It was about a year ago that I read “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. It was a pretty good read and I always wanted to give a go at his “sort of a sequel” to it, “Show Your Work”. I just finished it and here are the 7 best takeaways from it.
1. “Creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.”
Okay, we’re sort of (avoid the pun) taking a page out of “Steal Like an Artist” for this one.
No creative work is 100% original, and it doesn’t have to be. Every new great bit of design is made through inspiration from previous designs and building up on them.
We all look at each other's work, steal ideas, and contribute ideas for future work.
The best thing about taking inspiration from previous work is that you’re making informed decisions. The people who created the designs before you probably did a ton of research on it themselves.
So, in a way, it’s not just your expertise that is applied to the design, it’s theirs as well.
2. “The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others”
One of the best ways to build an audience online is to give people something they're looking for.
I look at designers and engineers who post content that is valuable to me in certain areas.
If there's a designer whose style I like, I follow them so that I can learn how they do it.
If I’m trying to teach myself how to code iOS apps, I follow indie developers who have made it.
But you can’t always know what people are looking for. And you should also be true to yourself and post only things you’re passionate about.
The best thing to do in this scenario is to start doing (or learning) something that you’ve been looking forward to for some time. Now, do it in front of others. After every milestone, tweet about your approach and share any tips with the world.
If there are people (which I guarantee you there is) looking to learn or do something similar, they will find you and follow you.
3. “Once a day, after you’ve done your day's work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share”
I see top designers share all sorts of stuff on social media.
It can be a piece of their design they’ve been working on, a change in the process they made, or even a new tool they stumbled upon.
As we design, we learn new things every day. It doesn't have to be something groundbreaking. Something small that you learned can be helpful for other designers as well.
Take a look at what you designed today. Did you find a new way to create call-to-action buttons? A new gradient style? Something better than Figma? Share it around.
4. “How people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it”
Humans love stories. Stories have a big emotional impact on them.
Stories also have a huge impact on how people feel and what they understand about your design.
For an untrained eye, it could be hard to grasp different design decisions and their impact.
This is why it’s important that you write case studies for the projects on your portfolio.
There is only very little some screenshots of a UI can do. Anyone going through your portfolio might be impressed but if you want to leave a lasting impact on them, tell them a story. Make it memorable.
5. “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough”
Design is an ever-evolving industry. It’s vital that you keep your creative wheels turning.
In order to grow as a designer and a person, you need to keep pushing yourself, you need to keep learning new things.
If you feel like you’ve learned everything there’s to learn, it’s time to change course and find something new.
“Show Your Work” is a quick read. It’s not ground-breaking or anything. But it will definitely make you go “holy shit, this all makes sense”.
Reading it on the Kindle Paperwhite was also a new experience for me. The ability to highlight certain things and have them emailed to you in a neatly organized manner is super cool.
So if you’re planning to get a tablet for reading, definitely recommend it.
I tweet about design all the time. If you wanna follow me, you can find me here.