Best-Shared Secrets

December 16, 2015

I was speaking with a friend recently about entering the field of graphic design, and it gave me cause to reflect on a point of contrast between the fine-art world, which I studied in college, and commercial design, in which I now make my living. The difference in question specifically relates to the accessibility of techniques and best practices within those distinct realms.

While studying painting in college, it became clear that, while the basic skills and techniques necessary to enter the field were readily available, a student would pretty quickly encounter a more defined exclusivity when inquiring about an individual artist’s methods or best practices. This is not necessarily true across the board, of course, but there was a predominant sense that artists who had become associated with a certain style would be hesitant to share the details of their process with a wider audience.

Since exiting school and developing my design portfolio, I’ve relied heavily on the willingness of my peers to share their trade secrets and best practices. Even the people who have largely “made it” in the eyes of the industry have been overwhelmingly open when it comes to the dissemination of their techniques, no matter the platform. I’ve found multiple invaluable sources of information, whether through published articles, free tutorials or online classes — all of which have spoken directly to the individual qualities of a designer’s particular work or practice.

For most of those making a living in the art world, style is immediately tied to one’s livelihood. Without a more stable industry to support the creative practice, an exclusive ownership over one’s technique and practice are a near-absolute necessity. Here’s an example: If you purchase a painting, you want that painting to represent the artist, so anyone viewing it would immediately recognize it as that artist’s work. Most fine artists are, in essence, selling a particular commodity — and their distinctly individual ability to produce that commodity is what sets them apart from other potential suppliers.

Conversely, for most creative people working in a service-based design industry, skill and malleability could almost be seen as more desirable than an individual style. A designer’s ability to shift between aesthetics is certainly seen as valuable from a client’s perspective, and being pigeon-holed to any one visual skill can be detrimental to the designer’s ability to diversify and pursue new work. This necessary creative flexibility allows most designers, even those at the top, to be less precious with the secrets of their tradecraft.

So, for anyone looking to break into the design world, I would encourage you to sign up for an online class, Google a tutorial, or do a little digging on a particular technique or style that seems compelling to you. More than likely, especially if you come from a more exclusive profession, you’ll be surprised at the availability and depth of the information you find.