24 Creative Pros Get Real About Their 2016 Goals

A new year tends to signal within us a time for reflection and subsequent resolution. This could mean a plan to tighten one’s belt (be it through fitness or finance), travel more or make time for friends. Whatever we set our sights upon, we begin the year with the best of intentions and the wind at our backs.

For the 24 creative professionals I spoke to, the new year brings a similarly renewed focus. And whether they work from home or from the White House, you’ll discover a group of designers, illustrators, writers and artists intent on doing big things this year — while also taking the small-yet-crucial steps necessary to get there.

But before they share their goals for the coming year, we’d love to hear about yours. Tweet at @HOWbrand using the hashtag #2016CreativeGoals and let us know what you hope to accomplish this year. For some inspiration, here’s what your peers are planning:


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Even without any goals or adjustments added to the mix, this year will be different for me as it’s the final year of the Obama administration and my final year as AIGA DC president. That said, I do have a creative goal to further complicate things. In 2016, I aim to collaborate with other creatives across areas of my life. For instance, at work I aim to work with outside designers on large, public-facing projects — requiring some vetting, cutting of red tape and letting go of a little control here and there. In the government design community, I aim to shift from often being the main coordinator to being one of many spokespeople for an active community of engaged members. And even in my personal life, where I don’t spend quite enough time as it is, I aim to find and start creative side projects with my husband and close friends.

I’m known to say that if a goal is easily within reach, it’s just a task. I take that to heart. With my very busy schedule, I often have just enough time to get things done well when I need to and that’s with existing, close-knit teams. This goal will be more than a comfortable stretch to achieve, but a true goal that I have to work hard to make a reality.

– Ashleigh AxiosWhite House Creative Director & AIGA DC President

Learn more about what it takes to design for the White House in this Q&A with Ashleigh Axios


2015 marked a huge shift for me creatively. Instead of a career beholden to clients, I focused almost entirely on my own practice and expanded my product line to include clothing. My goal for 2016 is to expand on the groundwork I laid down to include more designer clothing, accessories and home goods. I’m trying to institute some daily drawing time so I don’t get burnt out from the business aspect of my work.

– Tuesday BassenIllustrator


It’s been two years since I stopped my daily purchase drawing project. These last two years have seen an increase of responsibilities at Portland State, but not a decrease in illustration jobs, travel and workshops. That 30–40 minutes that used to be filled with my daily drawing project was quickly sucked up by responding to emails and other things that had nothing to do with drawing for myself. This has got to change.

This year, I want to either produce a new publication each month or develop a new product/object for sale. Content for the publication or product/object would stem from a different drawing series each month or just draw from my pile of to-do list ideas that keep accumulating but are never acted upon. It’s important for me to reclaim that drawing space again, and to reclaim it with a purpose and structure in mind. Also, to reclaim a bit of my sanity. Here is to reclaiming sanity in 2016!

– Kate Bingaman-BurtIllustrator and Associate Director of the School of Art + Design at Portland State University

Read about Kate Bingaman-Burt’s work in a recent edition of Design Links.


To align our social justice goals with our creative content. I want to find a way to continue to focus on beautiful ideas and interiors that inspire us, but that also represent the inclusive and open-minded world that we believe in. I want to create an online home where everyone reading feels welcomed and represented.

– Grace Bonney, Writer & Blogger


My biggest goal for 2016 is to prioritize my personal well-being — and I do consider that a creative endeavor!

As much as I love design and feel incredibly fortunate to have it as a career, I want to be very intentional with the energy I devote to client work this year and only take on projects that either share my values or will give me the opportunity to grow — preferably both!

Writing became a big part of my life last year, and I plan to continue experimenting with outlets for sharing it. I want to refine my performance skills, get more comfortable in my body and do more readings. I also started a newsletter this year, which I’m excited to keep up.

