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August 2013

Show off

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I recently contributed to a book called Design: Portfolio, a collection of designers’ self-promotional work edited by Craig Welsh of US design firm Go Welsh and published by Rockport.

It’s primarily a visual reference with images of over 300 self-initiated projects, but it also includes a series of five short essays around the subject. Craig has kindly allowed me to reproduce mine here.


Show off
By Nick Asbury

Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up. Looking at the design industry, you could say the other 10% is showing off. Self-initiated and self-promotional work has always played a big part, both for rising stars making their names and global firms keen to maintain a creative reputation.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, there’s a lot right with it. Simply moving from one client brief to another is a passive existence for any creative person. A self-initiated project is a chance to explore ideas and elements of your craft that would otherwise never see the light of day.

There’s a subtle distinction between self-promotional work and self-initiated work. The former is explicitly produced for the purpose of promoting yourself – that’s the only reason it exists. It might be a book detailing your best projects, or a mailer talking about your company approach.

Self-initiated projects are different. They’re ideas you pursue yourself, without the involvement of a client, but which have a purpose beyond self-promotion. For me, this is an interesting seam to explore. It might be a book of poetry rearranging the words on corporate websites, or inventing the language equivalent of the Pantone color-matching system. If you pursue an idea you find interesting, there’s a good chance other people will too.

Of course, self-promotion is a useful side-effect when these projects go well. But the same is true of client work. Do a great job for a client and it won’t just be good for them. Your firm’s reputation grows by association, among your peer group and other potential clients. In that sense, all work is self-promotional. You just have to make sure the world knows about it – which brings us back to showing off.

However you do it, showing off has to be done. Many of the best things that happen in any creative career come about through serendipity: striking up a friendship with a like-minded collaborator, or bumping into the right client at the right time. Showing off helps serendipity happen. The more visible you are to your peers and the world at large, the more likely it is you’ll get that magical, career-changing email out of the blue. That’s partly why I said yes to writing this article – it’s a form of showing off. And you never know who might be reading. 


The book is nicely produced, with a varied range of contributors including Hat-trick, Bruce Mau and KesselsKramer. You can order it here. Photo from Wier Stewart.