I recently got told something that designers sometimes don't wanna hear: "You're stuck on your visual style". Dude! That's very hard to process, but, as a creative, it’s one of the most honest and wonderful things someone can tell you.
For years, you learn from as many visual artists, designers and creators as you can. You experiment, practice and acquire inspiration. You develop your own process. As time goes by you get comfortable with some of the ways you do things; how your final product looks. Then you get your AHA! moment: you find your style.
Differentiating a branded style vs getting stuck
Your own style and doing things the same way has its pros and cons that will depend on what you're working on. Getting familiar with a process can help you develop a style that can give you recognition and that makes people want to look at you because of the way you do things. That’s a good thing, right? But, when it starts to get you into a zone where everything is the same, you lose curiosity and your thinking becomes closed and linear. That’s called “getting stuck”. Let me give you an example: A web designer has been working for years designing websites and landing pages. She has developed a fine workflow and visual style that lets her work faster and with high quality. It has standards and a design system, but everything she does looks similar. All of her websites look the same and it can be hard to know her capabilities to solve and develop creative ideas. On the other hand, you may be an illustrator, animator or visual artist that has his own branded style. You sell prints, collectables and merch. Companies and studios are commissioning you because of your style and wanna get the exact same visuals every time.
As in the example, the web designer “got stuck” because she started to do everything in the same way. Her work didn’t reflect her skills. Her creativity got in a zone where, well, it wasn’t creative anymore. You just start doing the same over and over. It doesn’t mean that the illustrator is better than the web designer, but the goal of what they are doing is different. He has developed a style that people look for, people can tell him a goal and he can achieve it in his own way, his own process.
Start identifying your patterns and evolve them little by little
Now we know that if we do things the same way over and over we can get stuck and stop being creative problem solvers. But how can we actually change if we find ourselves in this situation? Well, the first thing you need to do is to identify certain patterns. Things that you repeat on all of your projects. It may be a hero banner you always use, the way you set the layout, your font or color selections, the imagery. Do we use the same icons in every project? Do we always write with the same narrative? There are a lot of patterns we can look at.
Start by analyzing your work. Go on every project and look for these patterns. Ask yourself: Could it be solved in a better way? Is there a more creative solution? Not all patterns are bad. There are a lot of best practices that help you to do better work, but look at the bigger picture and question if you as a creative could do better. Then you can start adding changes little by little.
Get inspiration, experiment
Being bold and getting out of our comfort zone is the first step. Raise your hand if guilty of overdoing a design trend: ✋! We all have done that once or twice in our lifetime. There's no shame in that; that's what trends are for, but sometimes we get so comfy using something that it becomes a second nature. So, again, DON'T BE AFRAID OF VARIETY! Start playing around with new trends. Do not stop experimenting. Maybe explore different font families. Stop drawing dogs. Draw cats. Get familiar with new creators. Look for inspiration everywhere.
As designers we need to be up to date with trends and technology and one of the best things we can do is to go look for the top minds in the industry. Get on sites like Behance, Dribbble, Muzli or just go on Google and look up “top creatives agencies 2020”, “Best Illustrators Portfolios.” Anything that can get you inspired. Also, always be up to date with the hot technologies, so you can learn what’s new and experiment with it.
It won't be easy. I don't wanna lie: I always get a little anxious when experimenting with new processes or styles, but that's the fun of being creative. We can reinvent ourselves in so many ways that the limit of what we can do depends on what we know. As Denisse said in a previous post: Don't be afraid to continue learning.
If you wanna follow new creators go find me on Instagram @eleduardoreyes or Dribbble by @eduardoreyesza. Currently sharing stuff about UI Design and Illustration.
Hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did it writing it.