Reclaiming Your Design Identity

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Identity makes the designer. Perspective and experience separates us from other creatives. As a designer a part of a brand, your identity gets complex with the social label and accompanying company byline. My encounter with this topic led me down unexpected paths and to insightful people. After being at a brand for seven years, here’s how I reclaimed my design identity.

We’ve all been in a design review, either in school or the real world, where we could identify the designer by his/her work. That’s design identity. Like your everyday identity, it gets celebrated, knock around, second-guessed or cherished depending on where you are. Before we get into it, first take a sigh of relief: it’s impossible for your design identify to stall completely. There are just times it slows down or shoots to new directions. The slow times shouldn’t scary you, and must be considered as training grounds to reach your next desired destination.

Your design identity is as malleable, yet permanent, as a physical feature. What you do, what you know, who you know and how it’s perceived affects its development and your comfort level. All of these can be cultivated by a variety of approaches and will change your design identity as a happy result. Start by participating in creative Other activities outside of your 9-5. You might already be doing this, however it’s more valuable than you might think. In my case, I write every week though published articles or my own blog posts. By doing this, my social introduction goes from “Designer who works at x” to include other topics, companies and experiences.

Let’s face it, creatives are complex. Some dig deep into one specialty, while others explore. Traversing your creative side in other mediums - be it writing, painting, sewing or whatever - is a reminder that you can do anything. Whichever path you chose, remember to reflect on it by discussing or writing about your process, learnings and even struggles. This goes the same with your company work. The design path in any company is full of lessons and content if you’re looking, and every generation figures out new approaches. I’ve taken ownership of my experiences in and outside of work by writing about it.   

Trust me, you’re not the only designer who struggles with this identity crisis. There are hundreds and probably thousands out there. The other significant step is becoming a part of a larger community on and offline. In my case, just two months of exploring and contributing to Twitter opened up new resources, events and individuals. Articles on development topic from sites like 99U, Fast Company and Creative Review can serve as an accessible inspiration point for other’s stories and tips.

Being a part of brand can lead to design identity laziness, and no designer wants to feel slowed down. The number of times are plentiful that someone said, “Oh, you’re the designer from company x, right?” However, holding on to yourself ensures that as times change, you’re confident enough with yourself to adjust. Keep in mind that rebranding and reconsidering your wider creative identity is a continual effort. I’ve rebranded myself every year as it becomes clearer on how it all fits together. And no matter what others say or the criticism you face, trust yourself. Sincere efforts toward developing your design identity will lead to a new you.