On the surface, the design industry appears competitive, egotistical, judgemental and incredibly cut-throat. However, something often unspoken about designers is the difficulty they have appreciating their own outcomes.
In other words, designers don’t like their own work.
Many designers coast through their career suffering from an enormous amount of self-doubt, yet continually producing mind-blowing creative work day in day out. However, there are others who ultimately allow it to alter their processes – destroying their self-belief and restricting their creative output. Here are some of the traps and how to avoid them.
Culture of comparison
We exist in a culture of comparison – our work is not always seen for what it is, but for what it preceded or what is beside it. Awards, competitions, publications and design blogs are all contributing factors to our levels of confidence.
There is such an astonishing amount of work presented online that it’s impossible not to feel like a drop in the visual ocean of design and creativity. It becomes easy to compare someone’s highly polished centre stage with our backstage – seeing someone else’s finished piece without going on their journey is always going to appeal more than your own work.
With our industry ingrained with this culture, it’s only natural we question our own worth and how our work stacks up to everyone else’s. But it inevitably ends badly. Comparing your work to others is a shortcut to design misery. In your own mind, you’ll always fall short.
Dealing with tunnel vision
I realised I didn’t appreciate my own work shortly after an overseas trip. The team in the studio sent me a project they were working on. Having worked on it for a long time, they weren’t sure whether it was any good. I fell in love with it immediately, but after a week of working on it when I got back, I began to dislike what we had created. Visually it hadn’t changed much since I was involved, so why did I suddenly hate it? I realised I was far more impressed by the result when it belonged to someone else. There were no smoke and mirrors anymore.
We released the work publicly. It had an amazing reception – winning an award and being featured in design journals. The audience took it on face value. They weren’t scrutinising every pixel or asking about the colour combinations. It was then that I came around to the idea that maybe I had tunnel vision, which stopped me seeing the design for what it was.
Tunnel vision happens when you don’t share the process with others. It’s really important to have people outside the project to bounce ideas off and challenge your decisions. This will keep the energy in the project.
Designing with doubt
One of the things I enjoy most about design is the number of different ways to approach a project. This can push you outside your comfort zone, but it’s important to remember that you are being commissioned to produce a creative outcome – taking risks is the best way to develop new skills and create something unique. Doing this repeatedly is the only way to build intuition and develop and a thorough understanding of your work and processes.
However, challenging yourself often results in crippling doubt and uncertainty. Most of the time, we are uncomfortable with feeling these things and so we water down the outcome. But doubt can be your greatest ally. Without it, there’s every chance your work will become stale and repetitive.
Going on instinct
Designers who use their instinct often produce the most dynamic and unique outcomes. This instinct is either entirely natural or built over a period of time through developing a solid understanding of what looks good and what doesn’t. It also comes down to confidence and self-belief, which you often gain over time. They don’t just magically appear if someone compliments your work, and if they do, they’re fleeting.
To develop your instinct, it’s very important to work on understanding yourself as a designer. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to critically analyse your work without bias, whether it be negative or positive.
Embrace the roller coaster ride of emotions that is design. As a designer you have a rare ability to communicate and solve problems visually, so don’t take it for granted. Give it a go, trust your instinct, trust your judgement and trust your ability.
If someone hired you, they did because they like your work. It’s about time you did too.
Illustration by Magdalena Ksiezak