…Why this is the best thing you’ll ever hear.
How do you measure if your work is actually “good”?
Have you ever had a really difficult client? Someone who refuses to work with briefs, and can’t articulate what they want, never has time to discuss and says, “Your work is crap! Change it! I’ll know what I want, when I see it”.
These words started my 10 year search for measuring good work. Over the years, I tried various choices and combinations thereof which led to various conclusions.
These were the choices:
1. You can believe them, let your Imposter Syndrome take over and immobilise you.
Believing you work is crap can be immobilising. If you believe you are your work. You could feel as if you no longer have a purpose if you take those words as a personal attack. You are not your work. Your work is a product of what you do. Just like learning how to draw involves theory and practice, your work is no different. Take the words “your work is crap” as more reason to prove to yourself that it can be improved. All things can be improved. So why let this immobilise you?
2. You can let ego take the wheel, and assume they’re idiots and not work with them.
This is the most limiting of all options. If you believe you’re always right, you’ll never learn anything.
3. You can embrace humility, take this as a challenge to learn to make the client happy.
I’ve tried this route for most of my career and I don’t regret it. It allowed me to always look for new ways to measure. When you only have 1 client to please and they believe their word is law, the only measurement you need to actually focus on is communication. How well you communicate/ articulate design principles and suggested route to go, is of secondary importance. Primary focus is listening. This will determine the number of rejections/approvals and the amount of time taken to get to that approval.
Making clients happy is always good. But not at the cost of design. Educate your clients on the value of good design & why to follow design standards. Validating work by number of rejections vs approved designs helps you measure your progress, but it shouldn’t be the only unit of measurement.
4. You could live life in a panic and try to please everyone, at times compromising design for those who won’t listen to reason
This is one of the most dangerous routes. When starting out, you don’t want to be fussy about clients, as you’re aiming to build your reputation. But be aware that compromising design for the “tastes” of clients will not ensure success of the design. If you and client are unable to communicate effectively, learn to let go. Move on, there are enough clients out there.
Taking on everyone’s work will only result in bad design or no design at all. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Decrease the number of clients and increase the quality of work.
I can honestly say, that everyone needs at least one critical parent, one difficult client, one crappy boss or just one critical voice in your head to accompany you throughout life. To ensure you don’t get comfortable with mediocrity or an inflated ego. But we also need to learn when to switch those voices off and ignore completely.
5. Don’t believe anything, stop worrying and just keep creating; continue refining your process.
Measure based on : process + design standards + personal standards, and keep raising that standard?
Keep raising the standard, not just in our work, but in everything, always. If not, we run the risk of falling into a pit of complacency, if everyone just accepts our work as is. You fall into the trap of seeking that acceptance.
Complacency breeds mediocrity.
When we have people around us who are always happy with what we do, we start to become blinded by why we do things, and what we are actually capable of doing.
We cannot measure ourselves based on others opinion
We need to measure ourselves by why we do what we do? Yes, we do need to keep our clients and users happy. But we need to rethink our personal motives. We need to educate our clients on why good design standards should be adhered to, and not compromise them just to accommodate clients tastes. But we do need to be prepared for clients who don’t care about design standards or about their users at all.
We need to be aware that no matter how much we know about design or about people, there is always more to learn. We need to determine why we are doing this in the first place, before deciding what will be designed and what we aim to trigger in the user. Why should we make this? What is the context it will be used in, and what will be the desired effect? Most importantly how will this benefit society?
The value of the idea, is dependent on selecting the appropriate medium/context + the correct process/execution. So “how” we proceed is only determined by “why” we should make it in the first place.
This power is no longer completely left to the “tastes” of the boss or the client, but shared in the delight/usefulness of the target. The “Why” is not only regarding the usefulness in lives, but also, why we are designing in the first place. Our personal motives will affect the quality of work.
I’ve been asking myself for years, what’s my motive? Why do I do this?
I have been lucky…nothing I do is good enough for me
I have always been searching. For answers. For knowledge. For mastering my skills. To be more. To be better. To find “the Edge”, Hunter S Thompson spoke of, and still take a step further. I want to know how far I can push myself.
It’s easy to get trapped in the digital realm of never ending googling and research. Just as easy as the poor addicted social media generation. Then real life becomes limited and we become automatic even in our thoughts and dealings with others. We miss out on actually living. The point is, to:
divide your time into input [ researching/learning ], output [ creating ] and communicating [ social media less and real interactions more ].
This prevents getting sucked into the trap of not being able to live without your devices. Trust me, I know. I’m still learning how to limit my time with each.
Talent doesn’t exist. Only consistency counts
If there was a measurement for talent, I believe we were all given the same amount. We all start creating imaginary friends or stories and drawing as children. Some of us continue with this form of creativity throughout our lives, most change and pursue something else, perhaps music, law, business… while others adapt it, and learn new mediums. Some use their creativity more often than others. Point is, we all have it. It’s nothing special. How often we use it, what we use it for and how we adapt it, is the difference.
There is no such thing as talent. Only an affinity or a knack for things.
I am not a talented artist or designer, I have only being interested in art and design for a long time. Worked at it consistently, grown in it, and adapted, as many designers do. Good work isn’t based on talent or luck or having a passion for what you do. In the past I believed that all you need is to love your work, to have a passion for it.
