Doubt / Self-Doubt: 8 Major Pitfalls For Designers… And What To Do About Them
For the novice, all that excitement at the beginning, when thinking about designing things, sometimes collides with a wall of developing self-doubt. It’s not easy to quiet a doubt.
The designer organizes their life around an inspiration. There is some fuzziness here. That inspiration has some elements of ideas, but not necessarily crystal clear ones. That inspiration has some elements of emotions — it makes you feel something — but not necessarily something you can put into words or images or fully explain. You then need to translate this fuzzy inspiration into materials, into techniques, into color, into arrangements, into a coherent whole.
You start to create something, but realize you don’t know how to do it. But you want to do it, and do it now. However, to pick up the needed skills, you realize you can’t learn things all at once. You can’t do everything you want to do all at once. That initial excitement often hits a wall. Things take time to learn. There are a lot of trial and error moments, with a lot of errors. Pieces break. Projects don’t gel. Combining colors and other design elements feels very awkward. Silhouettes or structural layouts are confusing. You might get the right shape for your piece, but it is difficult to get the right movement, drape and flow, without compromising that shape. Or you might get the right placement of objects, but difficult to get everything into the frame, without compromising the placements. Things take time to do.
To add to this stress and strain, you need to show your designs off. You might want someone to like it. To want it. To need it. To buy it. To wear or use it. To wear or use it more than once. To wear or use it often. To exhibit it. To collect it. To publicize it. And how will all these other people recognize your creative spark, and your abilities to translate that spark into a wonderful, beautiful, functional design, appropriate for the wearer or user and appropriate for the situation? Things need to be shared.
Frequently, because of all this, the designer experiences some sense of doubt and self-doubt. Some paralysis. Can’t get started. Can’t finish something. Wondering why they became a designer in the first place.
Doubt holds you back from seizing your opportunities.
It makes getting started or finishing things harder than they need to be.
It adds uncertainty.
It makes you question yourself.
It blocks your excitement, perhaps diminishing it.
While sometimes doubt and self-doubt can be useful in forcing you to think about and question your choices, it mostly holds you back.
Having doubt and self-doubt is common among all artistic types. What becomes important is how to manage, channel and overcome it, so that doubts do not get in the way of your creative process and disciplinary development.
8 MAJOR WAYS DESIGNERS FALL INTO SELF-DOUBT
There are 8 major ways in which designers get caught beginning to fall into that abyss we call self-doubt:
1) What If I’m Not Creative Enough or Original Enough or Cannot Learn or Master or Don’t Know a Particular Technique?
2) What If No One Likes What I Make?
3) What If No One Takes Me Seriously As An Artist And Designer?
4) I Overthink Things and Am A Bit of a Perfectionist.
5) How Can I Stay Inspired?
6) Won’t People Steal My Work?
7) Being Over Confident or Under Confident
8) Role Confusion
1. What If I’m Not Creative Enough or Original Enough or Cannot Learn or Master or Don’t Know a Particular Technique?
Everyone has some creativity baked into their being. It is a matter of developing your way of thinking and doing so that you can apply it. This takes time.
So does originality. Originality is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Originality grows in stages. At first, you’ll try different ways of personalizing projects. There are always things you can do to bring some aspects of originality to your pieces. This might be the choice of colors, or using a special component or object, or rearranging some elements in your composition. Again, as with creativity, the ability to be more and more original will evolve over time. It is helpful to think of originality, not necessarily as coming up with something completely new, but rather as differentiation — how you differentiate yourself from other designers.
For almost everyone, you don’t begin your design career at the height of your levels of creativity and originality. Yes, if you look around you, other people are more creative and original than you or have more skills than you. Don’t let these observations be a barrier to your own development as a designer. You get there through persistence and hard work. You handle your inner critic. You may not be there, yet — the key word here is yet. But you will be.
2. What If No One Likes What I Make?
We all have fears about how our creativity and originality are going to be evaluated and judged. We project our self-doubts to the doubts we think we see and feel from others. What if no one wants to wear my pieces, or buy my works, or use my projects?
We can’t let these outsider reactions dictate our lives and creative selves. A key part of successful design is learning how to introduce what we do publicly. At the least, it is the core nature of the things we create that they are to be worn on the body. Design is a very public thing.
Turn negative comments into positive ideas, motivators, insights, explorations. Allow yourself some give and take, some needs to step back awhile, some needs to tweak. Design is an iterative processes. It in no way is linear. Your outcomes and their success are more evolutionary, than guaranteed.
Distressing about what others may think of your work can be very damaging to your self-esteem. It can amplify your worries. Don’t go there.
Don’t become your worst critic.
3. What If No One Takes Me Seriously As An Artist And Designer?
Design is an occupation in search of a profession. You will find that a lot of people won’t recognize your passion and commitment. They may think anyone can design. They may think of design as a craft or some subset of art, not as something unique and important in and of itself. They may wonder how you can make a living at this.
The bottom line: if you don’t take yourself seriously as a designer, no one else will.
People will take you seriously as they see all the steps you are taking to master your craft and develop yourself as a professional.
4. I Over Think Things And Am A Bit Of A Perfectionist
Some designers let a sense that their work is not as good as imagined get in the way. They never finish anything. They let doubt eat away at them.
Perfectionism is the enemy of the good. It’s great to be meticulous, but emotionally, we get wrecked when anything goes astray, or any little thing is missing, or you don’t have that exact color or part you originally wanted.
Go ahead and plan. Planning is good. It’s insightful. It can be strategic. But also be sure to be adaptable and realistic. Each piece is a stepping stone to something that will come next.
