When considering experience, it’s important to note the difference between professional experience and life experience. Professional experience is everything you learn on the job; the way you deal with clients, the methods you use when approaching a project, your design process. These are all developed as you gain professional experience and progress in your career. In contrast, life experience is everything else you learn in life. This could come from the relationships you form, the values you hold, travel, and the opportunities you choose to take.

Creativity is potential, life experience is the journey and professional experience opens doors

Professional experience will not make you more creative, it will make you more practical, however, life experience can inspire your creativity. Without life experience we have no memories, no information, no ingredients to base our creativity on, and without professional experience, we can lack the ability to shape our creativity into practical solutions. It’s important to keep in mind that creativity is not experience and experience is not creativity. To answer this question, it will help to discuss the difference between creativity and experience in more depth.

Is Creativity a Myth? 

I don’t believe creativity to be a myth at all. I think it’s very real; a force of nature. It’s an energy we all have inside to interpret and understand the world around us and transmit it back out into the world in our own way. Make no mistake, we are all creative. Creativity is a big part of being human, however, you can be extremely creative yet unsuccessful in a professional capacity.

Creativity is potential

If you can draw, great! You’re a brilliant painter, amazing! You’ve got a knack for coding, good on you! You’re a master in Photoshop, well done! You come up with great ideas, brilliant! However, what all these skills offer is a degree of potential. I have seen so many creative and talented people in my time, though some have been unsuccessful in a professional capacity, for a variety of reasons:

  • They don’t choose to go professional 
  • They don’t know how to capitalise on their creativity
  • Lack of professional experience can leave one a bit naive
  • They don’t know how to channel their creativity for a specific goal
  • They lack experience and initiative

If you want to be creative in a professional capacity, it’s professional experience that opens doors to where you want to go, because to be successful requires a lot more than creativity. Young and inexperienced designers will have all the creative potential and perhaps some life experience, which is encouraged in school and university. Though in the professional world of design you will need maturity, discipline and judgement to channel your creativity to solve specific problems. 

It can be difficult for new designers to do this in a professional capacity. This is because they won’t have worked on many projects, especially the big projects with a wide scope. These projects expose a designer to many problems that need to be solved, offering more opportunity to gain professional experience.

Life Experience

Life experience is incredibly valuable because it ultimately fuels and shapes your creativity. Life experience is the ingredients that inspire our creativity, and includes things such as:

  • Experiencing emotions
  • Listening and learning
  • Visiting an art gallery or museum
  • Travelling and experiencing culture 
  • Volunteering
  • Reading poetry
  • Listening to music
  • Using our imagination
  • Reading a variety of genres
  • Meeting different people
  • Having interesting conversations
  • Watching movies
  • Challenging yourself and others

Each of these experiences provides us with an opportunity to develop and diversify our thinking. They present us with an opportunity to experience new ideas, perspectives and challenges that we may not otherwise have had. Keeping this life experience in mind, we use our desire to create to express these newfound thoughts, feelings and perspectives. When it comes to applying this in a professional capacity, it’s how well we’re able to channel our life experience through our creativity and use it as inspiration to produce creative solutions for a specific purpose.

Professional Experience

Let’s take graduates from university for example. 

When a designer graduates from university it’s rare that they will go straight into a job. It’s very common for a designer to undertake a number of internships first. A design agency may give a young designer an opportunity at their agency as an intern based on the creative potential they see in their portfolio, but won’t give them a paid job straight away.

Professional design is about business

Agencies want to see practical qualities from the designer, like how they manage multiple projects and interact with others in the studio, how they respond to a brief and cope under pressure, and how they channel their creativity to produce relevant and appropriate solutions to a brief, which the agency can sell and capitalise on.

These things are not taught or experienced in school, so an internship is the designers opportunity to showcase these skills before the design agency will give them a job. If an intern shows potential, then it won’t be long before the design agency considers them an asset and decides to offer them a paid position.

However, if the intern doesn’t show potential or the design agency doesn’t think they’re the right fit, then the intern may be released. Now, whilst the designer may have been unsuccessful in this instance, it doesn’t make them any less creative. Chances are they weren’t successful in channeling their creativity appropriately. What this experience provides, regardless of if they’re offered a paid position or not, is exposure to practical experience. 

Now the designer understands what it takes to work in a professional environment and they now have something practical to add to their portfolio and CV. The next time the designer is faced with a problem or scenario in a professional environment, they’ll be able to learn from their previous experience and improve from there.

Although disheartening, this can happen many times until a designer finally gets a paid role. Unfortunately, it’s this reason that some designers give up where others will persist. This is how you acquire professional experience in most industries; you start at the bottom and slowly work your way up.

When I was a young designer I applied for so many jobs, and I’ll admit that the first couple of years were tough.  Interview after interview I was always told they loved what they saw, but I always missed out because I never had the ‘professional experience’, or someone else had more experience than me. After graduating I did a few internships and, after a while, I was offered my first real job, at the bottom.

Professional experience is like a brick; one single experience alone is not enough, it takes many bricks to pave the way to your success. 

After a few years of experience a designer becomes more proficient at the professional job. Stay in the game long enough and you will start to become extremely efficient. After working on multiple projects, speaking with a variety of clients and dealing with an array of situations, you will have a lot of professional experience, but won’t necessarily be any more creative than when you started. 

It may only seem that you are more creative, because you have acquired the skills to apply your creativity in practical ways. The creativity was always there, you’re just expressing it in different ways now. Professional experience is not creativity, it’s more practical. It’s simply knowing how to channel your creativity to meet briefs and solve specific problems appropriately.

This is something that took me a little while to build. I was in a full time role for a number of years as an in house designer. I feel I have always been really creative, but as a young designer I was a little naive, suffering from lack of professional experience and guidance.

For a long time I was going nowhere. I could have easily slipped through the net, given up and been another designer with a degree who didn’t work professionally, but I stayed hungry and was determined to succeed. After a few years I was able to build up my professional experience and got better at channelling my creativity into solutions clients were willing to pay for. I then went freelance where I had lots more opportunities, like working at over 40 different design studios and working with lots of senior designers, learning new ways of tackling projects. Here I had the opportunity to unleash my creativity to its full potential.

Conclusion

So if you’re creative and you love it so much that you want a career that allows you to express your creativity, don’t let professional experience, or a lack thereof, get in the way. 

Remember, creativity is a gift, life experience is free and professional experience is acquired.  

Be patient and keep applying yourself. In time you’ll gain the experience that will help you get the role you’re chasing. 

Do you think creativity is a myth? How have you used your life experience in a professional context? Let me know in the comments below! 

Do you have a design question you’d like me to discuss? Comment below or email me at creative@garethdavidstudio.com and I’ll do my best to give you a thorough answer.