I took a critical look at my fiction writing a few months ago, but found that assessing my graphic design practice actually felt more painful. While I subscribe to the tenet ‘you are not your work,’ I make a living from my graphic design and exposing my flaws felt more personal. But as a professional, I need to constantly improve my craft so that I continue to make products I’m proud of and that fulfill the needs of my workplace and clients.
Edit 12/2016: See my 2016 writing self-critique, the followup to this 2015 self-evaluation.
I recently turned 30, so I’m taking the opportunity to snapshot my creative skills and challenges. Knowing our weaknesses and instinctive tendencies is just as important as knowing our strengths, and allows us to be better creators, no matter what our medium. Honest self-evaluation – acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses – is the first step to improvement because it teaches me what I need to practice. I can also ask specifically for critiques of those elements where I need the most work. I’ve identified common challenges in my first drafts / mockups, as well as my successes and skills, areas where I excel.
I consider myself a skilled graphic designer within my field of expertise, environmental education – and a passable, almost-good-enough fiction writer. In both writing and graphic design, I tend to excess. With my focus on space opera, I write the grandiose. In graphic design, I prefer daring, out-there designs. I don’t believe excess is inherently flawed, but it’s not always appropriate to clear communication or suitable for branding, so it’s valuable to recognize in my work.
Every December, I set aside several hours (generally spread out over several days) to complete a personal annual review and a creative annual review and set goals for the following year, based on Chris Guillebeau’s method. This year I’m incorporating methods from Robert Pozen’s Extreme Productivity to organize and prioritize my goals. I assess all aspects of my creative life — creative work, process, skills, relationships, business — for what went well and what could be improved.