In all realms of creativity, I want to keep my focus on the process over the products and stay open to wherever it leads me. I’ve fallen into the trap of believing my creative output is what defines my worth and I’ve already started to make healthier choices this year to circumvent that cycle of never feeling like it’s enough. I want to feel like the work I create is a contribution to my communities, not a never-ending cost of admission.

– Rusty CookDesigner, Writer & Art Maker


My goal for 2016 is to make something that’s both motivational and subversive every month. The world is a weird and sometimes terrible place, making it hard to get meaning from repetitious inspirational quotes we’re bombarded with in memes and popular culture — however well-intended. At the end of the day, all you’ve really got is yourself and your sense of humor. Humor gets us through the rough patches, so I don’t understand why our commoditized attempts at self-empowerment have to be so earnest.

I want to be real and embrace the strangeness in our lives. I want to be optimistic; you can acknowledge things are terrible while simultaneously believing you can make something better. A big part of self-awareness is not taking yourself so seriously all the time. I’ve got some projects in mind, but I’m not sure what form everything will take yet. I want to leave myself room for flexibility. My rules: If someone isn’t uncomfortable, I’ve done it wrong; and if someone doesn’t laugh, I’ve done it wrong. Apologies in advance to all my coworkers — the fake severed fingers in the candy were just a start.

– Beth Dean, Product Designer at Facebook, Illustrator


I’m embracing the challenge of management. Middle management is not a sexy topic. Especially for creatives, middle management means less time for brainstorming and making cool things and more time for paperwork and meetings. But for most of my career, I worked at startups and small shops where rebellion or chaos meant no one really had a manager — it was always just someone at the top and… everyone else. It always felt like something was missing, and now I see why: There were no points of support or feedback, because there was no structure for it. A great work environment doesn’t appear out of nowhere, even if you have a team you love and exciting projects (and even parties).

Enter good management to make sure that there’s an ongoing conversation about what every employee needs. Now that I work at a company that takes management seriously and am evolving into a first-time manager, the much-maligned concept of management is much sexier to me than the no-rules startup environment where, even if the work was great, the people were often frustrated. My goal for this year is to learn the keys to management that are often the invisible threads of a team’s day-to-day satisfaction and long-term growth — something I’ll have to remember every time I want to complain about the extra meetings on my calendar.

– Fern DiazHead of Community Development, Huge


Release another book. You said big! This one is the kahuna, and I may or may not actually ship it. After writing and rewriting my first book, Cadence & Slang, I’ve been writing outlines for my second book for the past couple of years — and not really gotten it off the ground. Hoping that this might be the year.

– Nick DisabatoDesigner & Writer


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My goal for every single day in 2016 is to show up. What that means is that aside from my Day Job™, I’m going to find 30 minutes every single morning to chip away at a project or idea, even if this means waking up earlier or getting extra creative with my commute. Showing up to work on an idea is an immense challenge. You have to face yourself, your ego and your self-discipline. I often fail at facing my own ideas — even if I do show up, I sometimes spend the entire 30 minutes staring at the wall. But that’s okay. Luckily, there’s always tomorrow. And as long as you continue to show up, you’re giving that idea permission to become a real thing that lives in the world.

Over 10 years ago, I had a most beloved printmaking teacher who constantly exclaimed, “Art is hard!” I get that now. Creating anything is hard. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. The pain of completing projects can be on par with root canals. Showing up and actually doing the work is almost all sweat and tears. Eighty percent of realizing any idea comes down to showing up.

Ideas can come easy — those are the little things that float into your brain while in the shower or taking a walk. I have a really bad habit of saying an idea out loud, and then convincing myself I’m no longer responsible for carrying that idea to fruition. This is only so satisfying; ideas continue to fester in the back of the brain until I face them once and for all. This is why it’s time to show up.

In addition to showing up, my goal for 2016 is to focus on what’s worth doing. I have an obsessively color-coded spreadsheet of ideas that would horrify even Claire Danes’ character on Homeland. I have so many ideas — most stupid, some exciting — that I’ve reached a critical mass. I feel pulled in multiple directions. Until we’re able to build personal armies of clones, we won’t be able to accomplish everything in this lifetime. So I want to become more ruthless, letting go of ideas that aren’t worth my time. Further, some ideas that come to you simply aren’t ready. Write down those ideas, then toss them back in the ocean. When they’re ready, they’ll wash back on shore.

