work and get satisfaction from it. Have the courage to be unconcerned about receiving design industry awards for your work. If you don’t, you run the risk to be swayed by what is fashionable in the moment, rather than what is needed.


8. Shun the bleeding edge

-Have the courage to not use new technology just because it’s there and others are talking about it. The use of technology for its own sake is perilous and typical of the "bleeding edge." Choose to use technology to enable your design solutions, as opposed to crafting a solution just to fit a technology that you want to use.


9. At least 50% will not "get it"

-There is a saying, when it comes to design, of the people you meet, 50% will not "get it". The real number is more than 50% who won't understand what you are talking about and see its value, no matter what you say or do. This can include prospective clients, and even your design or business bosses. It can be a terribly frustrating obstacle to happiness. Have the courage to just accept that there are always naysayers, and that the best strategy is to move on to find the good ones who "get it."


10. Do what you love

-Another saying that I first heard as words of wisdom from a college thesis advisor many years ago: Never willingly choose to write about something you don't find fascinating. This is true after you leave academia. Your interest and passion always shows in your work. Gravitate towards what you love to do, you will do better work and will be happier for it. If you don’t know what you like, try to find places that expose you to many things so you can find out.


11. Believe in yourself

-For some, this sounds incredibly difficult. I don’t have an answer in how to believe in yourself and your abilities, other than saying have the courage and confidence of faith. Self-doubt and disillusionment are the quickest and surest ways to ruin your happiness.


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