Many of us may have heard the saying, “repetition leads to mastery”. We’ve heard well known greats such as Michael Jordan shoot 300 baskets every day for years, to Thomas Edison’s 10,000 attempts at creating the light bulb.
The real challenge is not in the logistics and mechanics of reaching mastery, but rather in the acceptance and the embracing of the long road ahead.
Mastery comes at a cost.
I’ve been seeing a tonne of posts on Instagram in the past year with the quote “stop doing shit you hate”. To some degree it has huge merit. It’s confronting, it’s motivational and it’s a reality check. All good things for today’s generation.
However, the concern I have with this quote without supporting context, is that it also has the potential ability to dismiss the benefit of struggle, of adversity and of being uncomfortable.
If the belief is that mastery truly stems from repetition, we must equally understand the ingredients that create repetitions power.
Upon reflection, the ‘magic’ happens in the countless attempts, the rejections, the trial and error, the patience and the perseverance. But as mentioned, it’s a long, long road.
Do we ‘love’ doing this? The minuscule moments of failure after failure? Hell no. But we do it in order to succeed.
“Doing shit we hate” is part of it. It’s temporary, but it’s required. This is the fine line.
Simon Sinek once said:
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion”.
This I feel is a much more relevant expression of the same philosophy attempted by “stop doing shit you hate”.
Common tasks that lead to design mastery:
1. Long-form typesetting
In 2006 I spent 3 months typesetting a 500 page manual for the Green Building Council. Each were sold at $600 a pop, with hundreds already pre-ordered before the job began. Needless to say, it was a big deal. And let’s be honest, it wasn’t the most interesting content and… did I mentioned I did this for 3 whole months? Cool. Well, we’ve all been there. If you haven’t yet, fear not.
It’s the one job that I attribute to knowing InDesign inside out. I didn’t realize at the time, but jobs like these allow our technical ability to skyrocket.
Plus, we gain a heightened awareness of readability, flow and attention to detail.
2. Deep etching
Deep etching hundreds of people and objects in the first 2 years of my career was quite monotonous – I’m not going to lie! But, it did help me understand layers a great deal. By knowing how to compose and craft each element of a finished design piece, we actually have a greater understanding of what’s possible and what’s not.
12 years on, I still see things in layers, and within those layers live my imagination.
3. Setting files up correctly
This isn’t just for finished artists or mac operators. This is for all designers. You need to set up files correctly so you know what scale, size and ‘canvas’ or device you’re designing to. A perfect example is, way finding signage or exhibition graphics versus a mobile responsive website or an online banner ad. From the very beginning, design as close as possible to how the end consumer will be receiving that piece of visual communication, so that you can make the most relevant impact.
4. Answering phone calls
In order to become great visual designers, we need to be great verbal communicators too. This means that if you’re given the opportunity to start at a company where you’re role includes this first, and even order office supplies, then do it.
You need as much real world interaction as possible to inform the tone of voice in your design communication.
Your ideas may be shot down and torn to shreds. Especially in the beginning of your career. Both internally to your fellow colleagues and your creative director, and also externally to clients. This is part of mastery. This needs to happen. Don’t fall in love with your work. Although easier said than done, it’s important to look at this as a collaborative process.
design is a commercialised artistry.
It requires selling. Part of selling is presenting in a compelling way. And in time, you’ll get there.
The grass is greener where you water it. Mastery in design or otherwise, requires years and years of practice, patience and persistence.
To conclude, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from one of my greatest mentors, Tim Ferriss who once said “When you try to do something big, it’s hard to fail completely”.
What tasks are helping you reach design mastery?