Learning Your Craft: Talent vs Skill
A lot goes into a being a designer; a whole heck of a lot more goes into being a great designer. What’s the difference between being born a designer and being a made a designer? Let me show you.
If you’re busy hammering away on a pixel perfect design you’re doing in your free time, good for you; if you aren’t, shame on you. This isn’t about telling you to work harder (not directly), but instead to understand the difference between your talent as an artist and your skill as an artist.
First, we need to look at what it means to have Talent vs Skill.
Talent as a Designer
Your talent is innate. Innate in that, you are born to be artistic. You have that intrinsic, artistic identity that was there right after leaving the woom. Talent blossoms, grows, and reveals itself (and its intentions) early when you’re a child. What’s great about talent, is that it finds a way—doesn’t matter what opportunities you have, whatever you’re talented in eventually shows through, and in this case, designing. Talent, as some say, is “God-given”.
Skill as a Designer
Having skill is nearly the opposite to having talent. That doesn’t mean it is a bad thing, I will argue it is the most important, but more on that later. Skill takes time and effort to develop and is not innate and skills are more likely measurable and technical. Some qualities that make someone skillful could, however, be innate; things like hard work, dedication, persistence, and etc, are all things that help foster great skill—you could be born with these qualities. But skill is developed.
Any great athletic coach will tell you that talent only gets you so far, and they’d be right—you have to foster talent.
You don’t need talent to be a great designer
Lets look at breaking these two ideas down with a few examples. Some get confused by being skillful and talented—rest assured, as we described above, they are very different.
It is easy to think that there are more talented designers than you in the stratosphere and is more than likely true, but it isn’t the end all, be all. Any great athletic coach will tell you that talent only gets you so far, and they’d be right—you have to foster talent. What’s the best way to do that? Enter skill.
Your skill needs to pick up just as your talent is starting to wear off. This is often a hard moment for artists to grasp as I have seen many, many artists fall behind and eventually give up. In modern design (web, mobile and the like) without skill, you can’t stay relevant and modern.
What areas constitute that of skill? Or, what can I do to improve my skill and foster my talent? Speaking as a web designer, you may have a talent for web design and UI—a knack for human interaction with digital interfaces. Talented and born with it and understand it from a human perspective.
Understanding particular skills will enhance this talent. Something as simple as understanding grid design and perfecting it with your innate talent of understanding web design. Working on this skill integration is important. An other area may be practicing button design, and different types of buttons. All these skills help you be a better web designer and grow your talent.
Work on areas of skill that affect your talent. Talented painter must develop the skill of painting from observation or mixing colors or even drawing (yes it is very different from painting). These skills enhance the quality of art we are making. Focus on areas that you’re talented in (and aren’t), and practice or learn ways to improve this talent. The beautiful part of working on your skill is that you’re only as skillful as let you yourself be; it is all based on the amount of time and hard work you’d like to dedicate to the skill—anyone can be extremely skilled!
What if I don’t have talent?
There is no easy way to say this. Some of us are born to do what we do, others not. You’re on the right path if you’re in love with your field. If you love what you do and you work hard at it, you’ll be successful. Your journey to be a great designer is a tougher one since you aren’t talented. So grab a book and read until your eyes burn and then keep reading. Talent has a falloff, skill doesn’t. If you can create skill you can create success. Skill has the unique ability to make you look like you’re talented, but in reality, you never were and you just worked your ass off—good for you. Mostly, talent breeds complacency. Many people that are talented don’t put in the time to be skillful and you will have a huge leg up on these chaps.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Its easy to see that many designers, in their first year of full-time work, become exponentially better artists. This is because they now have the time, and are also forced, to dedicate to their trade allowing huge improvements of their skill. Another area of skill you might think of is understanding your programs (Photoshop, Illustrator). We already established that you can charge more for less time spent on work, so the benefit is two-fold. Knowing the intricacies lets you do better work and makes you a better designer. If you care enough, everything you do will develop your talent and make you more skillful, but it all comes down to one thing: Practice, practice, practice.
If you don’t spend the time, you wont really develop a skill and you wont really foster your talent; you stay as good as you were 2 years ago. Laziness has no part here, so run while you can and those of you left staying, find something that your talent is hindered by. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, honestly, and go from there.
Talent has a falloff, skill doesn’t.
The worst thing you can do is say “This person is clearly more talented than me”. Reality is: there is no way for you to know if it is talent you’re looking at or years of hard work developing their skill. Don’t believe in the hype.
What are some of the skills you work on regularly? Are you aware of your weaknesses as a designer? Your strengths? Let us know in the comments below!