Earlier in the week I was talking about the subjective nature of design. I closed with the idea that you can’t really know if your designs and your design decisions are right or wrong or good or bad. You have to trust your judgement and be confident in your choices.
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You want to learn to make better design decisions and have confidence that they’re the best decisions you could make at the moment you make them. You want to have the confidence not to second guess yourself. You can change your mind later, but don’t second guess your decisions before making them.
Improving confidence is a topic I’ve discussed before, but it’s a very important one and it’s a topic you can’t talk about too much. At the risk of repeating things I’ve said before, I want to talk about improving your confidence in general and then talk a little about confidence and design.
Thoughts to Improve Your Confidence
On Monday I said we need to understand that design is subjective as is everything that includes us in some way. You can’t know for certain if you’re right, which to some is troubling. However, it also means you can’t know for certain that you’re wrong. I think it’s fear of being wrong more than doubting being right that makes us less confident.
Even though everything we do is subjective to some degree, you should do your best to be as objective as possible. You’ll never get to 100% objectivity in your decisions. Remember human beings are subjective by definition, but keep trying to be more objective.
You can start by trying to understand yourself better and identifying the internal processes that guide your choices. Do what you can to understand your biases, your opinions, and your feelings, in order to lessen their influence.
Learn more about whatever it is you’re trying to make a decision about. The more informed your decision the better your confidence will be. Knowledge helps sort the good information from the bad and helps your decisions become more objective. There’s a reason the saying is knowledge is power.
Knowledge is one thing, but you have to practice as well. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it. In part because you learn more and understand more in doing and in part because practice leads to muscle memory, which is just as important in making decisions as it is in playing tennis.
Always know that you’re better off making the wrong decision than making no decision at all. You can learn from decisions you later decide were poor. You can’t learn anything if you don’t make a decision at all.
Try not to overwhelm yourself by doing too much at once. Learn one or two things at a time. Practice making a few types of decisions. Make it easy. Be more confident in what you order off the menu at a restaurant. Be more confident in your choice of movie or what to watch on tv tonight. These things seem small, but they’re practice that adds up.
Perhaps most important, realize that the consequences you imagine will come about from a bad decision are always far worse in your mind than anything that might actually happen. Things rarely turn out as bad as we imagine they might.
Confidence in Your Design
Everything I said above about confidence in general applies to having confidence in your designs as well. The more confident you are as a person, the more confident you’ll be as a designer.
When it comes to learning I think the major topics are the fundamentals of composition, typography, layout, color, and aesthetic details. Pick one and learn more about it. Then pick another and continue.
Practice what you learn. Don’t wait until you know everything. Just jump in and start designing something. It’s not like you have to show anyone. My first designs were awful and my first attempts at designs today are often equally as awful. Again you don’t have to show anyone these initial attempts, but…
You should show your work as soon as possible. I know it can be scary, but the sooner you’re willing to let others see your work, the sooner you can gain from their perspective and experience. Be open to feedback from others, though don’t assume someone else’s opinion is more valid than your own.
Focus on your strengths more than your weaknesses. You build confidence from your strengths. No matter how minor something might be, if you do it well, use it as a base from which to grow. I thought layout was a strength in my early designs. It’s not that I was good, but I thought I was stronger putting together a layout than working with other aspects of design like type and color. Focusing on layout gave me confidence to get better at everything.
Don’t compare yourself to other designers in the sense of it being a competition. You set yourself up for failure when you do. If you compare yourself to someone you think better, then you know in advance you’ll lose the competition. If you compare yourself to someone you don’t think better, it’ll be a hollow victory.
Compare yourself to yourself. Compare how well you design now as opposed to 6 months or a year ago. As long as you continue to work at it, you will get better, and seeing your progress will improve your confidence.
Do study other designers who you think do things better than you. If another designer is better at working with color than you, study how they use color. Ask yourself why you think they’re better. Do they combine colors better? Do you choose colors that communicate well. Figure out why you like their work better and apply it to your own work.
Don’t be afraid to make design decisions. Not every one will be great. I make poor decisions all the time. Everyone does. Making a poor decision is better than making none at all. It’s an opportunity to learn and do better the next time.
It’s rare that the consequences of a poor decision will cause irreparable harm. If you choose to drive over the side of a cliff, then yeah, it’s probably the last decision you’ll make. Choosing blue instead of red won’t lead to the end of the world.
Realize that all designers and all people who engage in creative pursuits lack confidence at times. Think of the person you think is the greatest designer on the planet and I guarantee that person thinks their work is garbage much of the time. That person wishes he or she could design as well as someone else who they think is the greatest designer on the planet. It’s what it means to be human and it’s what it means to choose a life of creative pursuits.
In any situation make the best decision you can and trust you’ve done your best. You can evaluate your decision later when the pressure is off. Think if you could have chosen better and why. Then next time use what you learned to make a better decision. The more you practice making design decisions, the better you get, and the more confident you’ll be in your next decision.
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