It's hard for me to believe that 2014 is already almost at an end. This has been the most productive year of my life, during which I've grown as a designer, a writer, a friend, and a human being. At this time last year I had know idea where I'd end up in a year, but now that I'm here I'm glad I didn't have a plan. Here's to 2014, one of the best years of my life so far; to you, for taking the time to read my sentimental ramblings; and to next year.
Without further adieu, here are a few of my highlights from 2014.
This year I turned eighteen years old. For me, the last eighteen years seem to have lasted twice as long. I still think age is just another number, and I don't like to make a big deal about birthdays; but 18 feels a little different than all the other years, which seem to have blurred together.
After I turned 18 in November everything started to click, to move more quickly and with increasing momentum. Client work poured in, I became more confident in my skills, and I got out of my comfort zone. There's a good chance none of that means anything, but I think becoming (legally) an adult flipped some kind of subconscious switch. I no longer worry about clients finding out that I'm so young, which means I don't feel obligated to under-charge for my work. I don't have to feel out of place in the industry anymore simply because of my age.
I'm looking forward to seeing what personal barriers I can break in 2015.
I've been a designer for four-ish years but this year I finally really decided I want to be a designer for the rest of my life. The other ideas I've toyed with since elementary school are creative writing, journalism, teaching, and physics—that's a pretty broad range. I'm happy with my choice, though.
Now I just need to figure out whether or not to go to school for design. I've talked to countless people and so far about 50% say it's a good idea and 50% say it's a terrible idea. Thanks for the help, world! My plan at this point is to apply to some top design schools and if I don't get in, I'm going straight to work. I have too much ahead of me to risk everything by not even trying to apply. We'll see how this all works out, I guess.
My First Job at a Design Agency
This summer I had the amazing opportunity to work as a design intern at Leapwise. The internship came about mostly out of coincidence: I met a friend of a (now former) Leapwise employee, AJ, at the Apple Store, met with AJ for lunch a few weeks later, and then before I knew it I was interviewing for the internship with Luke. I'm truncating the story a bit for the sake of time, but that's how quickly this seemed to move for me.
Once I was at Leapwise I was plunged into an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, and I began working on projects that were quite frankly completely out of my comfort zone. Something I pride myself in is the ability to rise to the occasion and surpass difficulties, and I did just that. It took me a few weeks to get comfortable, but eventually I did.
After getting into the groove of things at Leapwise I started working on some really cool projects with some of the smartest people I've ever met, and I made quite a few really great friends along the way. The experience I gained at Leapwise was invaluable for me. Of the countless things I learned along the way, here are a few that have meant the most to me and my career:
- How to communicate more effectively with a broad range of people;
- How to handle adversity in design projects;
- The importance of experimentation in the design process;
- How to have fun while designing but remain focused and productive;
- The importance of being able to adapt to any client, project, or situation; and
- The value of having a job you love.
During the two-ish short months when I was working at Leapwise, I rediscovered my passion for design and for thought; and I became a better person, designer, friend, and thinker. It was a crazy, fast-paced, challenging, fun, and at times very humbling experience; and I loved every second of it.
My Senior Year in High School
It's not over yet, but this year I began my senior year in high school. That may not seem like a big deal, but I've been waiting to get out of high school and into the design industry since I started freshman year.
Despite my hate for state-mandated education (specifically the state's curriculum standards) I haven't hated high school all that much. I still have some very negative things to say about many of the people I've interacted with at school, but now is neither the time nor the place for that. What I have loved about high school is the opportunity to expand my mind by talking constantly with a few amazingly smart friends and teachers. Quite honestly I've learned more from bouncing ideas back and forth with those people than I have in all my years of schooling. Hopefully I continue to have the opportunity to interact with those people in the future.
This year I started writing at least 1,000 words a day and it has payed off. I'm about halfway through a pretty large novel I started writing last year, and writing this much has helped me grow as a person, thinker, and even as a designer.
Now I just need to get some of that writing up on this site. Some day.
