I love finishing projects. When I get to the end of animating a video or designing a graphic and can just sit back and look at what I’ve made, it feels great. But I hate starting projects. Solving problems feels great, but when I first sit down with a problem and start to explore it, things can get depressing fast. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. But I think this is because when we think of problem solving, we put too much emphasis on the solution and not enough on the solving.
Design is a verb not a noun
Ok, I realize it’s actually both — but it’s much healthier to focus on design as a process toward a solution rather than the solution itself. In the beginning, I don’t know what final product I need to create. Design isn’t just about making something great. It’s about figuring out what “great” means, and then making that. When you stand at the beginning of a maze, you can’t see the exit. The only way to find it is to walk into a lot of dead ends. We like to look at a finished poster or website and say “wow, what a great design.” But if you really want to see good design, look at what got thrown in the garbage can. Discarded ideas pave the way for successful outcomes. Design is a verb.
The perfect solution is an imperfect solution
I’m an analytical perfectionist, which is helpful in some ways and constantly challenges me to make my work better, but it can also be crippling at the start of a project. My natural inclination is to think my way to the perfect solution before I ever even begin. The danger of this thinking is that it keeps you from ever beginning at all. The best way to get started is to just say “I’m going to make something bad.” Just acknowledge that and get to work. Because once you have a bad idea/sketch/paragraph, you have a starting place. You have momentum. Keep working until you run out of bad ideas — because then all that’s left is a good one.
Of course it’s possible to just ignore the process and skip right to making something that looks cool. I call this creating by instinct, and there’s certainly a time and place for this kind of work. But it’s not design. When I look back at my favorite projects, they are always the ones where I really dug into the process. Don’t get caught up looking for the finish line. Just focus on what’s right in front of you, do the work, and trust the process. You’ll get where you’re going…and it will feel great when you do.