Fake It ’til You Make It

Thursday, Mar 20, 2014

Published In: Process, Stories, Updates

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One of the best quotes that pretty much sums up my life as a working designer/developer up to this point is:

Fake It ’til You Make It

For years I’ve heard this quote being said over and over and thought it sounded funny (and kinda dirty, actually) but I never really paid too much attention to it. Only recently I found the meaning of this quote to really connect with what I call a link from the beginning of my design career to where I am now. 8 years ago I started out as a complete noob at design and Photoshop. Today I stand as a 3-year employee at Something Massive as an Art Director who just recently moved over to the Development department full-time. When I look back and compare the things I started learning and wish I was better at when I knew nothing at all, it gives me a strange but much deserved sense of accomplishment in knowing I reached the goals I never knew I made.

But literally, when I say the quote “Fake it ’til you make it” sums up my life’s work, I actually mean it. When I was doing lots of freelance work for bands and clothing companies back in high school, I used to secure projects by selling potential clients on stuff I knew they wanted and were looking for even though I sort of knew how to do those things. For example, back when MySpace was cool, hip, and awesome, I always admired the amazing layouts my favorite bands had on their profiles. I quickly learned the names of the dudes making those layouts and wanted to get in on that game. I was barely getting into design and was learning as many advanced techniques as I could and started reading advanced tutorials any chance I could get. Once I figured out how layouts where made, I started experimenting with them and tried teaching myself HTML & CSS.

I reaaaaaallly sucked at it. I had no idea what I was doing or how HTML or CSS worked. Again I looked through as many tutorials as I could and kinda, sorta, not really understood how some of the things worked in web design. Needless to say, I got somewhat familiar with some code that I started practicing by making myself some test layouts for my hardcore band. And at that point was when I started offering MySpace layouts as one of my services to bands. After about a few months, I was able to hook in a few bands to work with who wanted a layout done. And me, being a young kid at the time, I had no real concept of money or appropriate judgement of time estimates or how to price my services, so for my sake, I priced what I felt the least guilty about. I believe the first layout I did, I charged the band about $75. The main reason I charged so low was because I didn’t really know coding all too well and I personally didn’t feel right about charging someone a premium for a service I honestly barely knew anything about.

But I really wanted the experience and the bragging rights that I was doing layouts for bands. I wanted to be like those awesome designers who made incredible layouts for my favorite bands. I wanted MY logo credit mark up there next to the top right ad space where everybody else put theirs. I wanted in on that design game. I wanted it so bad that I was willing to put myself in extremely uncomfortable situations with clients who were expecting amazing things that I could barely do. But that desire was ultimately what led me to actually get down to learn what the hell I was actually doing with design and development. I knew that if I keep that goal in mind, over time the desire for learning the proper way to do things would grow and would make me a better designer all-around.

And that’s really what kept me going. I literally took on MySpace projects for little to no money because it was really the only way I could promote my design name to other bands. Once you had your name on a bands layout, they would would brag about it to their friends who were in bands, then they would see who made it, hit you up for work, then you were able to charge more because you learned new things since the last time you made a layout. The majority of the things I did to get to that point where mainly to ensure I had all the real-world practice I could get. And that’s really all I was after. Once MySpace decided to shit the bed and do away with the profile customization everybody grew to know and love, most of the designers I grew to admire were out of freelance jobs. I knew a few people who exclusively made their money from just making layouts for bands. And once they couldn’t make them how they used to, they had no more work coming in.

That really scared me. I was still too new at to the game that it didn’t affect me much, except for the fact I probably couldn’t realize my dream of having my logo credit on bands profiles anymore. So I took all the things I learned along the way and decided to properly teach myself how to code HTML & CSS the right way. I had a ton of work I had made but no place to put it up for people to look at, so I started coding up my own portfolio. The first version was just a very simple static HTML site. the next version, I started messing around with WordPress development, which was yet another thing I had no clue how it worked. Luckily I had kinda stopped doing freelance so learning this on my own time was a bit less stressful.

At this point, I was already enrolled in film school. My interest in design was still at the fore front of my awareness. I knew I wanted to do design for a living. Coding was more of a side skill that complimented me and made being a designer a hell of a lot easier. After awhile, I began learning some WordPress PHP functions and read a tutorial on how to convert an HTML site into a WordPress theme. From that point on, I had taken a new leap further into the development world. Again, I was more interested in design than development but for some reason, the fact that I knew how to code made me a much more viable candidate when it came to applying for design jobs after I graduated. The first 2 places I worked at right out of school were mostly Junior Graphic/Web design roles where I would design stuff for web, and then code them up.

It wasn’t until I landed a Junior Graphic/Web design job at Something Massive where I started taking both design and development really seriously in terms of both of them working hand-in-hand. After I signed on for a full-time position, my role was changed to Art Director and I was mainly tasked with designing stuff with the occasional coding project here and there. Since I only had to focus on design at work, I still messed around with coding in my spare time. Eventually coding up tons of sites for myself in the process just to get better at it. The more knowledgable I became in coding, the easier it was for me to design a site at work while knowing if it was technically possible to code by our developers. Which made them happy because it made their job a bit less stressful.

But here is where it comes full circle for me. About a year ago, I head a very brief discussion with one of my bosses about possibly being given a bit more coding projects to work on. She seemed to like the idea and wanted to give it a shot. Over time I got maybe about one or two Tumblr projects to code up and thats about it. Eventually we all forgot about it and everything was fine. Just went back to designing stuff as usual. Then a few weeks ago, there was a meeting internally about bringing in some new developers and expanding the development team. One of my co-workers, who is now the Lead Developer, mentioned to my boss that I told him about that brief instance where my boss and I discussed me being given more coding projects. He suggested the idea to have me switch over to the development team because he knew the kind of coding projects and technologies I knew.

So my boss called me in and presented me with the idea and asked me if I was interested. The only catch was that I would have to give up my role as Art Director and switch over to be a Developer full time. This came as a surprise to me because first of all, developing wasn’t my true passion, but I sure as hell LOVE doing it. And second, I’m not 100% knowledgeable in all aspects of coding, but I sure as hell LOVE learning all I can about coding whenever I get the chance to. And she knew this. She expected for me to be a bit hesitant and I did give it some thought because never in a million years would I have thought I would have been offered a full-time Developer role where I would get to learn on the job.

The added bonus though was that I could still do random design related things here and there whenever the design team needed some help. This new role would ultimately lead me to the role we discussed a year ago where I pretty much wanted to be in a hybrid design/developer. So to me, this was all a positive step in the direction I want to go in. Sure its a bit uncomfortable and will take some time to get full used to since I was an Art Director for the past 3 years. But hey, progressing in any aspect of life requires you to willingly step outside of your comfort zone. So I accepted my new role and I am super excited about it.

If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back! I felt as though I needed to share this condensed and modified story of my progression as a designer. Like I said earlier, “Fake it ’til you make it” really seems to be an accurate description of how I…. made it… I guess?? I don’t know. I still have a lot more I want to accomplish but this seems like more of a milestone in terms of getting to where I want to be eventually. Having the perseverance to get what you want and always learning and perfecting everything you enjoy doing is the key to getting anywhere worth mentioning.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my stupid story. Have a nice day!!