A few lessons to embrace

Notes on decision making
I realize it may be frustrating, but if you show me a bunch of thumbnails, I'm not likely to tell you which ones are working or which ones have merit. Some students respond with, "well, you're no help" (what they mean is - "I'm too stupid and/or lazy to decide and I want you to do it for me"). I believe that I help you by not telling you which ones are the best. It helps you become a more intelligent, assertive, and confident decision-maker. Becoming a better designer is about becoming a better decision maker, and therefore, a better creative problem solver. If I decide which ones are good, I deprive you of the process of understanding, analyzing, debating, and concluding. You have probably been conditioned to 'please the teacher', but if you ever tell an interviewer or client, "This one works because my teacher said so," you may brand yourself an idiot. If becoming a successful idiot is your career goal, then tell me so I can make it easier on both of us and make all your design decisions for you.
Decide if you wish to be fair, good, or great. To be good is not enough if you dream of being great.

Go past the obvious
During the thumbnail/concept exploration phase, push yourself to go past the obvious. You need to go through the simple and obvious ones - they deserve rendering and consideration. But then you should push your work to go past the obvious. Strive to communicate the message with more sophistication, wit, cleverness, and viewer participation.
Avoid work that looks like what a junior high kid would doodle in Algebra class.
For an OSU Christmas card, the obvious is Santa's sleigh flying over Boone Pickens Stadium, Pistol Pete in a Santa hat, the campus under a blanket of snow, etc. You should think about those things - even sketch them in your journal or sketchbook - they are valid, they might lead you to a new direction, and you need to get them out of your system. But then go farther (or is it further?) Interviewers and art directors don't want to see that you can do the obvious, they want more than that. Do not settle for good enough. Show the initiative, confidence, creativity, and intelligence to go past the obvious to the outstanding.
Explore the unexpected for a card - maybe consider emotions - the way the holidays make us feel, not necessarily how they look. OSU is about pride and spirit, maybe there's a connection there with the spirit of the holiday season.
Cynical but maybe valid approach - the holiday season is now mainly about shopping, excessive consumerism, and outbuying our friends and relatives. Secondarily its about food and parties.

More lessons to ponder
Believe that as hard as a design course might be at times, it will benefit you - you will be better for it.
Continue to work at integrating type and image. Avoid the 'design-by-committee' look (elements that don't relate) or the look that says, "Oh shoot, I forgot to add the type."
Learning is fun - your brain loves to stretch, grow, and learn.
Remember that to not play is to fail, to play is to win.
Show enough confidence and pride in your work to want to go first.
Ask the right questions - think a moment and determine what you really want to find out - then ask that.
Do things because they're smart, logical, and appropriate; not just because you've been conditioned to do them.
Constantly question your thoughts and beliefs - make sure they are based on logic and reason, not just conditioning or habits.
Write/sketch in a journal to help clarify your thoughts More info.
Desire approval from others but require approval of your thoughts and beliefs from only you.
Accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions.
Continue to strive to grow and become a better thinker and problem solver.
Work at acknowledging and embracing fears that are barriers to your growth.
Explore, experiment, and discover; strive to regain lost childlike attributes of curiosity and wonder.
Acknowledge that crying (and laughing) are normal healthy human emotions.
When justifying or explaining - use positives, not negatives; active language, not passive; and present tense, not past.
Say 'Um' 'Uhh' 'sorta' 'kinda' and 'you know' less - saying those make you sound like an idiot.
Product names should be easy to pronounce, easy to remember, appropriate to the product, minimally offensive, translate into other cultures, and convey some essence of the product or company.
Figure out what's working in the piece - exploit that and minimize the rest.
Communicate a maximum amount of information with a minimal amount of line.
Every design decision is a compromise between the familiar and the innovative. Great design has elements of both. Innovative work often requires more education.
Great logos require slight participation from the viewer to decipher.
Great logos integrate type/text with the mark/image (assuming there is an image).
If you have doubts about the effectiveness of a logo concept/rough - show a bunch of people and get their responses. Try to show people that match the target audience and avoid leading them to a certain answer. It can help to get a fresh perspective - you can get too close to your work to remain unbiased.
Thumbnails are all about exploring options - numerous options. Strive to remain non-judgmental and open to possibilities. There are 2 main reasons for sketching thumbnails:
        1. they allow you to get an idea on record and out of your mind, thereby freeing your mind to explore more options
        2. seeing options on paper allows you to see them more objectively which might prompt even more option explorations.
In this absolute order, design and critique works of design for:
       1. the target audience
       2. the client
       3. yourself
Good clients will agree that your solutions are for their customers, not for themselves.
You do not own a target market. You do not own a logo. Avoid, "My logo . . ." The client may resent your claiming ownership.
The client really doesn't care what you think, they are more concerned with how you can help their company make more money - "Red conveys power and passion" is more persuasive than, "I think red conveys power and passion."
Active present tense is more persuasive than passive and past tense language: "Red was used to convey power" is not as emphatic as "Red conveys power."
Its easier to tone down a bizarre concept than it is to jazz up a dull one.
It is better to fail while taking a risk than to succeed while playing it safe.
Affirm to your inner voices and psyche that you are confident, bold, assertive, and firmly believe that you have the talent and ability to craft words and images that can make a difference.
"If you’ve come to this place looking for comfort, I urge you to rise, walk through yonder gate, and don’t look back". - Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University

More words of wisdom

www.jamesrobertwatson.com/lessons.html