How to Think Smarter to Build Your Design Career

A summary of the Design Insider/ BCFA ‘How To Build Your Design Career’ presentation given by Andrew Lloyd Gordon at the Mix Design Collective on 6 December 2018.

In 1963, a young musician woke from a dream with a song in his head. Quickly writing down the chord progression he shared his work with friends and colleagues. Everyone agreed it was a unique and special piece of music. After adding unforgettable lyrics, Paul McCartney’s Yesterday went on to become arguably the biggest hit for the Beatles. Covered by more artists than any other song, Yesterday continues to sell to this day. The rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

Is this how creativity works? Do innovative ideas arrive in a lightbulb-like moment, fully formed and ready for the world? And does this happen only to creative geniuses such as McCartney or Mozart? These were the myths that Andrew Lloyd Gordon explored at the Mix Design Collective and BCFA sponsored workshop, ‘’How to Build Your Design Career’.


Andrew explained that decades of research has started to reveal the patterns for Creativity and how creative people succeed. Creative people are open-minded information mavens. They consume of all types and forms of inspirational content. This could be from reading books and magazines, watching films and TV, visiting art galleries and museums, attending conferences and walking around exhibition halls. Consumption fuels the creative process.


Good artists copy. Great artists steal: creative people are imitators. Imitation helps them understand what’s good and what’s bad. What works and what doesn’t. Only then can creatives offer anything new. Standing on the shoulders of giants is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s how everyone from Rembrandt to Rowling cut their teeth.

Emotional Intelligence: another area for personal development. Creative people need what Psychologist Carol Dweck calls, a ‘Growth Mindset’. This is a commitment to self-awareness and improvement and willingness to seek feedback. 

Creative people are social animals: despite the myth of the lone Creative, working away in their studio or workshop, creativity is team sport. Creatives work best when they belong to, and are active participants in, vibrant artistic communities. Creative hubs – such as London, Manchester, Edinburgh or Leeds – have an energy all of their own. Creatives need these social connections to be inspired, challenged and channelled in their work.

commerically successful

This then, is what Creativity is and how it works. This is how creative success is won. The problem is that the myths of Creativity – the flashes of inspiration, given only to special types of people – holds innovation back.

These myths persist because they make a good story. And everyone loves a good story. As an example, the story of ‘Yesterday’ is a myth. It’s a good story. It was over two years before ‘Yesterday’ was written and released. Two years of trial and error and frustration. Mostly of those around McCartney who got fed up of hearing his half-formed tune over and over again!


People always want the creative shortcut. The hack and the easy way through. Understanding how Creativity works does not guarantee fame and fortune. If only it were that easy. But that’s just the point. It isn’t easy. Which is why only a few succeed when most fall to the wayside.

This realisation is meant to inspire and encourage. Because, whilst there’s no magic formula, you can still improve the odds.

ten years

Of the many positive comments after the presentation Steve Dickson a Director of Faulkner Browns Architects said that his key take-way from Andrew’s presentation was the continual need to keep investigating. Greta Henderson Managing Director of BCFA member Bancroft Soft Furnishings said that it was certainly hard work but as the basis for the creative process it was so important to continue learning and to never stop spreading your network.

A 10-point plan summary of how to think smarter:

  1. Eureka moments are rare
  2. Find the MAYA sweet spot
  3. Have a growth mindset
  4. Consume lots of content
  5. Imitate the greats
  6. Iterate & get feedback
  7. Be productive
  8. Find the gatekeepers
  9. Creativity is Social
  10. Start the fire – early success is vital