Be Water My Friend

bruce lee imageAs a design student my ethos was simple: Make it look cool at all cost. My first priority was punchy aesthetics and I forced my preferred style (at this point, organized grunge) on every project.

My first ‘real’ job out of school required I work quickly and tear through assignments–often times at the expense of quality. My portfolio didn’t grow by many pieces but I did become one with my software packages and keyboard shortcuts. I also got to dabble outside of print design into motion graphics and some video production assistance. A little over a year later I applied for a graphic/web design position within the same organization and got the job. My thought was that I wanted to completely understand designing and preparing files for print. Done.

At my next gig I was a one man design department and was responsible for web graphics, print and motion design as well as shooting and editing video. I was able to inject some whimsy and fun into my work, but it was a much more corporate and clean look than I had ever designed within. I developed a pretty good understanding of the video production process and felt solidly enough about it to add it to my resume as a rounded-out skill. It was challenging to clean up my style to suit my new job. I was fighting it a bit and trying to revert back to my texture and color heavy organized-chaos look.

I did a lot of reading and inspiration seeking during this phase. I felt I was coming into my own. I had an increased devotion to my profession. At the same time I was becoming concerned by my lack of specialization. Would the fact that I was a jack of all trades but master of none hamper my advancement? I worried that I would have trouble selling my services to future employers looking specially for a web designer, video production person or traditional graphic designer. I believed I was capable to be all of those things but my resume read a little unclear. What was I, exactly? Such is the struggle of an interactive media major.

I have since moved to a new city, found a new job that suits my skill set well and have become comfortable with my varied albeit slightly unfocused skill set. I say all of this to arrive at my ultimate point and advice to young designers and troubled intermediates alike: Be formless. Commit to having a fluid style and avoid applying rigid formulas to unique design challenges. Don’t force a solution upon the problem aesthetically or in your choice of media. Some problems are best solved with video, others with direct mail pieces. Round out your skill set and evolve with technology.

I hope to have made my point, but in case I haven’t I leave you with this quote:

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.
– Bruce Lee

1 thought on “Be Water My Friend

  1. Serge Souren

    Great Post Jim, couldn’t agree with you more. Being fluid allows you to be constantly adapting to the environment. A square peg will only fit in a square hole. Having had the pleasure of working with you, your success is because of this.


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