4 Tips for Finding & Embracing Your Design Style

There was one guy in design school who made the rest of us green with envy. He had a knack for walking into class critiques fashionably late, and every time he set foot in the door my heart would sink a little. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the guy. But I knew that the work I had spent countless hours on would quickly be overshadowed as soon as he pinned up his latest sketches. There was no denying it; this guy was extremely talented.

I took notice of the positive feedback that Kyle would constantly receive from our professors, and I wanted someone to gloat over my work too. So I tried my hand at mimicking him. Now, you have to understand how different our styles are to fully appreciate the hilarity of this situation. Me, a colorful girly-girl, trying to mimic the edgy, eclectic designs of a hipster. Needless to say, I failed miserably. 

Somewhere along the way I realized that I would never be successful if I continued copying other people's style, so I began to embrace my own feminine, illustrative aesthetic. And that's when my work began to stand out among my classmates. Not because it was betterbut because it was distinctly my own. I walked away from my 4 years at Virginia Tech with a portfolio filled with designs that looked like me, not Kyle or anyone else in my class, for that matter.

So today I'm sharing some tips on how to find and embrace your design style.

Now before you "non-designers" click out of this post, I need to let you in on a little secret. Everyone is a designer. Whether you've decorated a house or picked out an outfit, you've exercised creativity in some shape or form. Every person has a unique perspective that they share through design - whether it's through their clothing choices, home decorations, or Instagram photos. And I don't know about you, but I think it's rather boring when everything and everyone looks the same. It's much more fun and interesting when people step out from the crowd and create something distinctly their own.

With that said, are you ready to break out from the mold? Here are four tips for setting yourself apart.

1. Avoid being a follower.

It's good to have sources of inspiration - there's no doubt about that. But attempting to emulate another person in your field is a disastrous plan. You'll never find your thing if you hop around from one inspiration to the next. Your work will be an imitation, not an original. There is no one quite like you; you have something that only you can offer. But you won't get there by following. 

I would be lying to say that the temptation to imitate has been completely removed, especially with so many great designs floating around Pinterest and other blogs. It's easy to see the work of other designers, interior decorators, writers, and photographers and get inspired. But I've learned that there's a difference in what you're inspired by and what you actually create. 

2. Play up your strengths.

Before you can play up your strengths, it's important to identify what they are. Start by answering a couple questions. What excites you? What do others compliment you on? What are some habits, hobbies, or accomplishments that set you apart? It might even be helpful to ask those around you to identify the strengths that they see in you.

Once you've identified your strengths, find ways to put them into practice and showcase them. For example, I love to illustrate. Instead of sharing photos of simple recipes that I enjoy on the blog each month, I've been illustrating a recipe printable to share instead. I don't know what this step looks like for you, but I do know that you've been gifted with a particular talent. Play it up!

3. Experiment.

Spend a couple hours experimenting with your camera or your sketchbook. Clear your mind of all the other work you've seen and just create. Use colors, patterns, illustrations, fabrics, and whatever else appeals to you; don't let the latest trends stunt your creativity. Some of my best work happens when I remove all parameters and allow myself a couple hours of creative freedom. 

4. Keep it up!

It's easy to let others approval (or lack thereof) affect your creativity. I have a lot to say on this topic, but I'll save that for another day and another post. Here's the short version: Even if you aren't getting the response that you were hoping for, stay persistent. Hold true to your style and don't settle for being a copycat.

The people who have the most distinct style are often the ones who catch your eye. There's a lot to be said for those who see what everyone else is doing and take a leap of faith in their own direction. 

I want to know how you have embraced your design style! What tips have you found helpful?