One of the reasons we ask others where they get ideas or where they find inspiration is because we don’t have the confidence to trust in our own ideas or our own sources of inspiration. We often grant authority to others because we don’t have the confidence to grant it to ourselves and to trust our own judgement.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about inspiration and ideas and how to observe and notice what’s around you. I want to conclude this short series with some thoughts about gaining confidence so you don’t have to ask others if your ideas are good. I want to help you gain the confidence to know your ideas are good without having to ask anyone else.
Knowledge Leads to Confidence
Most of us lack confidence when we’re dealing with something we know little about. I assume you’ve never performed brain surgery on anyone and if someone asked you to, you’d lack the confidence to try. At least I hope you would, unless you happen to be a brain surgeon, in which case I’d ask why you’re reading this post about confidence on a site about design.
I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t know the meaning of any Chinese characters. If you hand me something written in Chinese I won’t have any confidence in my ability to read it or derive any sort of meaning from it.
However, were I to learn some common characters and gain a basic understanding of the language, my confidence would grow. I wouldn’t understand all the words on the page, but I’d have the confidence to try to work out their meaning based on the few words and characters I had learned and then use those few words and characters to figure out some others from the context of what I know.
Design has a long and rich history and tradition. There are fundamental principles of design that date back thousands of years and there are plenty of general guidelines you can follow.
One step toward becoming a more confident designer is to learn the basics, the fundamentals of design. The knowledge you gain will help grow your confidence. If you understand the what and why of the basics, you’ll be more equipped to see design in the real world and to recognize good from bad. You’ll learn which designs are considered better and why and the understanding will help you figure out where to draw inspiration.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Understanding is great, but when you apply what you’ve learned it leads to a much deeper understanding. It’s one thing to understand that two colors are complementary to each other and another thing to use both together in a harmonious way.
You learn to make better decisions by making decisions and analyzing their results. You might not succeed entirely in your first attempt, but in trying you’ll identify where you did have some success, which will give you more confidence to do the same again. You’ll also learn where you struggled, which will give you a direction for what to learn next.
It’s easy to know that a grid can help you organize information visually and quite another to figure out how to organize your information inside a specific grid or choose which grid to use in the first place.
Ultimately you gain confidence by succeeding, but you have to try before you can succeed. Every small success will lead to a confidence boost. But again you have to try before you can succeed so a big part of gaining confidence is simply to try.
Questions and Answers
Last week I said you should ask questions about the designs you see and then do your best to answer them before asking anyone else. I mentioned this as a way to train yourself to see the world through the lens of design. What I didn’t mention is a big part of this is Q&A is to help you increase your confidence as a designer.
It’s good to know others who you can ask when you need to, but when someone else gives you an answer that’s their success and not yours. Every time you think of a question about design it’s a small success for you. Every time you answer one of those questions, it’s another success for you.
The more you look at designs and raise and answer questions, the more time you spend thinking about design and the more your confidence as a designer grows. When it’s time for your next project and you have to decide on a color scheme or a grid to use, you’ll have already answered the same questions multiple times. You’ll realize your current project is similar to another one you’ve already seen and thought about.
You’ll understand you’re choosing imagery to communicate elegance or warmth or whatever it is you’re trying to communicate. You’ll have plenty of examples to show you how because you will already have asked and answered the same questions about what kind of images work well to communicate elegance or warmth or whatever.
When you only ask others, you remain at their mercy. When you ask yourself and especially when you answer your own questions, you gain confidence in being able to answer the next question.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
One thing you have to be careful about is sticking to what you already know and not expanding beyond your comfort zone. It’s easy to stay inside a small area of comfort because you feel confident in the immediate surroundings. They’ll be familiar and feel safe. The thing is the larger the area you feel comfortable in, the more you can do, the more you know, and the more confident you’ll be in general.
You have to break out of your comfort zone at times in order to grow past your limits. Sometimes you have to force yourself to do this regardless of how scary it might be. Change things up just to change them up. Push yourself into the new and unknown. Sure, it can be scary, but you’ll figure things out and each time you do, you’ll be more confident you can do it again.
Start with small changes. Push ever so slightly past your limits. Then do it again and again. Little by little you’ll expand your boundaries and as you do your confidence will grow.
It’s why I re-evaluate the feeds I subscribe to from time to time. It removes older tired ideas and replaces them with new sources for inspiration. It’s why I ask myself questions about design and try my hardest to answer them without seeking any help. It allows me to rethink accepted answers and see if I can come up with new ways of seeing things or new ways to answer the same old questions. It’s why when I realize I’m not good at something, I force myself to do it more. It gives me a chance to practice and get better.
You can’t grow if you stay in the same place all the time. Growth requires change. It requires pushing past existing limits. It means you should question what you know to be true so you can understand why it’s true or no longer true or why there’s a better truth out there you’ve yet to encounter.
We live in a world where you can find the answer to any question in a matter of seconds by hopping on Twitter or Facebook or wherever and asking if anyone knows. While there’s nothing wrong with asking for help every now and again, you’ll gain a lot more confidence in yourself if you first try to figure out the answers to your questons on your own.
Learn from others and then apply what you’ve learned. When you get stuck or aren’t sure what the best way to do something is, try to work it out before asking someone else to show you. The time and effort you put into solving the problem will grow your confidence like nothing else.
You have to try before you can have success and success is what ultimately leads to confidence. Learn as much as you can about design and put what you learn into practice. Try to work things out before asking for help and whenever you feel like you know your stuff try something new that you don’t understand and go through the process again.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.