I had a job interview last year where the interviewer stumped me on a fairly simple question (it didn’t help that he was doing the whole blunt/arrogant/aggressive technique thing but that’s not the point):
Which designer do you most admire/want to be?
I umm-ed and ahh-ed as I hadn’t prepared for this old chestnut. Had you asked me straight out of uni I would have hit back with a bunch of current, exciting names and enthused about them. But I couldn’t. Why? Because I had stopped thinking about that kind of thing back at uni.
There are very few ‘names’ that I know of in the web design world and that doesn’t bother me. I can’t say I really care who is behind a website. It’s more important that it works and is enjoyable to use. In this era of social media presences, it’s easy to be drawn into the idea of following celebrity designers but this would be a mistake.
I want to be visiting a website because it’s fun/intelligent/elegant/interesting etc – who produced it is pretty much irrelevant. If the designer has done their job, it should be the message that is being showcased. If it has the stamp of a designer all over it, then it’s probably a vanity project.
I genuinely think there’s a real problem of designers ‘being inspired by’ other designers. It’s second-hand thinking at best; copying at worst. If designers are being inspired by other designers they’re not doing their job. They’re not taking problems and processing them through their mind/skills to create a useful solution. We shouldn’t get our inspiration from other’s work, we should be getting it from the real world. We should be inspired by art, music, theatre, walking, running, driving, travelling, buying etc. i.e. by life. Not a narrow channel of inspiration that means the same ideas will be recycled repeatedly.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t go along to conferences and get inspired by others but you should do so because of the interesting stories they tell and processes they’ve been through. Not just judge them on a slideshow of cool work.
And sure musicians get asked which other musicians they admire but there’s a key difference here. Music (done properly) is an artform and the their music is their message. Designers don’t have a message, they have someone else’s. They provide the medium. And if the medium is shouting all over the message, they’re probably an illustrator.
As I stumbled on the first question, the interviewer wanted to pursue this line:
Which magazines or blogs do you read?
Again, I couldn’t answer this, as I stopped my subscription to Creative Review years ago and there’s no one blog I frequent. Again, why?
I stopped reading design mags because they dated so quickly and seemed to be fairly irrelevant after a couple of months. The work that they hail as being ground-breaking suddenly looks old hat. How worthwhile is that?
I don’t read any particular blog because to do so would be to follow only one point of view. I have a Twitter feed and follow enough other designers that the cream tends to rise and find its way to my stream. This way I’m reading something because it’s good, not because it’s by someone who is supposed to be good. The idea of liking one particular source seems so pre-web. Now it’s good content that wins, not just big brands.
I do read a lot though. And again, I think it’s important to read widely: fiction, non-fiction, classics, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, etc. Occasionally I’ll buy tabloids, who’s views I tend to strongly disagree with, to challenge myself and to try to understand what a large amount of the population are thinking.
So I tried to explain all this, rather than give a straight answer. Only at the last minute remembering that I did a podcast, which would have been a great thing to push as a USP. But I failed to sell that. And in at a stroke he’d changed my mind about this being a job I wanted to them being an employer who were thinking in a different direction to me.
Suffice to say, I’m not working there now.