One of the first principles that I had to force myself to embrace when I first became a designer was the fact that 99% of the time everything I made was going to be either wrong, not liked, or changed entirely. While it’s easy to feel like a bad designer when you seemingly have such a low success rate, it is important to remember that being wrong is a very crucial part of design, as it always leads to a better iteration of the design. Your designs should always be questioned. They will never be perfect, but if you seek (constructive) criticism from others and kill your ego, you can get close.
There is a great quote that Steve Jobs used to say before he passed away that spoke to this point very well, and the quote is as follows:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.
This is at the core of what design is. Perfection can only be achieved when there is nothing else left to take away, and as a designer it is much harder to go down that path alone because we tend to suffer from tunnel vision, or fall in love with our ideas too much. If you go too far down this path you risk making designs that only you may love that fail to resonate with others. That’s not what design is about.
So how do we prevent this? The answer is simple to say, but much harder to practice. It’s best broken down into three general principles you should follow:
Don’t Be Afraid to Kill Your Ideas
Everyone has a good idea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your good idea will translate into a great product or design. There will have to be iterations on your idea as unforeseen challenges rise up in front of you, and in some instances they may be cut altogether. It is best to not mourn this, as it is being able to kill your idea in favor of making the design better that will result in a better design, which ultimately feels much better than having stuck to your original idea in the first place.
When I first started designing, I did my best to avoid getting feedback from anyone because I was deathly afraid that they wouldn’t like my designs. This approach eventually caused me to hit a wall with my designs where I was no longer able to improve as a designer because I wasn’t getting feedback from people. I had to stand and watch as my design peers started to surpass me. Something had to change.
I started asking people for feedback about my designs, and seeked out constructive criticism about the things that they liked and didn’t like about what my designs. I grew more as a designer in a week than I had in over six months of frustration. It isn’t easy to put yourself out there and have people critique your work at first, but eventually you will get to a point where you can’t design *without* the feedback of others and the collaborative effort of many people iterating on a design is a much more satisfying feeling than keeping it all bottled up to yourself.
You can’t grow as a designer if you don’t get honest feedback and criticism from others as to how to improve yourself. It’s never about you as a person, it’s about the quality of your work and how it can be better. There is a difference and it does matter. Seek criticism, or become mundane and never improve. Your choice.
Kill Your Ego
I’m just going to lay this right out on the table. When I started in the industry, I was one arrogant piece of work. When I look back on myself now, it’s a wonder how people even tolerated me. I was the youngest person in every company I worked at, and I took pride in the skills I had developed at such an age, and what I had accomplished. I was so full of myself it’s a wonder I didn’t get in a fight or two at my time. I was the man. I was brilliant. I was amazing. Everything I did was perfect and great. I was better than every other designer out there!
In reality, I was wrong. I was stupid. I was inexperienced, and worst of all, I was blissfully ignorant of all of this. It was only when somebody was finally kind enough to open my eyes to how much of an idiot I was that I was able to kill my ego (it was *not* easy), and start actually working with others and valuing their opinions of my designs.
Nobody likes somebody that has an ego, especially in a team environment. One of the best realizations of my life that helped me push my career forward was the realization that I am no better than any of my design peers, regardless of their skill level. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is valuable on a team and you succeed or fail together. It’s never a one man show in a team environment, so don’t try to steal the stage.
It sounds like an easy and obvious thing to avoid, but in reality it is all too easy a trap to fall into. You may even be in the trap yourself right now and not realize it. Take some time and reflect on that. If you want to have a great fulfilling career as a designer, then you’ll have to kill your ego. Take it from me, you’re better off without it.
It is my sincere hope that you find the above principles useful and that they resonate with you. If only one of you take just some of what I have said to heart, I will be overjoyed. I look forward to seeing all of you in the industry, perhaps a bit wiser and more level headed then I was when I entered it.