When pursuing the lofty vision of a creative leader, we often lose sight of what's right in front of us: the work.
We begin to critique, poke at, and otherwise prod the work in the name of iterative improvement, without stopping to reflect that the work is already good. Really good. At times, so strong that if the first pass your designer took against the brief was let loose into the world, few would be the wiser.
So, as a New Year's resolution or holiday gift to yourself, let in the possibility that what you've created is good. Feel free to even say it out loud: "What I've created is good."
Now, what's probably right on the tip of your tongue is the following question: "But what if I know it's not good?" If we're seasoned design professionals, we've been around the block two million times. We think we know a thing or two about good design, and this ain't it.
I'm not preaching radical acceptance, more so than critiquing the ever-dissatisfied design leader, paternally finger-wagging that we can always do better. Besides, we've all had days where the inner critic starts tearing the wallpaper off the walls of your freshly decorated room—or on worse days, calls in the wrecking ball to trash the whole building we're trying to construct. In these situations, we make ourselves feel like crap. And it's not just our own psyches. The people we work with feel like crap, especially if they're always on the receiving end of endless "make it better" criticism.
Dreams of success, populated by happy clients singing the hosannas of powerful design solutions, may hedge us into pursuing greatness at the cost of fostering compassion and humanity over time. From a process perspective, the final product sounds to the client like there were a number of musicians playing individually beautiful melodies that weave into gorgeous harmonies.
However, in reality, we've conceived a jumbled performance corrected in post-production to sound sweet, while wearied musicians slog home after dozens of takes that never sounded quite right to the producer's ear. It doesn't need to be this way.
Over my next two posts, I'll be sharing some perspectives on how to return some of that compassion to your daily work, as well as your interactions with your design team—in the form of better-considered critique habits.
Until then, have a happy New Year!
Many thanks to Mary Paynter Sherwin, who helped create the central theme of this series.