Have you ever looked around while you're in the middle of a project and thought, “what’s the point?” Or, have you been discouraged because you feel like you’re never going to reach the possibilities you’ve envisioned? This is what I call the curse of the designer. It can be debilitating and cause you to detach from your work and the people around you. It can disorient you and breed frustration and hostility. It can also plant the seeds of bitterness that can ruin your satisfaction with your job. So, what is this curse and how do we overcome it?
Designers are visionaries at heart. We are constantly envisioning the future. We experience real-world problems, then immediately jump into a future where those problems no longer exist. This one of the super-powers of designers, but it can also be one of our greatest weaknesses.
Designers are solution creators. We understand problems and simultaneously generate concepts that satisfy and eliminate those problems. To do this, by thinking about the future state where they are resolved. Then, we can reverse engineer ways to accomplish that oh-so-compelling future. What's the problem with that? The problem is that we exist in the now, and it takes time to make it into that problem-free future by intentional and methodical steps.
As we explore many different concepts and ideas to resolve the problem we aim to crush, the excitement and enthusiasm builds. It's an exhilarating experience to be a part of that exploratory work, but the dissonance between the future and the now can sometimes be unbearable. We can wish we had a time machine so we can jump to the end of the process and just be done, so we can move on to the next big thing. This is the core of the curse. But, it gets even worse…
Designers are always seeking to improve. Since we're imperfect humans, the work we produce isn't perfect either. According to the law of diminishing return, it isn't profitable to push for perfection either. It's a waste of time to try and reach perfection because the cost becomes exponentially higher to reach that (unattainable) point. We tend to want to continue improving, refining, and making things better, but it can be tricky finding that sweet spot between adequate, optimal and perfect. Since we have to make so many design decisions in the process of solving problems, there's always some good stuff left on the cutting room floor. Naturally, we desire to try to go back and incorporate that into our new, amazing solution.
Our curse is that we can see the future and we're not there yet. Then, once we arrive we aren't satisfied. If we're not careful, that can leave us in a devastated and demoralized space.
As designers, we are (and should be) continually be thinking about 'what could be'. That drives us to produce amazing answers to some of the biggest problems we face. However, it's easy to fail to appreciate the progress we've made. This is the root cause of many of our major dissatisfactions in our jobs.
Designers work with others. We collaborate with industry experts like structural engineers, systems engineers, platform developers, and many, many more highly skilled folks. As dissatisfaction creeps in, we can become hostile and bitter, which makes us prone to destroying the relationships and burning the bridges we rely on to be successful in our work.
What's worse is that it can even sink our career. If we're always looking at what's next without appreciating the progress we've made, we're liable to quit our jobs out of frustration or even abandon our design career altogether. The world can't afford that. The world needs highly skilled designers each and every day.
So, how do we beat this curse and it's disease?
The cure is radially simple. It's thankfulness and appreciation.
First, be thankful for the job and the work you have. Be thankful for the people in your life. Even if some of them are challenging, they are still humans. Yes, there are some difficult people in our work, but they have knowledge and perspectives that you do not have. There's always a temptation to think we're better off by ourselves, but that's generally a lie that will leave you lonely and disgruntled in the end. We need human connection and will always need other people to accomplish our audacious design visions. Take some time to be thankful for the people who you work with (and for).
Second, appreciate progress. Making progress is necessary to achieve our vision of what could be. As you progress in your projects, take a moment to reflect on where you started versus where you are now. Find positive changes that have been made. Pause to review the progress you and your teams have made together. Notice how others have contributed to the success so far. Highlight your own contributions as a way of building confidence that you can reach the end. It's certainly not an excuse to settle before you reach your project goals. Rather, it is a powerful way of keeping the pace at each step along the way.
Design can be an overwhelming and difficult job at times, but we don't have to feel disheartened or worthless. Take time each day to appreciate progress. Send a note of appreciate to a coworker that has contributed to the success of your work and be thankful for them.
Remember: A little better, is still better. You've improved things along the way for people and that is meaningful.
Thanks for reading. Go make something awesome…and appreciate the progress along the way.
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