Creativity as a Business Part 2

Part Two: The Importance of Your Ideas

In the last post I wrote about finding and vetting projects as a creative professional. This next part is about the value of original thinking in the creative process.

Your ideas are valuable.

Know for a fact that as a creative professional, you are getting paid for the quality of your ideas, of your thoughts. The ideas you produce are worth money to you because they are worth money to your clients. The client needs creative work that communicates the right message in the right tone of voice and is in character for the brand. They know how important it is to hire the right creative to accomplish this.

They’ve hired you before they’ve even called you or e-mailed you. Know that you have been selected from a cut-list of dozens of professionals so charge what you want to be paid. Before you do this, know what you should be paid. This can be tricky for young designers; you might be talented as heck, but you don’t have the requisite experience to get the project done on your own. This requires a bit more “hand holding” from your employer, and will affect how much your contribution is worth to them. So you will make less money than a seasoned pro. Probably a LOT less.

Have no fear, this is the time to “earn your wings”, make some mistakes (hopefully not huge ones) and grind up your earning potential. Your creative originality is part of what makes your work more valuable, and gets you paid more!

On a side note, it’s a mistake to participate in “crowd-sourced” creative projects or contests for established for-profit clients. My principal issue with crowd sourcing is that you are supposed to contribute creative ideas to a company’s project, and the company will “choose” and pay for the one they like. That’s great for the guy they’ve paid… what about all of the others who contributed to it? They (i.e. you) won’t get paid. That undermines what your time is worth as a creative. If a potential client wants great creative work, they should HIRE a great creative. My other issue with these contests is that the final amount tends to be laughably low in the 1st place. They are not worth your time.

Idea thieves are the worst criminals.

The worst thing you can be in a creative field is an idea thief. They  disrespect the hard work it takes to create great work by simply finding a designer’s idea they can steal. Or worse, they will let you do all the work and take credit for it. These people are creative cancer. The only way to deal with an idea thief is to make sure you can thoroughly document everything you contributed to a project. The most essential element is your original sketches. The essence of the idea is always there and it’s hard to reverse-engineer a “fake” sketch based on someone else’s idea. If you sketched it, you thought of it. Anything after that is just “refining” the idea into a finished concept.

An idea thief never has a sketch that they can show anybody. They don’t even own a sketchbook. I’m never more than 6 feet from a sketchbook at any time, any place. If you see me and stop me on the street, I can prove it!

Always know whom you send your portfolio to.

Years ago I wrote on my personal blog about scammers in the creative field. One of the oldest & well-known scams in the creative business is the “blind" portfolio search. This is when a potential employer posts an ad online (or the classifieds in the old days) looking to hire designers. These guys will give a vague description of their work and then give a generic e-mail address i.e. “” with no domain or contact info from the company. If you respond, you are sending your portfolio to someone that you can’t trace. Scammers do this for one reason: to steal fresh ideas from unsuspecting designers. As I mentioned before, no reputable company will ask to see your portfolio without acknowledging who they are.

Be very careful where you place your original work online.

Creative sites like Coroflot, Behance and DeviantArt are great places to get your creative work seen by the creative community. It’s also a great place for thieves to look for fresh ideas to steal. Make sure you keep your creative “gems” in a place where you can control who sees them (like a password protected website). Otherwise if you find out that one of your ideas has been stolen, you can at least figure out if the thives had access into your protected site in the first place.

How not to steal as a professional.

The skills and experience you possess play a hand in your eventual success, but it’s the originality of your creative solutions that is without a doubt the most important in your development as a pro.

When you are given a project to work on, you should do appropriate research as is relevant to your assignment. If you comb Pinterest and Google for creative ideas before you’ve even started sketching on your own you are stealing someone else’s ideas. The final design might turn out OK, but the reality is that your approach to that creative solution lacks original thought.

Originality as a creative is not something you are “born with”. It takes years to effectively marry your own creative take on a potential solution with skills, technical knowledge and experience. It’s a hard thing to describe, but it really comes with a lot of patience, discipline and a lot of sketching. There are no shortcuts. There’s no cheat code. There’s no other way to unlock your creative potential than to do the hard work it takes to “get it”.

Original thoughts happen all the time, even if you’re not getting paid.

Keep sketchbooks and constantly sketch your thoughts even when there’s no paying project in front of you. What you are doing is training your mind to always search for a new take on a concept. Keep doing this and in time you will produce great creative work! You won’t search online for a creative solution; you’ll have 20 in the back of your mind; 70 more will be in your sketchbooks.

Secondly, these sketches are incontrovertible proof of your contributions as a creative. No one can claim they thought of your great idea when you have all the sketches that prove you did it.

It takes guts to show original creative work to a client.

Sometimes a designer will “chicken out” and not even try to come up a raw, fresh and unseen idea without first neutralizing the essence of it into something more “tame”. Work your way through that fear. I’ve created designs that I thought were too “out of bounds” and that I almost talked myself out of presenting to the client that they fell in love with. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s an amazing feeling.

Protect your rep!

It’s important that we as creative professionals make every effort to utilize our personality quirks, tastes and personal refinement in the creative work we produce. I never want to come up with a design that looks like someone else might have thought of it. Why? As Patton Oswalt once said; it takes ego as a creative to be the best you can be. I want to always show work that I can be proud of, and to do all the hard work that it takes to bring it to reality. I have to put my name on it; I’d at least like the work to be worth it.

So get out your sketchbooks and start drawing ideas… NOW.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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