This was a guest article for my friends over at Good F*ing Design Advice, written a couple of years ago. I was just digging through my computer, rediscovered it, and think it's still relevant. I thought I'd reshare, let me know what you think.
Be f*ing authentic and genuine.
Creating from a place of integrity
not false or copied; genuine; real
(of a person, emotion, or action) sincere.
Digging deep—what would you do if you let yourself do anything?
The reality is, it’s scary to trust yourself, to take risks, and to be honest with yourself, no matter what it is—whether professionally, creatively, or emotionally. The best part is though, that when we do trust ourselves and take risks, the most wonderful things happen. I believe that if you’re fearful of your decision in some way, it’s likely that you're on the right path and the best things are ahead.
Is it hard? Absolutely.
Why is it so difficult to allow ourselves to trust in our unique ideas? Why aren’t we encouraged or taught to do so more often? When bouncing ideas off of Brian from GFDA for this article, we discussed how being genuine/authentic as a designer is underrepresented both in the professional realm and in education/academic circles. I believe that if it were seen and taught as a skill to be used more often, the world would be a better place.
As is true in most things, it does take the trying, doing, and practicing to achieve what you’re after. When you allow yourself to be you though, you will (mostly) enjoy the work that it takes, embrace the risks, create your best work, and discover true gratification. Curiosity, motivation, and enjoyment are unparalleled when being true to yourself.
Creating your path to take.
You take the high road and I’ll take the low road.. We make so many decisions in our lifetimes, some meaningful and some created by an overflow of options in our day to day ( toothpaste w/ flouride, or baking soda, peppermint, or brushing bubbles for sparkly teeth, etc.). Often, I believe the truly important things can become blurred by the constant murmur of all of the non-important ones vying for our attention. Ultimately though, the lives that we lead and the roads that we take are made up of our varied decisions. Each day we move ourselves through the world and select with every choice how we are spending our estimated 683,807 living hours.
How should we spend our working hours?
As a designer/maker, I love seeing the growth of Made in the U.S. products rebuilding, from companies creating everything from Swiss quality watches made in Detroit to design-y temporary tattoos and 3d-printed bicycle vases to hand-blended perfumes and letter pressed greeting cards. I see the growth of these goods as a desire for honest and reliable things in our lives, each company a protest and step against unfair treatment to workers across the world and reducing the overload of cheap, short-lived goods.
On the flip side, while browsing for some new sneakers recently, I bumped into some ‘BOBS’, made by Skechers, which are an exact copy of ‘TOMS’ original one for one shoes. How did they find the gumption to bring to life this exact replica, mimicking each and every detail? TOMS openly supports others creating ‘one for one' concepts inspired by their model, but a direct copy is shameful. Good intentions perhaps, but wouldn’t they feel more proud if they created their own concept?
This spurred me to think about how much of the market is driven by companies trying to catch up to or mimic others. Unfortunately, a lot of our retail marketplace is run by marketers saying, ’We need one of those too,‘ instead of being driven to create something truly unique and meaningful. This led me to think about the great value of using 1. Genuine and 2. Authentic as an essential gauge for any company, including in my own Made in the USA company.
Ironically, all companies that do have authenticity as their bottom line, produce the work that those marketers are trying to catch up to and duplicate. I have worked a few jobs that hurt my creative soul, I despaired spending all of my energy on things that didn’t matter to me or to the good of the world either. I finally realized that I would need to create my own dream job, that it was silly to wait and to continue pining for some dream, esteemed design position.
Your time matters.
Nearly four years ago, I began my company, Goods that Matter, as my way as a product designer to help with restoration after the BP Oil Disaster in 2010. Upon creating this solution, BirdProject Soap, I realized that I wanted to continue spend my time creating sustainable products with heart. Matter is now proud to be a Benefit corporation and is working on products for literacy, disappearance of bees, gun violence, and education in low-income communities. Each year, Matter selects two social or environmental problems to research and develop a poetic product for. Everything that we make is done sustainably in the U.S. and also donates proceeds from sales to an innovative partner group.
It continues to be both a sometimes terrifying and exhilarating adventure to have my own company and to be the owner of my fate every single day. I’ve learned most things the hard way, made so many mistakes, and am continually learning how to do things better. I think that the key for me is asking questions. As a younger designer, I think that I sometimes felt that it should all just come from within like magic, that I should somehow know all of the answers already. Now, I realize that if I don’t ask questions or learn something, that zero spark or magic will come from me.
Each of us has a completely unique voice, our experiences gives each of us our authentic perspective. In grad school, I often chucked my initial idea because I thought everyone would think of that one too, then realized that we all came up with different ideas and that they were never actually the same. Is it possible to be authentic straight out of the gates? I think yes. I think that we actually begin as authentic, then slowly erode to creating copies by worrying about what others might think of us. We then have to erode that worried voice away to find our genuine perspective again.
My 2 cents on creating authentic and genuine work
Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t rush. Pay attention to the details, try new things over & over again, don’t give up, and if something bothers you - do not ignore it. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back or buy yourself a beer sometimes for keeping it real. It’s not easy to take the thoughtful path, but it certainly is worth it.
Create a toolkit for yourself
We have many toolkits and shortcuts given to us for the tasks in our lives, don’t forget that you can make one for yourself too. I believe that ultimately life comes down to making a lot of decisions and hopefully feeling good about most of them.
Creating tools for yourself, helps you to feel confident in the path you choose. For my tougher decisions, I will draw out the core of each route and pick which makes the most sense, seems the most intriguing, or is actually most feasible at the time. To help in creative projects, I have ingrained the following pairs of guides for my decision making process in vetting concepts: risk|unique + genuine|beautiful details + authentic|longevity. If a design has all three, we are good to proceed.
Be f*ing authentic and genuine. Your reward will be feeling truly gratified when you’ve used your energies on the things that matter most to you. There is beauty in honestly feeling good about what you’re spending your time on and we can all enjoy that beauty.