How to know when your design work is improving

by / Saturday, 07 March 2015 / Published in Inspiration, Process and Procedures

I remember the feeling, quite vividly, that I chose the wrong profession. In fact, I’d felt that way so often in the early parts of my career that it’s sort of a miracle I made it this far at all. That’s NOT because I didn’t enjoy graphic design and creative. I loved it, the entire time I was struggling. It wasn’t that anyone else thought my work was sub-par, either. It’s because I didn’t think I was improving. And, of course, I was entirely wrong. I just didn’t know it.

The trouble with any creative pursuit, and particularly trying to make it into a profession, is that there’s no gauge for improvement, short term. You only have your work, and other people’s work by which to measure yourself. That process is fraught with problems. Not the least of which is that we typically compare our work to that of seasoned professionals who’s work we really love. We start to feel like we’ll never be that good, so might as well just go home and watch Netflix instead. Whether you can pass through this phase or not is the difference between improving or not.

That feeling of frustration comes about (I think) because we look at really great design work, and assume that designer was born being capable of that level of finesse, and everything they’ve ever designed is that good. Or maybe we just struggle with self-esteem. In either case, or any case, the reality is… it doesn’t matter. I’ve known people who could design, draw, animate and conceptualize better than I could, and they were still in college. There ARE gifted freaks of nature out there, who create without effort. Know this… you’ll learn nothing comparing your work to theirs. You just have to get past it.

The good news is, you’re in the majority. So am I. MOST of us just have to struggle through the process and develop a good eye, based on experience. Develop design skill, only after several hundred layouts. Grow and see improvements measured in years, not days. It’s how the process works, and there’s nothing wrong with taking your time to improve. Take comfort in the knowledge that BECAUSE you feel this way, and BECAUSE you get frustrated, you ARE INFACT improving. That’s the sign. You’ll seldom notice the improvement in your own work day to day. Rather look at your ambitions and your frustrations as the evidence. Every so often, look at the work you did 2 years ago. Then, you’ll see the differences you can measure with your eye. Eventually, that new designer who’s never had the nerve to talk to you will walk up and say, “Hey… how did you get so good? I feel like I suck and your work is so awesome. Can you help me?” You’ll smile and say, “I remember the feeling, quite vividly, that I chose the wrong profession.”

6 Responses to “How to know when your design work is improving”

  1. This article is a big help to us designers when struggling through that phase, which is a recurring feeling for most of us. Looking over my own portfolio and older work, there has been a lot of improvements in my own work. At one point, I felt my understanding in HTML, and CSS was lacking (I didn’t even apply to a lot of places because of it), then I took a chance and realized that I knew enough code not only to make a decent site but pretty good sites.

    We can be our worst critics. I still have growth to do and many other things I want to learn but the first step always begin with our own thoughts. Believe in yourself, take chances, enjoy the outcome.

  2. Gayatri says : Reply

    Even i feel the same when my work gets rejected downright because someone gave a better design. Thank you for writing this. Felt really good.

  3. peter says : Reply

    thanks for articles like this. when I started, my works were… sucked. they still not as amazing as yours, but by continuing to learn from ur videos, studying from books, and and trying things out, I think this article is helping me see that I am getting better- i hope. thanks for the motivation. too bad I ain’t born a gifted freak of nature.

  4. Rackeem says : Reply

    hey Shawn please continue to post concept videos on YouTube.

  5. Rackeem says : Reply

    I am a graphic designer who is really appreciative of your youtube vids.

  6. Rackeem says : Reply

    Fine arts painting and drawing is my main strength but watching your vids is allowing that smooth transition from fine arts to graphic design.
    thank you!!

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