I went to a PAF event last night with Stefan Bucher. He is a brilliant print designer and gave a good talk. I was a little skeptical at first. A lot of speakers come in and paint this grand picture of how great life is for them and how they always work on cool projects and blah, blah, blah... and you begin to resent them a bit.
But Stefan brought it down to reality very quickly and offered a good perspective on design. I don't have a lot of time so I'll break it down in main take-aways:
1. Be prolific.
Design as much as you can. I asked Stefan after the talk, "What do you do when you're not designing?" He doesn't not design was the answer. I think that design influences all my interests and is something I am always thinking about, but I do other things. He admitted that achieving that focus is hard to do.
2. Do your own thing.
Kind of a "build it and they will come" or a Zen Buddhist way of looking at things. I'm sometimes frustrated at how some designers seem to get so much credit while others, who are doing just as good of work, don't (including myself). You can attribute it to the school they went to (Art Center for Stefan), or where they worked (WK). They met the right people, worked on the right projects, etc. But Stefan has a more centered approach. It takes time, but if you do what you like and put your personality out there, people will notice (lets assume we all have great personalities).
3. Connect with people
One of the things that I noticed right away was Stefan's willingness to connect with people. On his site, unabashedly he says, "Call me!" I e-mailed him and he got back to me immediately and was very open to talking. His work on the All Access book shows this. He just called 30 of the most famous designers in the world up and interviewed them. I put all these barriers up. I can't talk to this person or send my book to them, they'd never talk to me! Why?
Constantly ask questions, share yourself with people. Do this and people will respond. The worst that can happen is that you won't get a response. But if you're passionate about something people will probably see it and respond positively.