Five Lessons Designers Can Learn from Jay-Z

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.

Be Confident

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.

Make Your Own Fate Happen

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.

Don't Be Fake

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!").

Build a Consistent and Recognizable Brand

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

Oleg Mokhov is the world’s most mobile electronic musician and co-founder of the royalty free music store Soundtrackster. He was born in Russia, but raised in the US. Follow him on Twitter as @olegmokhov.

This was published on Dec 16, 2010


Benjamin M. Jacques Dec 16 2010

Hey Oleg,

I’m a huge fan of articles like these that take a source that’s not in the design world and then relate it directly to design to benefit artists everywhere. The last one I read was about how surfing and entrepreneurship were very similar, but you don’t see them often, so thanks. Very inspiring.

Daniel H Pavey Dec 16 2010

This was a surprisingly enjoyable read, thank you!

As a white english guy, whilst I respect Jay-Z, I wouldn’t necessarily relate to him, however your article has made me look at him in a new light!!

And I’m not at all jealous of him dating Beyonce anymore…. (much)

mavdl Dec 16 2010

You forgot

6 steal lyrics from a dead friend

If I try really hard can I become a Freemason too?

Paulie Dec 16 2010

Five Lessons Designers Shouldn’t Learn from Jay-Z

1. Deal crack
2. Stab people who make you really angry
3. Be misogynistic
4. Curse often
5. Steal other people’s work

Just sayin!


Guillaume Dec 16 2010

Thanks. that was both a very instructive and funny post!!

Chris Thompson Dec 16 2010

Very motivating article. I particularly connect with the pushing forward aspect. That is a good point. There will always be rough roads when getting started in your own venture, well anything worth while that you go after in life. Surprisingly sometimes the ones you think will support you most will be the ones who hinder your endeavors. You have to have confidence in yourself and what you have to offer and keep working with your passion. Eventually you will achieve your goals with perseverance.

@mavdl – “i’m not a biter, im a writer for myself and others / I saw a B.I.G. verse, im only bigging up my brother / bigging up my bureaux / big enough to do it / I’m that thorough / Plus i know my own flow is foolish.”

Great article!

Paulie Dec 16 2010

@joe – I think he was bigging up his boro’.

I take your point though.

Manmohanjit Singh Dec 16 2010

You read his book, Decoded? :P

penguinstampede Dec 16 2010

If you code up sites that you design, the bit about “stealing” does come into play. I don’t mean directly steal an entire site, but “sample” bits and pieces of code/scripts that you really like. Either make a nod to them somewhere, or improve/customize it to make it your own. Jay-Z didn’t reinvent the wheel, he just built on it in his own way.

Great, good advices, good famous choice. An inspiring post.

Patrick Dec 16 2010

Love this article.

steve Dec 16 2010

Has anyone ever even heard this dudes lyrics? Look obviously the guy is a good business man or hec id bet he just has a damn good marketing and financial team. Ever seen this guy on an interview? The dude has like a tenth grade vocabulary but the crazy thing is he was a grad of Julliard. the guy is def not the brightest star in the sky but who saif you needed to be to nake it in show business. But seriously…this article is freakin ridiculous. Take my challange and jus sit down and.listen to his lyrics… Not only does he rip ppl off but he makes up his own damn words to fit his crappy lyrics. Man ppl eat this crap up. . This guy is almost as bad as the black eyed peas but dont get me started on them. Look the guy is doin something right but lets not glorify the dude this way. . This article is a joke.

Patty Dec 17 2010

Benjamin said it all ;) This is an amazing article.

Adrianna Gonzalez Dec 17 2010

This is a great article! Really good parallels to how to gain success and keep it

I really love this site, very inspiring. Muchas Gracias & Felicitaciones!

Keith Davis Dec 18 2010

Very clever Oleg
Love the extended analogy, which makes your message both interesting and easy to remember.

And in there you have given us some valid and useful lessons for web designers.

Spencer Dec 18 2010

Hey Oleg! I love it when people apply one artists talents to another form of art and this a prime example of how it can make SO much sense.

If I had to which one I think is most important, I would say being confident. Think about Jay-Z. He’s the most confident (and sometimes arrogant) person on the earth, but I guarantee you he couldn’t have gotten to where he is without an unwavering believe in himself.

Well Done!

crescentdave Dec 18 2010

I just got sooooo inspired. Truly. Great points, never would have thought of them … and put through the lens of pop rap … epic! This article roc’d big time. Let’s have a lot more, kay? Maybe Hilary Duff, triple winner with music, movies & Stuff.™

Vladimir Dec 18 2010

The last picture isn’t about “(he makes a diamond shape by holding two open hands together)” or about Roc thing. This is a free-mason symbol of a piramyd and a left eye. Check it out –

haha @ “steve” – you clearly have a tiny mind to think he’s not a lyricial genius, he’s up there with the best. Fact. Man, these Gucci Mane fans make me laugh.

Anyway, that was a great article, inspiring. Jigga is king.

Ochodos Dec 20 2010

Great article man!! Very creative!

crons Dec 21 2010

agree w/ jman. julliard grad? seriously? are you sure you’re talking about same guy in the post?


This was a pretty good read, but I may be bias because I am a huge fan of Jay-Z and his work. I agree that he has taken the rap game to new heights, as he said in one of his songs, “I ain’t cross over, I brought the Suburbs to da Hood, I made you love me”. I think as designers we have to make our audience love our work. Most of the people that can’t relate to Jay-Z, either has a very tiny mind as stated before, are racist, or just isn’t a fan of Jay-Z. Whatever the case maybe you have to admit that going from the projects to Multimillionaire is something special. Believe dat!!!

robert Dec 22 2010

nice work

Duane May 13 2011

Very good analysis of Jay-Z empire in comparison to Designer’s professional development. #1 Be Confident & #5 Leave A Timeless Legacy, stand out the most to me as they make mention of most designers major weaknesses. Nice Job!

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