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Finding your voice

3 min, 56 sec read
14:59 PM | 7 March 2014
by Jim Compton-hall
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To those of you just starting out on your careers it may seem like there’s an amazing amount of pressure to be successful from the get go. Who can blame you? We’re constantly bombarded with a stream of success stories and high-profile app acquisitions for millions (or even billions) of dollars. This rags-to-riches type of story is not only limited to the creative industries either. Reality TV has also done much to promote the idea that fortune and fame are only a heartbeat away.

"Merely living our lives as a “normal” person doesn’t seem enough."

Is there a problem with this though? Surely it reflects the chances that we’ve all got? Unfortunately not. This culture has done little to reflect the enormous amount of hard work that it takes to be something. Instead it promotes quick wins. Impatience. Come up with a good idea and millions are yours. Appear on the right reality show, build your public profile, and again you’ve made it.

This can leave those of us without these ideas and talents feeling downhearted. The thought of merely living our lives as a “normal” person doesn’t seem enough any more. I don’t believe that this is the case though, and instead is exactly what you should be aiming for when you begin your career.

I started eleven years ago, back in the days when a colour screen on a phone was seen as cutting edge technology. You could see me as a veteran of the industry, as I’ve seen mobile design evolve from a niche discipline to the first thought on a designer’s mind. I’m part of a successful company in the field, and have put together a well-regarded handbook on the specifics of our industry. But that didn’t happen overnight.

"Choose something you enjoy, and practise it for years. Learn its every nuance."

When I first started I never really knew what my goals were. I lived for the now. For many years I worked on projects, happy to do a 9–6, and switch off at the end of the day. I worked hard but didn’t have much direction as such. Sometimes I felt a bit lost though. Others out there had side projects, websites that they worked on, successful ideas and applications. What was I doing?

Looking back, I now know that there’s nothing wrong with “just” doing a good job. What I didn’t realise at the time is that I was building up a vital thing called experience. Seven years into my career, at the grand old age of 28, a problem landed on my desk. Designers at ustwo were continually having trouble with colour profiles on their machines shifting the colours of their work. Having sent out a mail explaining how to sort this out a few times, I decided to save myself some work and just stick the instructions in a simple PDF. Having started on this I also decided to note down some other common problems that were constantly needing attention, mainly focused around precision in our designs — vital when dealing with the limited screen sizes on mobile devices. And so the Pixel Perfect Precision Handbook was born. Four years on, it’s now over two hundred pages long, covering much of my design knowledge, and is used by tens of thousands of other designers all over the world. I found my voice.

"Don’t expect to become an overnight success two weeks into your career."

You see, all those years of hard work had allowed me to spot an opportunity where improvements could be made, and not only that but act on it because I had the tools and knowledge to create a solution. I’m not sure how many hours I’d worked as a professional but I find a lot of truth in the "10,000 Hour Rule" which Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers. The general idea is that ten thousand hours is the length of time that people need to practise a skill before they can turn it into a success.

Just doing endless hours of something won’t guarantee this success though — talent and passion have their part to play — but experience counts for a hell of a lot. So choose something you enjoy, and practise it for years. Learn its every nuance. And then you’ll start to see the areas where you can make a difference, where you can add your own voice into the mix. Just don’t expect to become an overnight success two weeks into your career.

This article was written by Matt Gypps, a designer at ustwo and creator of the Pixel Perfect Precision Handbook.

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