Five Lessons Designers Can Learn from Jay-Z
A great source of inspiration is figures of excellence in other industries; they give you a fresh perspective that you can then apply to your respective professions. Jay-Z is undoubtedly one of the most successful rappers of all time. His success extends beyond the music industry, and into entrepreneurship, fashion, sports, and other ventures. This article delves into things designers can learn from this legendary rap superstar.
1. Be Confident
This one is forehead-slapping obvious, but still, too many designers remain detrimentally humble of the work they produce. Believe in yourself and your strengths.
Jay-Z oozes confidence. He knows he’s good at rapping and he isn’t afraid to let that be known.
However, if you’ve seen him do interviews, you’ll see that he doesn’t constantly parade how good he is; only when it’s brought up by someone else in the conversation. He’s chill about his abilities, unlike many upcoming rappers (which only makes them appear to be overcompensating for their lack of abilities). He won’t downplay his rapping value, but he’s not overly arrogant about it either.
You should do the same as a designer. Don’t be boastful and arrogant, but do be confident when you’re talking about your work, skills, experience, and design style. It’s not a matter of being cocky as much as having self-belief — don’t hide the fact that you’re good at what you do, and don’t undervalue your talent.
Think about this concept from a potential client’s perspective: If you, as the client, were shopping around for designers, would you be more likely to choose someone who lacks confidence with their abilities, or one who is genuinely and passionately sure that she can get the job done?
2. Make Your Own Fate Happen
At the start, when no record labels wanted to sign Jay-Z, he and two of his friends decided that in order to get their stuff out there, they had to go at it alone. So they started their own record label. Instead of giving up, the up-and-coming artist decided to take his fate into his own hands.
If you truly believe in your design skills but you can’t seem to land a job at any design agency — go at it alone. Plenty of record labels turned The Beatles down; imagine what they were feeling after She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand became number-one hit singles around the world.
Whether it means freelancing or opening up your own design agency, don’t give up and take control of your own career.
3. Don’t Be Fake
Being dishonest and fake is lethal to your design career. With Twitter, Facebook, and the public nature of the Internet, it’ll only be a matter of time before you gain a bad reputation for promising things you can’t deliver. Conversely, if you operate at a 100% genuine and passionate level, it will show through in your work and success as a designer.
Jay-Z rapped about what he knew — hustling, the rap game, his troubled childhood where he had to slang dope in the projects to provide for his family — and he wasn’t afraid to be real. Talking about his life experiences made his lyrics genuine.
He didn’t try to rap in a style that he wasn’t comfortable with just to fit into the latest flavor; he stuck to his laid-back flow and cleverly unconventional rhymes.
You shouldn’t be something you’re not with your design career. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore — Jay-Z stepped outside his native style quite often, such as in Big Pimpin’ where he adopted a quick and reminiscently southern rap flow (his natural style is characteristically East Coast hip-hop) with successful results — but you shouldn’t do design work that you don’t believe in.
4. Build a Consistent and Recognizable Brand
Creating a brand for yourself is important. Jay-Z started with Roc-A-Fella Records, his self-initiated record company. Then he expanded his brand into a successful clothing line (Rocawear). His next venture is called Roc Nation.
Notice the consistency; most of his ventures have "Roc" in the name.
He reinforces and capitalizes on this brand. He throws up his "Roc" hand sign (he makes a diamond shape by holding two open hands together), and constantly mentions the "Roc" brand in his music ("It’s the Roc!").
The "Roc" brand stands out among the vast sea of rappers out there. Jay-Z built a brand he could leverage in other ventures.
The general strategy to branding for designers is no different. Start by creating a catchy name and logo, and then use it consistently and wherever it’s applicable — business cards, YouTube videos, t-shirts, and so forth.
By consistently building up your brand, you gain better visibility in the industry. A solid brand also has the capability to quickly kick-start your future endeavors by giving them support from an established brand.
5. Leave a Timeless Legacy
This is a natural extension of all of the above: by confidently offering your unique value that’s uncompromisingly you and having an irresistible brand around it, you’re working towards leaving a timeless legacy.
Jay-Z will be remembered as more than just a rapper, even though he’ll have left a remarkable, chart-topping body of work in the music industry.
However, he’ll also be remembered as an astute businessman and an inspiring story of where perseverance can take you.
The music industry, especially the rap game, has changed drastically since Jay-Z first started, and though artists come and go, Jay-Z’s still standing and putting out hit songs.
A similar outcome should be one of your goals in your design career. Strive to be a timeless designer; design trends change rapidly, but a great designer — no matter what — will withstand the changes that time brings.
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About the Author
This was published on Dec 16, 2010