The Value of Voice
by Taylor Slattery | January 27, 2022
From creation to reception, there’s a degree of uncertainty inherent in creative work. As creators, when we sit down to work, we do so unsure of the outcome, not knowing what will emerge from the other side. Upon completion, we’ve brought something new into the world for others to judge. This process requires us as creatives to be in a vulnerable position from start to finish.
Even after years of study and experience, this uncertainty remains. Despite efforts to refine skills and hone decision-making, the act of creation will always put the creator in a position of vulnerability. This uncertainty isn’t something to be overcome, just accepted. Reaching a place where you can acknowledge its existence and work alongside it takes time, though, and it’s natural to be more uncertain of yourself and your skills when you lack experience.
Without confidence in your own abilities, you may look to those creators in your field who are held in high esteem—the pros of the present and past. Rather than making decisions for yourself and risk making a mistake, you can borrow from what has proven to be good and fast-track your success. There are merits to this approach. Recreating the works of the greats is an effective tool for uncovering their thought process and providing a starting point, but you should not become reliant on this technique alone. Study the legends and use the lessons you learn to inform your work, but challenge yourself to make decisions independent of them as well.
Don’t allow your studies to become a crutch. If you don’t take the steps to build your decision-making abilities on your own, you’ll never be fully confident in your abilities. This lack of confidence will manifest as imposter syndrome later on. It’s an error to think that in order for something to be regarded as good, it must first have been done by one of the greats. They provide a template, but only for where the industry is currently, and was in the past. In order to shape the future of the field, you need to experiment, and the early years of your career are the perfect time to do so.
When you lack experience, expectations are low. Mistakes are to be expected, making successes all the more spectacular. This makes this period of time where you have both nothing to prove and nothing to lose an invaluable time for exploration. When the stakes are low, you can experiment freely, using the small successes and failures to build your confidence and discover your ability to accomplish things on your own.
Every mistake is one step closer toward being comfortable with the inherent uncertainty of the creative process, so allow yourself to take chances without hesitation and fail freely and often. When you begin work, you never know what’s going to come out the other end, so don’t edit yourself—it’s often the happy accidents that lead to the greatest insights.
Another reason to take advantage of this period of time early on in your studies is that it is arguably the most free you will ever be creatively—or for a while at least. Serious study tends to take students down a set trajectory. Starting from a place without any knowledge of the field, you have preferences but no real notion of what is good, or at least not one that’s been influenced or reinforced by teachers. The more you learn about theory, and through exposure to the field’s history, your sense of what is good will become increasingly narrow. Eventually, you’ll come out the other side free again, but the knowledge and experience gained along the way will have a lasting impact, influencing your future work.
This is why it’s important to use this time to make decisions uninhibited by rules because once you learn them, they become hard to unlearn. Don’t be afraid to be wrong and don’t be afraid to be yourself. There are things only you have to offer and you’ll never uncover them if you’re overly concerned with being correct or appearing knowledgeable. Don’t wait for permission to do something you’ve never seen done before—if you want to shape the future of the field, you won’t find any answers by looking at the past.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.