After surviving the completion of his first book, all while running his design studio, my friend Scott Stowell recently told me over breakfast, “I don’t believe in side projects.” Scott’s right. All projects that gain your attention and dedication are the things that you’re doing. There’s nothing “side” about them.

In 2016, it’s time to show up and focus on what’s worth doing.

– Chappell EllisonDesign Writer, Editor & Critic


My No. 1 resolution is to not let envy stifle my creativity. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a constant stream of achievements and completed projects, which can make me feel like I’m not where I want to be. Thinking “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “How does she have the time?” are completely unhelpful — you usually don’t have any idea of the work, struggle, doubt or failures that led up to that person’s success. So I’m resolving to just do what I want to do. I’ll celebrate other people’s accomplishments, but I’m going to try harder not to let feelings of inadequacy stop me from seeing the bigger picture.

– Grace DobushWriter


My biggest creative goal this year is to get fucking confident with my projects and not be afraid to think of myself as a business. The middle of last year I decided, after a couple of years, to go out on my own and make a living off my art practice, independent design consulting, podcasting/radio production, writing and teaching. A lot of what was holding me back previously was not being confident in my own abilities and being sheepish towards what it is that I do. I’m hoping that throwing myself into making my work a continued building success will not only give me the confidence I need, but also show other folks of color that it’s possible to work on your projects and own your worth.

– James T. GreenConceptual Artist, Designer, Developer, Writer and Podcaster


Honestly, my goal for 2016 is to find peace. Peace within myself, and peace within the turbulence of the world this past year.

I’ve had a lot of professional and personal churn over the past year. At once, going through the fire makes you incredibly stronger and wiser, but afterwards, the highs and lows leave you searching for a balance you haven’t felt. In the past year I’ve learned more about myself and my abilities as a designer than I ever could have from any interview, client or project alone. But with knowledge comes doubt — how do I continue to forge my own independent path, honor my practice as an artist, foster diversity in my community and keep making excellent work that helps and delights people? To be honest, I don’t quite have an answer yet, but I think half of the solution is the journey in getting there.

– Emily HaaschLead Designer, Electric Objects


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I want to limit the influence social media has on my art and design practice, but still keep and grow more meaningful and helpful interactions on social media in general. I’m feeling the need for better blinders, more focus, less FOMO, less why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, better boundaries in general. Less using the internet for brainstorming, less watching other people’s work, less caring about the subtweets and the backhanded non-comment comments. Less worry about what trends may or may not be influencing my work. That way I know whatever my creative output is, that it’s coming from a clearer place that’s more me.

Margot HarringtonGraphic Designer, Small Business Owner


For the past two years, I’ve used regular, self-imposed projects to stretch my creative and technical skills, and to get my work out there. In 2014, my big project was 52 Weeks of Printmaking, in which I created a new print every week. In 2015, I launched Print, Pattern, Sew, in which I hand printed yardage and then sewed it into a different garment each month. Both projects led to some great opportunities, but I found having to fit them into an increasingly busy schedule stressful. Plus, by the end of 2015, I wanted the space to experiment just for the heck of it.

So, my big creative goal this year is to explore in an unstructured way. When I’m not working on paying work, I will do whatever the heck I want creatively. I have no idea what form my work will take this year; I’m looking forward to playing around and seeing what comes out of it all. More than anything, I’m looking at this year as an adventure that I’m flinging myself headlong into.

– Jen HewettPrintmaker, Textile Artist, Surface Designer


My favorite part about making a goal for the new year is that it gives me the permission to reflect. It forces me to be critical of the decisions I’ve made as well as hinder me from romanticizing the past.

