By Yemi Fetch, Creative Director, Freak Creative Limited.
It starts with baby steps.
I’m usually fascinated by kids who try to act all grown up while mimicking every step of their parents. They dress, talk and walk like them and after all the charades, kids remain kids. Nothing changes. At the end, this mimicry only reminds us of their parents.
More often than not, children learn by keenly observing grown-ups and imitating every move they make. The practice is as old as human existence. This very approach is also noticeable amongst adults, especially young adults looking to navigate a new field. We tend to understudy those who have gone before us and mimic them. We take on their style, processes and even present ideas like them.
The approach in itself is not bad. As a matter of fact, it is helpful. When properly observed, you not only avoid making the same mistakes as your mentors, but also get exposed to intricate details of their workings.
In my opinion, if experience is truly the best teacher, benefiting from other people’s experiences should be a compulsory course. The reason is simple; we may not live long enough to gather all these experiences ourselves, therefore, it’s only natural for beginners to copy experts as they aspire to achieve the same level of greatness.
So, It’s no surprise to see young designers who learn by replicating the works of some advanced designers. As starters, venturing into a new discipline is hard; sometimes as hard as Olumo rock. To alleviate the pain and avoid wandering, we learn by duplicating existing ideas or projects – find what looks great, download and recreate. It makes the burden a lot easier to bear. And not just that, beginners tend to learn faster by recreating existing works of an expert.
However, depending on the signature works of experts robs you of your voice. As you acquire different voices of your favourites, you are likely to start producing noise. And the implication can be devastating; everytime you recreate a favourite designer’s work and share with your audience, you lose a piece of yourself in the process.
The question, however, is: when should a designer stop recreating the works of an expert?
Once you have gone past beginners level, take a break from replicating other designers’ works and focus on creating something unique for yourself. Start a journey towards self discovery/awareness. Look inward to find what makes you stand out. At intermediate level, you should learn to work without references.
The voice of an expert is already established and known to his target audience. Continuous replications of such style therefore means taking up his voice while losing yours. It’s the price you pay to be like him. Imitation makes us lose ourselves in an attempt to be like someone else. And if it doesn’t stop, you risk becoming a lesser version of your mentor, which eternally denies you the joy of creating projects that are reflections of your true self.
To be fair, designers often need to experiment with the works of industry experts in order to learn the ropes. However, once that is achieved, you should place a stop order on replicating the works of a mentor before it becomes a style you are known for. Remember, that style is owned by someone else – the expert. Adopting the same style will only remind your audience of the owner. That’s a terrible place to be.
Design is a creative endeavour; and as such, must be original. As much as there’s nothing new under the sun, design should be new and refreshing to the creator and his audience. This only becomes a reality when design takes up a unique voice – a personal signature. A voice, in design, is the signature style of the creator. This ingredient makes everything delectable even when the idea is as old as Methuselah.
As a Creative, you have to find your voice. This is possible by owning a style. Thus, you avoid assuming the posturing of your mentor. The style has to be consistent and known to your audience.
Some are of the opinion that designers are likely to find their unique voice by narrowing down on skillset. Wrong. Being a specialist can only get you closer to finding your voice. As matter of fact, there are niches within a niche. How far do you really want to go? The point is, you can be a specialist without any traceable or recognizable voice. I know designers who have mastered a niche area but still have no signature style.
A signature style is attainable by consistently doing what you love and sharing with the world. You are free to express your ideas as you deem fit with no restriction whatsoever.
Start by doing it for you. Ignore what works and do what you love. Clients only work with what works, therefore it might be too much risk to experiment with such projects. So I’ll suggest you create a personal project folder where you dump all your personal works. There you can figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. You can rely on intuition to be your guide instead of copying an existing art.
As you continue to create, over time, a similar pattern will emerge and become apparent in all your works. This discovery should lead towards owning a style borne out of your ingenuity. Reinforce this pattern further in your visual communication.
Share your art constantly with your audience until they absorb every part of it. This is very important. You only stop being a lesser version of your mentor when your audience starts taking note of what sets you apart. At this point, they recognise your voice as much as you do.