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Building design success from failure

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The longer you work as a designer, the more opportunities you’ll have to look back and say, “What was I thinking?” It’s a natural part of your evolution. Over time, both your skills and your portfolio will grow. As a result, you’ll undoubtedly find projects you’d do differently if you could go back in time.

Personally, I’ve designed (at least) a few websites that were total clunkers. Some of it is just that design trends change over time. But there are also sites that were just plain bad in any era. A few of them are still online and I can’t wait until they go away, hopefully to be replaced with a highly-profitable redesign.

But we humans, usually, learn from our past. And for designers, so much good can come from these experiences. Let’s explore the positives you can reap from the worst designs of your life.

Failure can be good for the soul

From the time we’re born, we are taught that failure is something to avoid. Some of us have quite a desperate fear of it. But in all reality, failure is a part of everyone’s life.

Learning to accept failure will ultimately lead you to a better place.

If all you’ve tasted is sweet success then you’re missing out. While none of us set out to fail on a project, there is an opportunity here for self-improvement.

Take a look at why the project failed, and, just maybe, it’s only a failure in your eyes. Look at the factors involved and figure out what, if anything, you might do differently if you had another chance.

When looking back, you may find that a client took your great idea and “tweaked” it until there was nothing left but rubble. Or, maybe you just royally messed up. Whatever the cause, you should be able to pinpoint some areas where you can improve.

For example, if client interference is a major culprit, you might learn to have a frank discussion with future clients about the pitfalls of such behaviors. Or, you might learn to leave that bold (hideous) color scheme alone.

Learning to accept failure will ultimately lead you to a better place. From it, you can move on and do better the next time around.

Discover the benefits of focus

Often, I’ve found that my design work is at its worst when I’m having trouble focusing. It’s easy to feel the need to keep plowing through your work – even when you’re just not feeling it. That’s when you’ll learn that it’s time to take a step back.

Go do something non-work related for a bit. When you get back to the old drawing board, you’ll feel more refreshed and ready to take on the task at hand.

Obviously, you don’t want to miss any important deadlines. But above all, quality will be appreciated more than speed. A design fail that occurred during a time where you felt rushed is a clear sign to slow down and do things right. Lesson learned.

Simple is better

There have been times when I tried to make something a little too perfect. Maybe I took a client’s direction too literally. Or I attempted to impress someone by doing something I’d never done before, and probably wasn’t too comfortable with.

You’ll often find that a more simple approach works best. Starting out simply doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to provide a detailed design in the end. On the contrary, starting with a simple concept can stir up the creative process and lead you to add in the finer points as you progress through a project.

Most of the time, a design is not going to be immediately perfect. There’s a method and process to creating something beautiful.

There are some projects you should just avoid

We all like to think that there’s nothing we can’t do. But over time you may find that there are certain projects that just aren’t a great fit. Looking back at my own mishaps, I see a common thread of people and projects that weren’t at all in my best interest.

…trying to fit a square peg into a round hole doesn’t work.

Especially when starting out in the design field, you might be tempted to take pretty much any work that comes along. You’re poor and a bit hungry. You’re trying to build a reputation.

The reality is that trying to fit a square peg into a round hole doesn’t work. Worse, it can actually do more harm than good to your confidence and reputation.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge yourself by trying something new and different. It’s more a matter of giving yourself the best chance to do your very best work. If you have serious doubts about a person or project, you might be better off going in another direction.

It’s all part of the experience

Even the most talented designers will have a few projects that just didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped. Some may be categorized as failures. What separates the best from the rest is the ability to get back up (and learn from) past mistakes.

As the old saying goes, “There’s no substitute for experience”. Experience is what allows us to expand our horizons and improve. It adds to our creativity and helps us become who we are.

Failure can serve as both an important teacher and reminder of what makes for great design. So, the next time you aren’t quite happy with how something turned out, don’t get too discouraged–although it is fine to have a brief period of mourning.

Instead, see it as an opportunity to become even better. Take what you’ve learned and chalk it all up to just another life experience. It will make the success of your next killer creation taste even sweeter.

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