how-to-become-a-great-designerHow do you excel at anything? You do it over and over again until you get really good at it.

Yet there comes a point when you’re as good as or better than everyone else around you. This is actually dangerous situation to be in. You can now coast and keep doing what you’re doing well without much effort. It’s dangerous because you’re no longer pushing the envelope. You’ve stopped striving for greatness.

In design work, this often happens.

Perhaps, you’re now great at responsive web design after reading about it on our blog. If you’ve been reading our blog posts here long enough and put new ideas you find here into practice, you’ve probably become much better at design than other designers who don’t study and practice as hard as you do.

Where do you go from here? If the enemy of the great is good, how do you get enough incentive to become the best in your field?

A Lesson from Sam Walton

At this point, your continuing success as a designer in not all about acquiring new knowledge and skills, it’s also about getting the right attitude to get even better at things you already do well.

If you want to know more and do more in your career, you have to be humble about how well you’re already doing. In other words, you have to be humble enough to continue to learn more.

Here’s a true story to illustrate this point:

When Sam Walton visited friends in Brazil, WalMart was already a flourishing retail empire. One night, his friends got a call from the local police department to say that he had been thrown into a jail. Brazilian jails have a reputation for being amongst the worst in the world. His friends rushed over to the police station and berated the police chief. “Do you know who you have here?” they asked, indignant.

“We didn’t know who he was,” apologized the chief. “We found him crawling around the floor of a department store and thought he might be dangerous.”

After his friends bailed him out, they asked Walton why he was crawling around the floor.

“Oh,” he said, “I was just measuring the aisles to see if the aisles in Brazilian stores were wider than what we have in the United States.”

It was that level of insatiable curiosity, passion for his work, and humility to learn more that allowed Sam Walton to build a $160 billion dollar fortune. That’s more than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. (However, due to tax purposes, this fortune wasn’t all in his name.)

5 Applications to Design

How do you apply this idea to design?

You adopt Sam Walton’s willingness to learn, practice and refine the basics even when you know highly advanced design tech.

Here are 5 suggestions to put this idea into practice:

1. Education is important

If you taught yourself or you learned on the job, you may want to try graphic design classes. You will not only refresh skills that you may not have used in awhile, you will learn things that you did not know.

2. Learn more tools

While you may have specialized in one or two graphic design tools, think about how you could improve in others. For instance, if you have become adept at CorelDraw, then consider learning about Quark, Microsoft Publisher, or Adobe InDesign.

3. Think like an artist

Artists look for creative ideas everywhere they go. They usually carry a notebook to scribble down their thoughts. These notes then become a source of inspiration when they are working on a new project.

4. Refine your own personal style

Every designer develops their own unique style as they work in the field. Good designers are not afraid to explore, innovate, and think out of the box. It’s this level of insatiable curiosity and high creative thinking that creates an impact in the world of design. Focus on refining your unique designs to help you land more design jobs.

5. Brush up your resume

Is your professional resume up-to-date? It should highlight your talents, education, and experience. It should also accentuate your greatest strengths. You never know when you will bump into your next greatest career opportunity — and by having a current resume, you will be able to act quickly.

One More Story…

In Aikido, the student always goes back to the basics to get grounded in the tradition. If it takes 3 moves to throw a 300 pound man, then you have to execute those 3 steps perfectly. You can’t create a 2-step shortcut or try out 4 steps. It has to be exactly 3 steps, and they have to be done in exactly the same way every single time. In order to get to this level of mastery, students of this martial art practice the basics over and over again, even if they’ve earned their black belt. Adopt this idea as you continue to flourish as a graphic designer.

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