Thursday, June 12, 2014

So Someone Called Your Baby Ugly: Four Ways Less Than Perfect Projects Made me a Better Designer

We all have them. The projects that didn’t go as planned. The ones where our egos got bruised, someone tried to move in on our work, we had a hard time convincing the people that mattered (cheat sheet: that would be the client) that by golly we were right and by the way AMAZING. We also realized too late that using the term “by golly” made us sound decidedly lame.

People usually don’t write blog posts about projects where your design, hereafter referred to as the “baby”, got criticized and someone claimed to be able to do it better. We don’t really want to talk about that time someone called your baby ugly. After all, people like to talk about beautiful babies.

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But since I am an obnoxious crusader for silver linings, here are four things I learned from projects that weren’t received exactly like this:

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1. You have a chance to improve on what you already did

Now bare with me while I go all “if one door closes” on you. We all look back at projects when they are done and think: “Oh, if I could have just tweaked that button, made that hover state a bit more subtle and reworked that product page, it would have been amazing!” Us designers always tweak, if even just in our heads. While we sleep. If a client, or another agency whispering in the client’s ear, wants to revise, go back, start over, massage, whatever the euphemism for “this baby of yours is ugly” is, I have learned that if you embrace criticism you can make things better than they were although you disagree with the feedback. Even if the initial embrace of this opportunity looks more like this:

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2. You might learn something new

Now I am not saying the baby is ugly. But as much as I hate to admit it, there might be a kernel of truth in the feedback I am getting. It might be in the form of information I didn’t have when I initially designed the site. It might be that the target group is a bit different than originally thought and turns out they love Curlz font. It might be that the main stakeholder likes red. Whatever it may be this new information gives me an opportunity to create a better user experience. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Plug that Curlz web font in like a boss and be at peace.

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3. Very few people are actually out to get you

It’s human nature to take criticism personally. Especially if it’s delivered without context through the telephone game of translating feedback over email. In all those instances you are likely to interpret feedback with ANGRY CAPS and feel a bit hurt…

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Once you are face to face and can talk through concerns, you realize that this isn’t a conspiracy to ruin your beautiful baby and that most clients, creative and account people, are coming from a good place. Maybe a place you don’t understand, but a good place nonetheless. If you discuss concerns over a sandwich you are less likely to desperately cling to the notion that people just don’t get your genius. Or in my case, small to medium sized talent.

4. No one ever regretted being classy (with a C, not a K)

Many times, the initial feeling I get when my design gets edited, changed, massaged, you name it is something like this

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Credit: The Oatmeal

Many times, we are tempted to let people know why we are right and they are wrong (No? It’s only me? Ok, carry on.) But as much as it has pained me to bite my tongue on several occasions in my career, I have learned that being graceful always pays. I have watched some incredibly talented creative directors take criticism and gracefully explain their side with a calm and patience I have yet to unearth within myself. And in the end they always look like winners no matter who had the last say. I have the desire to get there. One day I will. Maybe.

So that’s my rainbow and unicorn summary of why bad projects are good for you as a designer and as a person. Now rub some dirt on it and get back in there!

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