I started 2015 by contracting for Staples as a brand designer. I was waking up at 4:30 a.m. so that I could drive my $500 Chevrolet Lumina with bad brakes across I-90 from Brighton to Framingham with a smaller risk of hitting other cars than I would in rush hour. By April, I landed a contract with New Balance, which was only a bike ride away. And in October, I sold the majority of my belongings to a stranger for $200, packed two suitcases and hopped on a flight to Portland, where I would spend the next three months designing MyTransHealth and going on a multitude of interviews that led me to Seattle, where I now work as a UX designer.

All this is to say I was drifting. Consciously drifting through intense experiences, but drifting nonetheless. Which is why my creative goal for 2016 is to solve every problem I work on by taking the knowledge that I’ve accrued from past experiences and focus on what’s in front of me.

– Robyn KannerCo-Founder & Designer of MyTransHealth


I’m moving into a new studio (another converted garage) and my goal is to set up a working environment in which I can forget about the world and do something small every day. Hopefully, by the end of the year, those daily little chunks will have added up to something!

The trick to doing my kind of work (and maybe any kind of actual work) is identifying not just what I’m interested in, but what I have to offer that can be helpful to others. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the former, but not so much the latter. Gonna remedy that in 2016.

– Austin Kleon, Writer


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In much of 2015, there was nothing more corrosive in my life than myself. I had burnt out. Pre-dawn wake-ups, alert with worry and guilt about the oncoming needs for the day. There were the nights that rolled into morning hours — working and not working, simultaneously — processing depression and anxiety on the internet, specifically Twitter, while trying to accomplish a standard for success that long ago had outgrown any logical perspective. I’d sit behind my desk at home, my dog hovering around me, a paw raised up and concerned, placed upon my calf. She watched me sobbing. I’d ask her questions, or the room questions, the known fact being neither could respond to me.

In 2015, I simply survived myself. In 2016, I’m going to try and enjoy myself.

This probably has little to do with design, and for that, I apologize. I realize people look to a professional designer writing out their goals to be practical, if not succinct. So far? This is neither.

I can give you some of those “actionable items,” of which I have had a few lately. I tweet less. By proxy, I curve broadcasting opinions without a rounded grasp of any given topic. We should all be doing sufficient market testing, too. Take job interviews, and hear out any possible opportunities that come your way. Few bad things can happen aside from you better understanding what your value is; I certainly wish I had been bolder about these things in the past few years. Keep a calendar, analog or digital. I don’t have any good app recommendations though, sorry.

But all of that stuff is known, right? What I’m concerned with is who I am, and ultimately who other people are, and bringing as much humanity to every situation I’m in, while reserving judgements, in as far I can extend that good nature. That takes a big first step for me, which is: I don’t want to end my life any longer. For years, I wasn’t sure if, day in and day out, I wanted to exist. With myself, especially with other people. This hit a peak in the previous year, creating a series of events that unsettled much of my daily life. I’m alive, but I focused so long on not existing. Of giving into the black behind my eyes, and following the quiet. I just didn’t want to live.

Hand over my heart, or whatever book you want me to place it on, I didn’t want to live. I say this with no ounce of melodrama. And with no hope for pity, or absolution. I have relied too much on the former, and realize no one but myself can provide the latter. Depression makes people judge, most harshly themselves, and it stymies the pursuit of love from others. It took years of therapy, starts and stops and fits with drugs, but I’m more stable. I flew through that storm, with an awareness others exist, but I can breathe easier for now.

So, this year? I’m gonna drink more water, and listen to more music with jazz flutes. I’m going to have meandering, borderline unfun debates with friends on topics with little to no bearing on our individual lives. I’ll volunteer. Hell, I’ll maybe teach. I’m going to visit my family back in Wyoming, when time allows, but I’m going to travel for myself, also when time allows. The work I do will be valuable, it will be very good, and it will come with responsive and succinct, inclusive two-way communication. My hand will cramp from drawing too much on Sunday afternoons. I’m gonna get dried out eating popcorn and drinking soda at my neighborhood theater. I’m going to do my best, and recognize that’s often going to be good enough.

