A common question I get asked most from young designers is usually about personal branding. How to promote yourself and your work.
Simply put: "How can I skip all the hard work and just become famous?"
It seems as if young designers are looking for immediate fame and recognition. I can't even blame anyone, because the systems we are surrounded by are optimized for recognition and the quick fix. With the immediate feedback that social media provides, our patience has gone close to zero. We want validation from the world, and even more so our peers. If a Dribbble or Instagram shot doesn't get enough likes in a short amount of time we get insecure and delete it. It's a common scenario.
When I started designing there were no like buttons, no followers, nothing. The recognition I got was mostly through people actually telling me face to face that they liked my work, or someone took the effort to write me an email (very few did).
I mostly designed for myself and rarely even shared my work. And if I did, all I had was some old "GFX forums" or IRC channels which was more of a place for gamers to hang out who didn't care much about my designs anyway.
I understand that in today's world it's easy to think that fame is what makes a designer or maker successful. And while I'm not even remotely famous nor successful myself, I believe the motivation to be famous is something we too easily get sidetracked by.
“Fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are.” ― Erica Jong
If you ask me if I'd choose fame or mastery, I would always choose mastery. Fame will never make you happy or fulfilled. It's hard work and mastering your field will last forever. The act of climbing a mountain is why we humans climb mountains. Climbing mountains is the challenge we seek, and the very act is what's so joyful about it. Staying on top of the mountain only to protect your position is exhausting & not fulfilling.
Essentially, being on top of the mountain or the wish to simply shortcut yourself to the top is what seeking for fame really is. It's the wish for skipping the hard work that makes no sense. Skipping the act of climbing the mountain, the most joyful part of it all.
One should always focus on the work, and the fame will come eventually and naturally. In most cases, people learn that fame isn't even what they wanted. Because as I mentioned above, fame is nothing else but having a ton of people who don't know who you really are. And I agree, it's easy to get caught up in searching for fame & recognition nowadays. I admit, I've been falling into the trap myself more often than I would've liked to.
But in the end, I try to focus on my work. I love working hard, it keeps me sane and makes me a happy human being. Even the couple prestigious projects I've done (serving on advisory boards I don't like, or speaking at conferences I didn't like but seemed looked good in my resume) have never gotten me anywhere close to where I wanted to go, even though from the outside it might appear that these are the things that make you successful. But trust me, they don't.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." ―Thomas A. Edison
When I accept or work on new projects I always like to ask myself first: What is the motivation for doing this project? Is it purely out of prestige? Or can I actually add value and grow personally by doing this project? If the answer is "prestige only" I try to avoid it.
But again, it's easy to fall in the trap. As a young designer I always wanted to work for brands like Coca Cola. I thought it would make me a cooler designer if I could work for them. And the moment I worked for them, the magic was gone. I actually never really wanted to work for Coca Cola because I believed in the work, but simply because I thought it looked good on my CV.
It was the wrong motivation all along.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!