How can I say this...
Truth be told, there’s no “one thing” that makes a great designer. Great designers possess many traits: passion, artistic flair, an eye for detail, determination… whatever.
But over the years I’ve noticed a more specific trait that separates the beginners from the pro’s, and it’s this:
The ability to kill their babies.
Designers know what I’m talking about. It’s the ability to look at something you’ve created with a cold, critical and dispassionate and start again if necessary.
Producing great design involves taking on two opposing & conflicting roles. During the design phase, you’re the loving mother imbued with all the maternal instincts that are necessary in creating something beautiful. But during review, you must take the role of the cold, detached and tyrannical father, willing to sacrifice your child if it’s found to be lacking.
I’ve found that inexperienced designers can only take on the mother’s role, and have to be forced from above (either an art director or creative director) to throw it out & start again.
They lack the ability to step outside themselves as the creator. They can’t see their creation as anything other than their child. From what I can tell this reaction stems from the same psychological impulse of a parent to protect their child and also a dread of having to start over; a dread of the unknown.
They lack the ability to let go.
What this ultimately comes down to is your own ability as a creator to criticise your own work. To identify that feeling that tells you “I love you, but something’s not right, so I have to kill you and start again.”
It’s very often at this point designers may even delude themselves into thinking “it’s a good design” & ignore that voice inside them telling them it isn’t. Maybe it doesn’t meet business objectives. Perhaps the UX is suboptimal. After all, a mothers love is blind.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making light of this instinct. It’s hard to murder something you’ve put your hard and soul into. It’s part of what makes you an empathetic, non-psychopathic human being. I’d be more worried about someone that didn’t have this as a default reaction. And I know there’s nothing harder for designers in the beginning than to wrangle an empty canvas into something beautiful and functional. For some, letting go of a design can elicit the same emotional pain a lot of designers feel when their work is criticised.
This is how I operated for most of my design career until I started dealing with clients directly. It’s only then most designers realise they’re not designing for themselves. You’re not an artist. You’re actually a business person & problem solver. You just so happen to use artists’ tools to solve them. The parental instinct that gives birth to a new design is only useful to a point, after which it’s an inhibitory force.
So to any beginners or intermediates who want to know how to get to the next level? Start killing your babies. Kill so many of them you start developing an appetite for it. The more you iterate & experiment, the faster you’ll arrive at perfection.
Be part nurturer, part psychopathic killer. Godspeed.
We should talk