Learning to Embrace and Expect Design Failure
“In order to rediscover wonder, we need to step away from being right.”
— Kathryn Schulz
This week, I had had to stand in front of my peers and tell them that I failed. We were assigned to redesign the book cover for The Catcher in the Rye and my first round of designs missed the mark. My ideas weren’t completely terrible, but I knew I could do better. I had to and did start over — new inspiration boards, new sketches, and completely new designs. I was happy with the end result, but I still found it difficult to admit my failure to the class.
Typically, this part of the design process — the failure part — isn’t discussed. It stays with the designer or within the walls of the agency. The client never knows how many sketches were tossed aside or how many hours were spent coming up with new ideas.
According to a TED talk by Kathryn Schulz, in order to avoid feelings of embarrassment, most people simply insist that they are right. However, she argues that in order to be more creative, we need to step outside of our expectations of rightness, recognize our error blindness, and be open to making mistakes. During her talk she repeats the phrase, “and something else happened instead.” Her point is that we think things are going to unfold in a certain way, but life always surprises us.
The design process can be the same way. Often clients approach designers with a solution already in their mind or creatives get attached to a particular idea, but we need to be open to and embrace the fact that something else might happen instead. When we embrace the possibility of being wrong, we open ourselves up to so much more — new and exciting possibilities, unique connections, and creative surprises.
During her TED talk, Schultz points out that stories about mistakes and failures are often the most entertaining because they best reflect our real lives. With this in mind, when discussing the creative process, we need to step away from the “aha moment” story and present our design failures along with our successes. The creative stories we tell may become less magical, but they will become more relatable.