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7 Alternative Ways to Put Your Design Skills into Practice

7 Alternative Ways to Put Your Design Skills into Practice

I’m sitting at my family home over the holiday break reading a book called If I Die in a Combat Zone, by Tim O’Brien. He is remembering his first day as an LZ minuteman somewhere in Vietnam in 1968. The sergeant addressing his new squad says, amongst other things, “Remember your training and you have a good chance of surviving; however, for some of you be certain, your ass is grass.” It reminded me of design school. It was the feeling of looking around the room and wondering out of so many nice and talented people how many would be practicing in the years to come and in what way. There was no secret that the global financial crisis had created a work drought. I thought about training for a professional sport, and after five years not being able to play the game. It scared the hell out of me!

Using your design skills

I’m not sure what training you have done, but in the end, I’m happy about my program, which focused heavily on representation and computer skills. This training has translated to a more professional look when on the hustle and has allowed me to use my landscape architecture skills without the backing of an established LA practice. This article presents seven other ways for those looking to put their skills into practice. 1. Public art The great thing about public art is that it’s a smaller budget, which can be more attainable for a rookie. Insurance in this field can be less expensive, as you are not responsible for all the wider scope of responsibilities that comes with public space. Once in the system, it’s easier to see what’s going on. There’s a reason it takes time to register, and the point is that this can be a way of getting experience in the greater process that unsigned rookies do not get. landscapeImage credit Plume Photography / Shutterstock Do not try to bullshit your way through art! The fact that you are from the design world may already arouse suspicion and work against you. If you’re going to do it, engage in what it is. Be humble — there are some seriously good artists out there! What artists need to remember is that it’s about public space as well, so as landscape architects we have a very legitimate interest in it.

 2. Fabricators / builders / suppliers
Image via Shutterstock

Work for the people who supply the people you want to work for and make connections. Image credit Stocksolutions/ Shutterstock

Think laterally about where you can use your skills. There is the conflict between what you want to do for work and what you have to do for work. The middle ground is a situation where your skills can be kept up and you can gain an understanding about how things go together. Try targeting the companies that supply the industry. The best element about knowing fabricators is that when you do have a concept, you have a realistic sounding board to make sure the concept is deliverable. Beyond advice is credibility for your practice. The stakeholders are just as interested in your ability to deliver, and there is a lot of money to be lost in construction. Working with specialty fabricators streamlines your process and opens new techniques, which are invaluable if you are working without the backing of an established practice. 3. Studios Get a workspace outside your home. Do this as early in your education as possible. Skimp on the house and get the studio space. I like my studio because there is a small block of designers around — musicians, film people, and painters. It’s nice to walk away from your own snot and bother and be confronted by a different set of triumphs and stresses. There is a greater sense of empathy for all small-scale creative entrepreneurs. It’s really healthy for designers caught outside established practices to engage in other creative disciplines. I bet that if you sat down with many lead designers, they would have a wide range of knowledge beyond landscape architecture. We are in a cultural industry, so it’s beneficial to be around culture. You may also be interesting in reading  An Unofficial Guide to Keeping Your Semi Legit Studio Space 4. Get backers The reality is that if you are practicing this way, you are looking for ways to break into the industry with minimal resources and your voice is not as loud as those established in the industry. The best thing you can have is others speaking for you. You may have the best concepts in the world, but until you get things built, they remain concepts. If you can get others to want those concepts, then you become louder. Call it people power. Find a group of people who want something built, then consult, petition, design, and engage and see if you can get it done. Even if you can’t get it done, you’re going to start to learn the process, which may help you stay on the pitch and not wonder where the five years went. 5. Design competitions

Design skills | Latest competition from Building Trust International

Latest competition from Building Trust International, click on the image and find out more.

Don’t participate in design competitions unless you are invited, paid, or establishing a working relationship with someone. Don’t do them just for the sake of doing them. It’s a lot of energy you could be using to meet people and learn things. Check out the Moved to Care brief from Building Trust International, there is only a couple of weeks left to register. 6. Be credible Make sure you are credible in what you choose if you are looking to practice for yourself. It’s one thing to have the idea, but will anyone really let you do it, and if they do, can you actualize the concept? Don’t force stuff on the rest of the world that is best appreciated by the more academic side of what we do unless you have the appropriate backing. Look at culture as a whole and pick what’s relevant and achievable for you.

You could write for LAN, click on submit and find out more!

The great thing about writing is that you keep your communication skills sharp and relevant. Write for the industry and, if possible, about the industry for publications that do not traditionally cover landscape architecture. Seeking to publish an article? Submit your article to us today! It sucks that many of us graduated in a job drought. However, there are ways around it. In some ways, you stop being a landscape architect and become a creative entrepreneur. We have skills that the people in the last job drought do not. The job market in general is becoming more fragmented, and the small practices acting as service providers to the established industry is a reality around the world. There are holes to exploit; you just have to think laterally and find them. The main thing is to not lose your skills, because when you get breaks, they happen fast and you have to deliver. Article written by Stuart Beekmeyer

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