Designers wanting to reach the greatest heights in their profession must be willing to take risks and not simply follow whatever everyone else is doing. If you don't experiment to find your own unique style, you will never truly stand out, and as a result you probably won't reach your full potential as a designer.
Of course it's perfectly fine to merely scratch out a living as a designer if that's what you want to do, but if you want more… the only thing stopping you from achieving it is probably fear.
If you're willing to push a few boundaries and create something completely new and unique, you may soon get to know that awesome feeling that comes from being “in demand”. Now let's take a look at some practical ideas you can put to work to help you get there.
1. Your design style is yours
There are two important things to keep in mind in any design project. The first is the nature of whatever it is that the design is being created for, and the second is your own inner nature. Ideally your design should reflect some of the essence of both.
Having a strong style as a designer is a display of confidence in yourself. Obviously you don't want to go too far with it and seem to be blatantly egotistical, but you should be able to demonstrate that you're a uniquely talented designer that people would want to buy designs from.
So try to find some way to inject some of your personality into the design. One of the reasons that many junior designers avoid this necessary technique to achieving design greatness is they fear the design will be rejected.
If you have invested yourself so fully into a design project that some essence of your own personality is incorporated into the design and it is subsequently rejected, it's possible to take it as a personal rejection. You shouldn't. Just keep going, provided you believe firmly in the quality of your design process. If you don't have confidence in your own design, it's not a design you should be pitching.
2. Don't try to force anything
The clear counterpoint to the above is that your style should be a natural extension of your ideas, and shouldn't be forced. You're not trying to impose anything on the design, but simply to allow that essence to come out naturally in the design.
Remember that clients hire designers based on the strength of their portfolios, so the portfolio you create should be memorable and impressive. You should be creating a strong impression in the mind of whoever is viewing it, and that won't happen if your designs don't have consistency, even though (of course) they should all be unique.
It's not unusual for clients to use your portfolio to indicate the kind of design they'd like you to create for them. “Make me this, but make it mine,” is the directive a designer always loves to hear when a client is eagerly pointing to a design from the portfolio collection.
3. Design for the client
Never forget that even though your style is yours, your design ultimately belongs to the client, so you should make sure their needs are met. The design you create should center around the specific things that the client needs the design for.
The key is to subtly incorporate some identifiable design traits into what you are creating so that anyone who knows something of design and designers could tell at a glance that this design originated from you. Or at least to become one of those designers that others imitate.
4. Practice makes perfect
Designs can be developed quickly, but style always takes time to develop. You will become better in the design process by constantly practicing design, even when you don't have a paying project on your hands.
In fact it can be worthwhile to use your free time to donate design services to charitable projects, particularly in the context of your local community, because there is always a chance that the exposure will lead to acquiring new clients.
Apart from the commercial aspects, you'd be contributing to the community, and also giving yourself the chance to practice your design technique with no negative consequences being possible.
You can also simply design for yourself, for family and friends, and for competition entries if you are still at an early enough stage where it wouldn't be seen as distasteful to enter a competition. It's all practice, and the more often you design, the better you'll get at it.
This leads to your design style becoming more and more natural, because you've practiced your techniques over and over, but with different projects.
Why developing a personal style in design is a worthwhile goal
All that practice really does work wonders for developing a recognizable style that will help you stand out as a designer.
When you stand out, the logical next step is to graduate to being in demand. People want the best designers they can afford, and the easiest way to ensure you can more quickly become unaffordable for most of those who would want you is to be one of those big names in design that everybody recognizes instantly.
Warhol, Cardin, Lloyd-Wright, Tiffany… these are names of great designers from different areas of design. They are instantly recognizable, not only to design students, but in fact to the general population as well. What you would do well to remember is that every single one of them had to make a start just the same as everyone else, including you.
What projected them to greatness was that they developed a strongly identifiable style that helped them make their mark in the world of design. They stood out from the crowd, and reaped the benefits of the courage and commitment to do things their own way.
Aspiring designers who truly want to reach the heights of their profession should seriously consider the example that has been set for them by these design pioneers.
You may be the next Frank Lloyd-Wright or Louis Tiffany, but who will know if you don't develop your own style? Every design you make is potentially an ad for yourself as a designer. Remember that, and your success is virtually assured.