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Knocking Out Designer Doubt

by Cat Lim
cat@pyperyoung.com

There are certain things that all designers must go through from time to time. Making a logo bigger. Countless rounds of edits only to have the client pick the original concept. Receiving a request consisting only of these three words… “jazz it up”.

Sometimes it’s a totally irrational yet overwhelming wave of insecurity about your skills, creativity, and everything you thought you knew as a designer. This is what I like to call designer doubt. From students starting their first internship to senior designers with decades of experience — NO ONE is safe from designer doubt. It will creep out from the darkest depths of your consciousness and push you into a downward spiral of dramatic and overly critical inner thoughts such as:

This project sucks. Wait… maybe I suck.

Did I use up all of my creativity? Is that possible?

Everyone else is amazing! And I am the exact opposite of amazing!

How do I have a job?

I am a fraud, and everyone is two seconds away from finding out.

Well, I am here to say that you do not suck. You are a talented and bright creative who just needs a reminder of their kick-assness. Based on my experience, I’ve assembled this list of tips to help pull you out of those ruts.

#1 Surround yourself with people who both inspire and support you.
I’m very fortunate that I’ve had coworkers and supervisors in past jobs and my current position at PY who not only know their shit, but want me to learn too. Being on a team that values an environment for sharing knowledge and constructive feedback is incredibly empowering. A good mentor recognizes your potential and will want to see you grow. Plus, sometimes you need someone else to believe in you in order to believe in yourself. Taking down designer doubt is a team effort!

#2 Help other designers.
If a fellow designer asks for your help, take the opportunity to teach someone something new. There’s something about having to articulate a process to another person that makes you realize you really understand it. If you can teach a concept or a method, you know what you’re talking about. And when YOU KNOW you know what you’re talking about, that designer doubt gets kicked to the curb. As you learn from your own mentors, you can become a mentor to someone else. Pass the knowledge forward!

#3 Post your work online (and keep it there).
Whether it’s a carefully color coordinated Instagram or casual posts on Facebook for friends and family, put your stuff out onto the interwebs regularly. The likes are always reassuring, but posting your work online has even more benefits to squashing designer doubt.

A. It pushes you to finish projects.
Designers often describe themselves as being perfectionists. However fixating on perfection can sometimes prevent you from actually completing the project. If you’re like me, you hate knowing that there’s a project floating around that you started but never finished.

Completing a project gives you a sense of accomplishment, and accomplishment leads to confidence. Even if you’re not 100% happy with how it turned out, the nice people of the internet might actually disagree and totally love it! We can be our own toughest critics. Just keep in mind that each post is practice. Once you complete a post, it becomes a personal benchmark to improve on with your next post.

B. You can track your progress.
Make sure your work stays posted so that you can see your progress over time. You’ll see how far you’ve come with your skills and defining your own style. For example, I’ll catch myself struggling with a piece wishing that I was better at hand-lettering. Then I’ll take a look back on my earlier Instagram posts, and realize that I was wishing to have the skills I have now. You’ve made it this far! As long as you keep practicing and learning, you can only get better.

#4 Don’t compare yourself to other designers.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s easy to see another artist’s work and think, “Wow, they’re so good. I’m definitely not as good as that. I’m going to go ahead and hide under this rock for the rest of my life.” Pretend that I just slapped your face. Snap out of it! Never compare yourself to other artists. Why not? Because we’re all different. There’s no use in comparing apples to oranges. We have our own styles, interests, and perspectives, and these things enable each of us to bring our own flavor topping to the pizza of design. Ok, you might be able to tell I’m hungry right now. Different is delicious.

Ultimately, designer doubt is a sign that you’re challenging yourself.
Working in creative, you never stop learning new things. Someone who’s so confident that they think there’s nothing left for them to learn is wrong. It’s vital in this industry to keep up with technology and design trends. Constantly learning new things means you’re constantly challenging yourself. If you didn’t know something or find yourself stumped for ideas, don’t let that get you down. Pop in your headphones, pin some inspiration, and push through. A brief but vigorous afternoon dance party with one or two coworkers can be effective as well. Designer doubt is something we all go through, but it’s also something we can help each other overcome. Now pretend I just hi-fived you. We got this!