As we grow and develop as creatives, certain traits in our work become our trademarks. Our personal tastes become badges and identifiers. These visual footprints can develop in two different ways—one is organic and the other is almost artificial.One is voice, the other style.

Both of these help push along a career in different ways. A designer who works at the forefront of style, relies on what’s currently in.This can be a more versatile way of working as you’d adapt to your environment whenever it changes, which means you could almost always deliver what might be considered cutting edge at the time. On the other hand, the designer who doesn’t rely on a style, which is focused by the changing of the winds, develops a folio of work which is morep ersonal—a folio in which they can see themselves.

What you are delivering is good, quality design,
because that is what the environment is saying

The beauty of working with style is that it’s a lot easier to make work look good. Because your font of choice is currently in vogue, your end product’s quality goes up a couple of notches in your clients mind. A client might feel that what you are delivering is good, quality design,because that is what their environment is telling them through print ads, media ads, the internet and all other mediums they are hit with on a daily basis. All a designer has to do is look at all of these things for a period of time and they will develop an eye for what is moving out of fashion (because it’s being used by many) and where things are moving (because it’s successfully being used by a few). As long as they can stay within that small group of designers employing the latest thing, they will continue to look good, in the lifespan of the finished product. Not a bad deal, huh? Keep your eyes open, adapt, cash the cheques. Before you know it you won’t even have to consciously keep an eye out, it’ll become natural.

A voice is somewhat like a style except rather than growing due to exterior, environmental shifts, it grows because of the taste,education and sensibilities of the designer. A voice is yours. Only yours. It isn’t shared with anyone else to any great extent and no one has quite the same voice as you. A voice is similar to a style in that at some-point it was considered in, or alternatively; at some point it will be considered in. The difference is that this isn’t why you use it,it’s just something that rolls past at sometime. This means you might be seen as an originator, or someone on the cutting edge, like your friend, the stylistic designer. But the fact is, you’re just doing your own thing, trying to make your work yours and doing it the best way you know how. However, when the style train pulls out of your station,you’ll still be on the platform with a small group, and for a while at least, may be considered stuck in the past.

A voice is yours. Only yours. It isn’t shared with anyone else

Now, why no matter which way you lean, you might loose. Let’s start with style. A style isn’t something that you can wear as a badge for very long. Give it 24 months and whatever is currently fresh will become stale. Every two years your body of work will start to look hacky, or make you less employable if you are a freelancer. Another result of this short lifespan is that when you get to the end of your career, your folio may not be worthy of comment and the only growth that is seen is that of one style fading into the next. And because you have always relied on whats currently in your environment, the work you were proud of years earlier, is now embarrassing as it’s outdated. Each step forward just lands you on another lily pad that’ll keep you afloat for a short time, until you either jump onto the next one, or, well,sink.

To further the lily pad analogy onto the topic of voice; the problem you’ll face is that your pond is smaller. Much smaller. Depending on how strong you make your voice in the work you are doing, you may only have a small audience that you can successful cater for. If the voice you have is perfect for the surf and skate culture, no law firms or architects are going to be banging on your door. Depending on the kind of companies in the area in which you live, you may only have a few places willing to give you work. Although, through the internet, your global village is likely to be awesome in size, so as long as you’re happy to work through email, you might get away with it.

Your global village is likely to be awesome in size

In the short term, riding the waves of style will keep you employable and happy. In the long term, I think, voice is a much more rewarding path. You’ll be able to see your work changing and becoming stronger as you continually evolve down the same path, rather than evolving and refining your style and then jumping ship. Some would say that you’d be less employable and have a harder time finding work, but really, you’d be happier, don’t you think? You just need to understand your niche and know who to talk to. And hey, if fame’s your game, think about this; all the well known creatives probably couldn’t care less about what’s “in”. As long as the work they are producing for their client is appropriate (don’t shout too loud), their voices can be heard in their work.