– Dylan C. Lathrop, Graphic Designer & Illustrator


Over the past year, I’ve worked almost exclusively on honing the craft of storytelling with words. More specifically, ones that live on the internet. Whether I had 140 characters or 1,400 to work with, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Mainly, that the elements of a compelling digital story have the same components despite form. In 2016, I’d like to exploring telling stories in different mediums. Video? Audio? PRINT? Never thought I’d say that, especially the last one, but I’m feeling like 2016 is the year to experiment with new types of storytelling (even if they are old news to the rest of the world).

– Alana LevinsonWriter/Editor at Medium


Instead of starting from scratch each year, I’d like to continue things that I have been doing right. For example, surrounding myself with badass people who challenge me and help up my game. I will continue to learn and create — this is when I’m happiest and at my best. I intend to seek out more collaborative side projects — conceptualizing and spitballing are my bread and butter (and jam). This year, I want to contribute to the community in which I live. Working hard and kicking ass for something bigger than myself. Huzzah! So to summarize, 2016 is the year of Beast Mode.

– Nicole MelvilleArt Director at Adcom

Read an interview with Nicole Melville on how she balances full-time work with a busy after-hours schedule, and her thoughts on the state of the LGBT design world.


This year I hope to build on the foundations and habits I’ve formed in the past few years. 2015 was about finding ground to stand on, developing client relationships and learning to balance my full-time job, design practice and personal life. I want to strengthen my partnerships and build community that I so miss after leaving school and a design studio world.

– Joelle RiffleCommunication Designer & Arts Education Administrator


My biggest creative goal for 2016 is to grow into my new role as Design Director. As Cards Against Humanity grows, we’re learning how to best collaborate and project manage across a scrappy, fast and flat organization. I’m excited for my responsibilities to shift more into project management, mentoring and directing, and I plan on spending 2016 honing those skills.

– Amy Nicole SchwartzDesign Director, Cards Against Humanity

Learn more about Amy Nicole Schwartz’s work on Cards Against Humanity.


My biggest goal for 2016 is growth: Growth as a designer, artist and business owner. The whole deal. From inside the design work itself to accounting down to just sweeping the studio floor. I’ve found there’s only one constant in my career thus far and that this whole ride is one big learn-as-you-go experience and I’m still figuring it all out. I just continue to be at ease in the fact that there’s no finish line and I’m never too comfortable with any aspect of it. The goal is to have that urgency expressed in the work in that I treat every client and personal project as an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before, or to do it better. Most importantly, not ever losing sight that this is a very fun way to make a living.

Also a close second to that previous goal: If I don’t get as many followers as The Rock on Instagram (*ahem* @OKPANTS *ahem) by 2017, someone’s getting an angry letter sent to them. I don’t know who yet. Not The Rock. I love him and he’s very big.

– Aaron SechristGraphic Artist & Owner, OkPants


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My biggest creative goal for 2016 is to amplify the great projects that other people are working on, especially projects by underrepresented people in design. As a white, CIS male, we take up way too much space in the dialogue around design. It’s time for us to stop talking quite so much and let others speak. We’ll learn a few things.

– Stewart Scott-CurranDesigner


My biggest creative goal is to grow my side project, Tomorrow Looks Bright. I originally started the project to showcase creative projects made by black women. I wanted to see the many ways in which women that look like me were making contributions to culture. What objects we were releasing into the ether as our collective commentary on things we believe should exist.

I originally just intended it to be a newsletter, but as it gains more readership and traction I envision the many possibilities and I’d like to spend 2016 exploring those.

– Kristy TillmanDesign Director


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R1683-1 (1)This beautiful 2016 calendar features 12 graphic design quotes handpicked by the editor of PRINT magazine, on pages designed by PRINT’s art director. Every month, you’ll find some humor in the form of design holidays, some wisdom and inspiration in the form of a design quote, and a handy tool you’ll use again and again.

 

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