But when you have a passion for something at the expense of your family and the world around you, then it isn’t working for you. My work used to be my life, now it’s become a factor which contributes to my life. A component which I love but not as much as my son/family/friends.
The ingredients for Good work = dissatisfaction/purpose + consistency + process.
If you are dissatisfied with the way things are, whatever they may be, [ your work, your life, yourself, the world around you ], and you consistently work towards improvement daily, then days when you don’t have enough drive/motivation/passion, your purpose will still remain. You will continue working daily despite how you feel. Because you believe that things should be better, and that you are capable of contributing to improving them, by any means possible.
Many “talented” people talk about inspiration, and writers block etc. And only work when the mood takes them, or when they feel like it. I used to work this way, when I hated design. I would procrastinate, and leave it for the very last minute, the day before the deadline. I knew I had an eye for it. And even with little effort, I could still meet the low expectations of certain clients. When you work this way, sometimes you’ll create miracles, most of the time you will create crap. You will know you haven’t done your best, even if no one else knows. But this is a toxic way to live.
I believe there are always good and bad days, no matter what you do. If you work at something daily, no matter what it is, there will always be days that are better than others. The point is to continue to create/pursue your work despite your mood. And to remain dissatisfied with your efforts, in order to continue pushing for better. But to never forget the reason why you are doing it.
I no longer measure my design by how happy the client is, the number of rejections/changes. Instead, I ask why am I doing this? Was that goal achieved. What didn’t work last time and why? How can I improve my process since the last project? What can I do better? How do I get there?
Why do we design?
Maybe the way I have adjusted my thinking is just a coping mechanism. A result of being in a corner and finding a better way to look at it. But for now it will do.
I’ve realised that, We don’t have to ensure perfection in every creative act.
When it comes to work, of course we need to maintain a standard. But no need to drive ourselves insane in the process. When it comes to our hobbies however, we do this because it fixes something inside of us. We need to keep our hobbies and work separate in order to maintain balance and sanity.
By creating something just for the sake of it, to test your skill without worrying if it’s right or wrong, and not seeking outside validation, is very satisfying. This is where Art lives & my writing. I do this because if I still need a personal creative outlet. To create just for the sake of it, just for me, not for the user or for business.
So, what is my Why? What is my purpose in this design spectrum? Why do we design? Here’s my updated design manifesto :
Design is universal and personal. We design to communicate. To communicate not our own thoughts, but to seek truth. To speak on behalf of those who cannot communicate in this way. To help bridge the gap for business, to give products a voice to speak to users. To ensure that anyone is given the advantage to be able to understand the given message. To assess that the message being spread is worth spreading. Design should be versatile and is context dependent, using the best method or medium to reach your audience. How true this message is, how it impacts lives and how well that message is received, determines the success of the design.
I’m guessing this is a solid unit for measurement for now. Because we can’t measure by how much we love what we do. Some days you’ll hate it. So we need to measure by something which is constant. In my world, the only constant is change. So, I will measure by how I can change and grow as well as by how my design can change. How universal/accessible and versatile the designs can be.
In essence, don’t worry if your work is good or not. “Don’t let your victories go to your head or failures to your heart”. Just keep creating, never stop. Keep adjusting and improving [ both your thinking, your process and your work ]
A good piece of advice is:
“Write drunk, edit sober”, sometimes written as “Write sober, edit drunk”
[ not said by Hemingway by the way…who knew?!]
I don’t mean to literally do so. Rather, avoid the rabbit hole of over thinking, fear and insecurity as well as ego.
Just focus on doing the work, “as if you’re happy drunk”. Free from that critical voice in the back of your mind. Drown it out with classical or concentration music or whatever music makes you happy. Eventually you will not need to drown it out.
I’ve found that by doing something active before sitting down to work puts me in the right frame of mind. eg. Go for a walk, cycle, swim or write down all the crap in your head for 30–45min. Clear your head, find a happy place. Because happy emotions are just nicer and healthier to work from. This will help you to do your best with an open mind and clear thinking based on research. Then once you’ve completed your first draft, throw it away and do it again. And again, and again. Then turn the volume up on that critical voice and edit.
Think of it as a focused vs diffused mode. Jumping between the varied modes of thinking in order to be able to make new connections and solve problems creatively.
Some projects you can start with emotion and edit with logic. Other projects require the reverse process.
In conclusion, you need to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or reason and logical thinking as well as emotions and instincts.
I’ve tried to separate the 2 parts of myself, and tried to only listen to reason and ignore instincts. Now I am learning to listen.
Why am I writing this?
Perhaps, it’s an existential crisis…who knows…According to the Huffington Post, this is expected in your 30’s. But I hate being added as a statistic, so let’s just move on…
Initially I decided perhaps I’ll write only when the writing is good enough, or wait until I am an Expert. But if I wait for that day, then I will never write. Because my writing will never be good enough for me; and if I am forever learning, how could I ever call myself an expert?
So, today I write, because I have been thinking about this for many years and it finally makes sense looking back.
I do this because some day, my writing will improve, somewhere, one person will read my words, it will resonate. Perhaps help them or at least make them laugh.
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