I've started reading a lot. I used to read a ton as a child but fell out of the habit until early this year. I've read just about every kind of literature you can name and it's helped me alter my views of the world—or at least to solidify my own views of the world.
The opportunity to start businesses as I see the need for them is a great one. This year I launched and eventually killed off The Ministry of Print, a boutique poster shop that sold tons of posters I designed for fun. The Ministry was a huge learning experience for me: it helped me understand eCommerce better, it let me experiment with new design styles and techniques, and it made me a few lasting connections within the design industry.
I started interviewing people for my indie mag, Blackbird, over the summer of 2014. The interviews are nearly finished and the magazine's design is essentially solidified. I hope I can finally publish this thing in 2015, but over the past two years (during which I renamed the magazine and changed the entire concept) I just haven't had the time or energy to undertake the long publishing process.
There were a few smaller side projects that I designed and developed just for fun that never saw the light of day. If working side projects taught me one thing this year, it's that challenging myself and learning new ways of solving problems is immensely important.
During 2014 I really picked up the pace of my freelance work and I started taking on projects that were out of my comfort zone. Some of those projects were a blast, but some of them were absolutely terrible to work on. Luckily, all of my clients this year were a pleasure to work with—a luxury not all designers have.
Two of the numerous projects I took on this year were beyond my skill level and I had no idea what I was doing. Those projects were challenging, humbling, and at times insanely stressful. I completely and utterly failed at the second project. I felt terrible—not only because I let my client down, but because I let myself down. That was a learning experience for me, and it taught me this: I should not be afraid to take on projects that are out of my comfort zone or skill level. However, if I do take on a project like that, I need so be 100% sure that I can complete the project and satisfy the client; that's what freelance work is about, after all.
Despite those setbacks, I managed to have a lot of fun designing for some really smart and amazing clients over the past year. I've done a lot of logos, a bit of print work, a couple web projects, and I've even started to (finally) learn iOS design to take on two iOS projects.
Overall, 2014 has challenged my skills as a designer and my abilities as a person; but I think I've risen to the challenge and come out stronger as a result.
Despite all the great stuff I just listed, 2014 has been a struggle for me. School drains my energy and prevents me from doing the best possible job as a designer, and there aren't enough intellectuals in my school to feed my curiosity and thirst for intellectual growth. Communities that seemed great at first turned out to be breeding grounds for trolls and jerks (I'm looking at you, Designer News). Anxiety and depression have started to become a real drag on my lifestyle and have made it difficult for me to rise to my fullest potential. In 2014 I saw revolutions, suicides, pain, shootings, happiness, love, redemption, and compassion. I silently observed all these things and saw through the shit put out by the media and the fronts put up by the people I interact with; and that put a lot of strain on my emotions.
From what I've read from many designers and developers this year, a lot of you are encountering the same struggles. In 2015 I'm going to do something about that and create a support network for people in our industry who are constantly struggling with issues that plague us: sexism, racism, ageism, depression, dissatisfaction, discouraging setbacks, cyberbullying (no, that's not just a thing kids do—all you trolls are cyberbullies as well), obesity, and anything else that comes up. Historically the design and tech industries have led the charge in many movements. In 2015, let's start a new movement: one toward equality, happiness, kindness, and support. If we can establish those things within an industry as large and diverse as ours, maybe we can make a difference in other industries and eventually in society itself. It's a large undertaking and a challenge that many people have tried and failed to overcome, but I think we can do it this time. Stay tuned in 2015 because we're starting a movement.
Alright, that's enough out of me for this year. I'm really looking forward to 2015 and I hope I have the opportunity to continue growing as a designer, writer, and human being over the next year. Rather than signing off with my usual "it's the end of the road, my friend," I think it's more appropriate in this situation to leave you with this: every year can be your year—you just need to get up, dust off your shoulders, go out and make shit happen. Here's to great projects, great clients, great friends, and a great 2015. Make 2015 your year. You deserve it.