Stories for designers: 3 thoughts on being a better creative

Another entrant into the “Stories for designers” series. This time I’m recounting a few of the things I do that I feel make me a better and happier creative. These thoughts feel pretty universal as I usually find the stuff that works has many applications. They may not all apply but I hope there is something that is useful.

How am I defining better? Being ‘more good’ than you were previously. Not only being more skilled in your craft but also more open and more aware of it. That is how I'm choosing to define that elusive term.

Override your insecurities and create better work

When I was a young designer I would sometimes become intimidated by the talents of other designers. I was doing my best, yet when a new freelancer started (as an example) with good ideas and more experience I would freak out a little bit inside.

I was worried about being shown up; made to look and feel like a lesser designer. This fear got in the way of doing good work and made the process of working with others harder. It wasn’t that I didn’t like these other designers, it was my inner insecurity and fear of not being good enough seriously getting in the way.

All the while trying to develop and execute ideas, part of my mind was focused on making sure that I was pulling at least my own weight on a given project (and let’s be honest I really wanted to be doing the most work and dreaming up the best ideas because that was the thing that would stop me feeling so anxious).

That attitude fucking sucked. I don't do that any more and haven't for a long while. It’s a natural feeling to experience I think; it makes total sense that creatives feel insecurities and compare themselves to others. In my experience that feeling got in the way of doing a good job. It made collaborating awkward and disjointed, it wasted energy on worrying that could’ve been used on creating and together this prevented me from learning and improving.

I’ve seen this insecure energy in a few creatives in my time and it's a shame because it's a huge waste. If you’re reading this and it sounds like you then think about how you might silence that insecure part of your mind.

Your insecurities will stunt your own growth. You’re preventing yourself from creating your best work. You’re preventing yourself from learning from others. From my own anecdotal experience, since I got over my insecurities as a designer the work I've produced has improved and I've had more fun designing it. 

How did I get over my insecurities? Honestly it happened quite gradually. I was aware of the feeling and knew (I decided) it wasn't how I wanted to be. I realised the cost to in terms of happiness and creative output, and I realised that I had more to gain by embracing others rather than fighting them. A few months back I had one of the sudden realisations and in my head I was like: woah, I actually haven't felt like that for years.

Takeaway: Don’t compete with others; compete with yourself.

Challenge yourself

I’ve been doing personal challenges for a few years now. I think of a challenge as an opportunity to ask more of yourself than normal for a short period of time, or a chance to try out a different version of yourself; a version with different ideals and habits.

As an example, I once tried to have a cold shower each morning for a week. I didn’t quite manage it, but it was an experience and quite a lot of fun (in a weird way). As interesting as that was it wasn’t my kind of thing. But the process of attempting the challenge was vert thrilling.

 Perhaps a photography challenge?

Perhaps a photography challenge?

It’s difficult to introduce changes into life when things are settled. The expectations of how things are and the habits and routines that exist make it hard to add new things. Unless you suddenly move house, job or somebody becomes pregnant it’s tough to introduce new things because your life is cemented in what already is. 

For myself I’ve found that framing new ideas as challenges works well and helps me push ahead with what I want despite how settled my life is. 

Challenge: Create a piece of daily typographic artwork for 36 days.
Challenge: Go a month spending only on petrol and food.
Challenge: Write each day for an hour in the month of August.
Challenge: Make something cool for the next 365 days.

You get the idea. It could be anything. Could be for a week, a month or longer. If you want to become a better creative then challenge yourself to do so. Complete a doodle a day. Or create a piece of artwork as a gift for a friend each week of February or a thousand other ideas. Each time you begin a challenge there’s an expectation to complete it or be forced to admit defeat. Nobody wants that right?

You can also tie challenges into identity. Don’t you want to be the kind of person who completes their challenges? Aren’t you the kind of person who comes up with 5 cool ideas before breakfast each day?

From personal experience my talent as a designer and my skill set has improved as a result of challenges. They created a structure where I could do more and try new things and for me its working and I love the design challenges I've tried. 

Takeaway: Short challenges help you break out of routine giving you a chance to learn something new or improve an existing skill. 


Create for fun

This point reminds me of an idea I encountered a while back. How do you make someone hate what they love to do? Pay them to do it. You could switch love with anything (like design for example) and I think the result is the same. I don’t recall where I first heard this but I think of it often.

If your passion or art becomes your full time employment then you will encounter conflicts that don’t exist if you’re making things purely out of pleasure. It’s a simple concept and I do believe it’s pretty accurate.

I’ve long had this interest in making things for fun in my spare time. Creating for the sake of creating. I used to approach projects to teach me software or explore a new design discipline and that was always a lot of fun. I did this partly for self promotional reasons; to teach myself new things, create visible projects and I know that doing so did give me opportunities for freelance and jobs I wouldn't have otherwise had. This creation continued into my first job, and over the next two years I gradually made less and less stuff and it was kind of sad.

Back in the present, I’m about 80% the way through a 365 day design project. Making for fun gives me the biggest excitement. I look forward to it and love thinking ahead to what I could create or learn. I also love looking back at what I created in the past. 

Huge 365 day projects aren’t for everyone. But creating regularly helps you learn and improve. It’s like turbo for your creativity. The more creativity you use, the more you have. If you’re feeling that you’ve become fatigued, unhappy or fed up with your job; make something for fun. If nothing else it will give you a valuable perspective on what you're doing and just might help you stay sane.

Takeaway: Creating purely for fun is an outlet; it's an escape from your job and life in general but it also feeds back in a positive way.


Signing off

There are probably dozens of little tips you could apply to be a better creative, but I selected three that I feel are more value oriented and bigger changes than simple advice along the lines of 'read more'. I'm awful at making time to read newsletters and articles so I'm not going to preach to others about doing so!

As a visual designer and illustrator, challenging myself, creating for fun and getting over my ego have done a lot to make me into what I am today, so that is what I have to share.

I hope you found something useful and that you're having a good week!