We need more shitty work

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Somewhere along the line it suddenly became a prerequisite that all public work has to be of amazing quality.

Take Dribbble for example. A website which ironically was originally built to allow creatives to post their work-in-progress, has became a platform for over-polished design eye candy.

Instagram, a place once filled with those (terrible) moody filters is now over-flowing with professional photography.

These platforms used to spark insightful discussions and critique. Now they’ve become overzealous. Take a look at any post on Dribbble and the comments are bound to be filled with shallow compliments like NICE.

The bar had been raised. I hear from Creatives daily who are paralysed by the pressure of perfectionism. Instead of sharing their work and collecting constructive critique, they’re either iterating in the dark or not doing anything at all.

What happened to play? What happened to creating a safe space to explore shitty ideas and create something just for fun? Play evokes exploration — and that’s what channels creativity.

We’re moving towards a world of perfectionism. While i’m referring to creative industries here, this is true for many of others too (fitness, beauty etc).

Saturating our industry with such a high quality prerequisite puts many of us at risk of paralysis. Young designers are too afraid to share their work, so they stop creating it all together. They’re hungry to become better at their craft yet can’t take the necessary steps forward.

Seasoned designers on the other hand, feel too much pressure to deliver consistently at 100%. So they keep their work under wraps.

You wanna know the truth? Everyone produces shitty work.

That famous designer you follow on Twitter? I bet they sometimes produce shitty work. Walt Disney? Probably created a bad short at one point in his life.

My hard drive is full of shitty work from over the years; ideas that failed, concepts that didn’t solve the problem and tacky lettering pieces. While these were terrible, the lessons I learned along the way are invaluable.

My crappy hand lettering pieces taught me how to use the pen tool in illustrator. Those failed ideas taught me what does/doesn’t work, giving me better judgement going forward.

For every great idea is a million shitty ones. Without allowing yourself that phase of exploration, you’ll never land on that golden idea. Don’t underestimate what goes on behind the scenes of a great piece of work.

Once you give yourself permission to produce shitty work, only then will great results come. No one sits down at a blank piece of paper and writes a best seller (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, and she did it on a napkin!).

I’ve spoken to a few Creatives over the years and there’s this overlying pressure to share everything we create. Look busy — stay relevant their mind whispers to them.

This pressure paralyses them from the very beginning. Knowing that the end result has to be of share worthy quality, their mind is already at the finish line from the get go.

We all begin at the same start line on the same playing field. Without starting there, you’ll never move forward.

If you’re constantly attempting perfect work, you’ll run into several problems. First, you’ll get so frustrated of the pressure to produce perfect results that your quality will actually deteriorate. Being laser focused on the outcome means you can’t focus on the beginning.

Second, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to explore and try new things. When there’s pressure to produce perfect work, it’s highly unlikely you’ll take that as an opportunity to try something new.

If you’re in a swimming race and know that you’re more likely to win at freestyle, why would you enter the breaststroke heat? Because winning isn’t always the end goal. Maybe you’ve been learning breaststroke and still consider yourself a beginner, but want to challenge yourself in a race.

If perfect work is paralysing you, create criteria for yourself. For example you could decide that your first round of ideas or concepts have to be shitty. From there you can iterate, massage and sculpt them to be great. It’s better to have a shitty idea, than no idea at all.

I’m not saying quality doesn’t matter. Of course it does — just not all the time. Too often I’ve let my struggle with perfectionism hold me back, leading to missed opportunities and unfinished work.

Perfect work is scarce. So much goes on behind the scenes that never sees the light of day.

If you’re currently in the middle of a project and worried about how un-perfect it is — keep going! You’re probably on the right track. If you’re 90% of the way to the finish line and still not confident about it, you may need to consider what went wrong. In either case, keep moving forward.


About the author

Hi I’m Femke — a designer, writer and podcaster who overlaps between a day job, freelancing and side projects. I love to help other creatives be the best version of themselves. I’d love to get to know you more, say hi on Twitter 👋