Staying Ahead While Mostly Behind

In recent years, I decided to try something that I have never done before in my design career: Work for corporate. I’m not talking about massive companies in general. I’m talking about financial behemoths – companies that are not only dated and seriously old, but also further behind the times with technology.

There is a reason – a couple, actually – to why I chose to test the waters in this type of industry. One, financial corporations were new to me. Secondly, its services are heavily used, but these services had not reached full potential. With that said, the industry and its practices are incredibly slow and mentally draining. They are packed with the worst kind of procrastination. Imagine repetitive meetings and libraries worth of discussions about getting things done. In most companies, it would be as simple as just doing the work without the daylong series of pandemonium.

Let me assure you of one thing: If you find yourself in a similar position, it’s incredibly important to keep up with the industry (multiple industries to be honest), while continually challenging your creative capabilities. In order to accomplish this myself, I called on my days in college, as well as the days of learning how to design.

Most designers are incredibly excited about what they do. They live and breathe design. They are constantly thinking from different perspectives – thoughts that range from ways to simplify a product to how a font isn’t properly kerned on a restaurant menu. It’s true; many of us spend countless hours observing everything visually and intuitively.

Here are five suggestions on how to stay ahead and retain your talent while working in a position outside the creative agency:

  1. Read and watch (seriously, read and watch everything)

Every morning, I arrive at work an hour early and I spend it scouring numerous design, technology, and even science blogs. This will help you in finding inspiration and keeping hope that people out there are still creating amazing things.

  1. Write and save items of interest

If you’re like most designers, you come up with random solutions to problems or different perspectives on things that may or may not already exist. If you don’t note these things down, you’ll soon forget them and you won’t believe how insightful it is to look back on these notes years from now.

  1. Network and share your thoughts.

Some people are against this, but I feel that it’s beneficial in many ways. I find myself constantly connecting with designers and developers at various companies, offering my perspective on how they could make a product or service better. This will let you expand on your thinking of a product, while also gaining great connections with other industry talent.

  1. Sketch

I sketch everything… almost annoyingly. I tend to sketch during meetings, while traveling, during lunch, and even while watching TV. As an example, while watching a special on U.S. Combat Forces, I came up with an extreme idea about how a new wearable display could help tactical forces while on missions. I sketched a sloppy drawing of a helmet with a semi-sort-of-wireframe and I come back to it later, digitally.

  1. Design it

You don’t have to jump on it immediately, but when you have free time and you want to hone in on your skills, pull your idea into your designated design application and put together a full concept. Don’t think that this is a waste. Some of the best creative projects that I’ve seen have been concepts.

Now go get creative.