The better designer develops a Designer’s Toolbox — a collection of fix-it strategies to deal with the unfamiliar or the problematic.
Overthinking can be very detrimental. You can’t keep changing your mind, trying out every option, thinking that somewhere, someplace there exists a better option. Make a choice and get on with it. You can tweak things later.
Yes, attention to detail is important. But so is the value of your time. You do not want to waste too much time on trivial details.
Be aware when you begin over-analyzing things. Stop, take a breath, make a decision, and move on.
5. How Can I Stay Inspired?
Designing something takes time, sometimes a long time. That initial inspirational spark might feel like it’s a dying ember.
Don’t let that happen.
Translate that inspiration into images, colors, words, sample designs, and surround your work space with these.
Talk about your inspiration in detail with family and friends.
6. Won’t People Steal My Work and Ideas?
Many designers fear that if they show their work publicly, people will steal their work and ideas. So they stop designing.
Yet design is a very communicative process which requires introducing your work publicly. If you are not doing this, then you are creating simple sculptures or paintings, not designed work.
Yes, other people may copy your work and co-opt your ideas. See this source of doubt as an excuse. It is a self-imposed, but unnecessary, barrier we might impose to prevent us from experiencing that excitement as a designer. Other people will never be able to copy your design prowess — how you translate inspiration into a finished piece. That is unique and special to you, and why the general public responds positively to you and your work.
7. Over Confidence can blind you to the things you need to be doing and learning, and Under Confidence can hinder your development as a designer.
Too often, we allow under confidence to deter us from the design tasks at hand. We always question our lack of ability and technical prowess for accomplishing the necessary tasks at hand. It is important, however, to believe in yourself. To believe that you can work things out when confronted with unfamiliar or problematic situations. It is important to develop your skills for thinking like a designer. Fluency. Flexibility. Originality. There is a vocabulary to learn. Techniques to learn. Strategies to learn. These develop over time with practice and experience. You need to believe in your abilities to develop as a designer over time.
With over confidence comes a naivete. You close off the wisdom to listen to what others have to say or offer. You stunt your development as an designer. You overlook important factors about materials and techniques to the detriment of your final designs and products. You close yourself off to doubt and self-doubt, which is unfortunate. Doubt and self-doubt are tools for asking questions and questioning things. These help you grow and develop as an artist and designer. These influence your ability to make good, professional choices in your career.
8. Role Confusion
Designers play many roles and wear different hats. Each has its own set of opportunities, requirements, and pressures that the designer must cope with. It’s a balancing act extraordinaire.
First, people who design often wear different hats: Artist and Designer, Manufacturer, Architect and Engineer, Distributor, Retailer, Accountant, Exhibitor, Marketer and Promoter.
Second, people who design have different needs: Artistic Excellence, Recognition, Monetary Gain, or Financial Stability.
Third, the designer needs to please and satisfy themselves, as well as other various clients.
Fourth, the designer constructs things which need to function in different settings: Situational, Cultural, Sociological, Psychological.
Last, the designer must negotiate a betwixt and between situation — a rite of passage — as they relinquish control over the piece or project and its underlying inspirations to the user (and the user’s various audiences), who have their own needs, desires and expectations.
This gets confusing. It affects how you pick materials and supplies. Which techniques you use. What marketing strategies you employ. How you value and price things. And the list goes on.
It is important to be aware (metacognitive) of what role(s) you play, what goals you have, what clients desires you need to satisfy, in what contexts your work will function, when, and why. Given these things, it is important to understand the types of choices you need to make, when constructing an object or a project. It is critical to understand the tradeoffs you will invariably end up making, and their consequences for the aesthetic, emotional and functional success of your designs.
While doubt and self-doubt can hinder our development as designers, some degree of these may be helpful, as well.
To develop yourself as a designer, and to continue to grow and expand in your profession, you must have a balanced amount of both doubt and self-doubt. Uncertainty leads to questioning. A search for knowledge. Some acceptance of trial and error and experimentation. A yearning for more reliable information and feedback.
Design uses a great deal of emotion as a Way of Knowing. Emotions cloud or distort how we perceive things. They may lead to more doubt and worry and lack of confidence. But they also enhance our excitement when translating inspirations into designs.
· Don’t let your inner doubts spin out of control. Be aware and suppress them.
· Be real with yourself and your abilities.
· Keep a journal. Detail what your doubts are and the things you are doing to overcome them.
· Create a developmental plan for yourself. Identify the knowledge, skills and understandings you want to develop and grow into.
· Remember what happened in the past the last time doubt got in your way. Remember what you did to overcome this doubt. Remember that probably nothing negative actually happened.
· Talk to people. These can be friends, relatives and colleagues. Don’t keep doubts unto yourself.
· Don’t compare yourself to others. This is a trap. Self-reflect and self-evaluate you on your own terms.
· Worrying about what others think? The truth is that people don’t really care that much about what you do or not do.
· Don’t beat yourself up.
· Get re-inspired. This might mean surrounding yourself with images and photos of things. It might mean a walk in nature. It might me letting someone else’s excitement flow over to you.
· Take breaks.
· See setbacks as temporary.
· Celebrate small steps.
· Keep developing your skills.
· Set goals for yourself.
(1) Henri Neuendorf, A Young Artist’s Brief Guide to Art World
Ambition, Art World, November 18, 2016
As referenced: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/4-motivations-that-make-
(2) Drew Kimble, Five Fears That Can Destroy An Artist, Skinny Artist,
As referenced: https://skinnyartist.com/5-fears-that-can-destroy-an-artist/
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Other related articles of interest by Warren Feld:
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