As designers we’re constantly in the process of creating. Whether it’s a new website for a local mom and pop store, a web app for the latest and greatest startup, or an iOS7 app, we’re always creating. How often is any of it for you? When was the last time you started and finished a project just for you?
As designers we like to be constantly learning. We like to read, and we like to put what we read into practice. But too often we fail when it comes to putting all this newfound knowledge to real use. We get pumped after reading a motivational article, we want to shake up the world and we wanna do it right now! However excitement quickly fades, and we end up back on the procrastination merry-go-round.
Cut the crap
Earlier this year I took all my RSS feeds, bookmarked posts, and saved reads and I binned the lot! I couldn’t keep up. I’d find a post, save it and watch it disappear into the abyss that was my “Read it Later” folder. I’m sure the majority of posts were great, but undoubtedly I could live without them.
I started fresh.
I needed to quit reading (procrastinating) and I needed to start doing. No amount of learning was going to get me off my ass and into action.
Small goals go a long way
Many designers have ambitions of creating the next Facebook or Twitter. The trouble with these kinds of ambitions is that 99% of the time they’re simply out of reach. We might as well play the lottery. I’d never say don’t aim high, but I would say make your goals attainable. Give yourself some small wins.
Start with a goal you have a chance of hitting. If it’s a success and you can take the project further, then go for it!
You don’t have to go all out on a product either. There are plenty of smaller endeavours that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to set up. Think informational products, ebooks, guides, white papers, design resources, plugins, simple niche apps. There are a world of possibilities within your grasp. This is what you do anyway, right? So, start doing it for yourself.
Get it out the door
Startups that get VC funding can afford (or not) to spend millions on development, customer acquisition and marketing. If you’re like me, you can’t. And that’s fine, I’m not interested in funding. I want something that’s mine, not a watered down share in something I’ve sweated blood over. The only financial hope many of these VC startups have is being bought out, and who wants that?
Create something small and you can move quickly. You can adapt to your users needs and you can even have a personal relationship with many of them. When was the last time you felt loved by a corporation or even a well meaning funded startup?
Don’t be so secretive
As designers we tend to be very protective about our work. We don’t like to present work to anyone, especially our clients or potential audience until it’s just right. I’ve learned to move away from this approach. The sooner you can get something in front of your audience, the sooner you’ll know whether you’re going in the right direction.
In July of this year I launched nusii, an online proposal service for freelance designers. There are already similar services available, but none did the job that I wanted. I needed something simpler.
From concept to launch nusii took about five weeks. At the time I wasn’t interested in partnering with anyone so I contracted out the development. I set myself a limit of $2500 dollars, win or lose. It was an amount I was prepared to gamble on. Not everyone can do this, but if money had been an issue I would have teamed up with a developer (something I’ve since done).
Getting the service out quickly was important for two reasons.
- I wanted to see if nusii would work
- I wanted to see if people would pay for it.
In both cases I got a yes.
Sure I’ve had some people tell me it’s too simple or not quite there yet. However, getting something in the hands of real users pays dividends over six months spent reading more “How to launch a product” posts. I could easily have spent another six to twelve months working on nusii before I felt it was right. Instead I took the bull by the horns and went for it. I allowed myself to take baby steps… in the right direction.
We’re now working on V2 :)
I don’t have any money
OK, I was lucky in that I had a couple of grand to get the ball rolling, but if you’re 100% bootstrapped and strapless, you still have options. If you’re a designer and you don’t code or you’re a developer and you don’t design then team up with someone. 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I’d be surprised if you can’t convince someone to come on-board.
And don’t be too precious with your ideas either. The chances of someone stealing and acting upon them is small. Ideas are a non-currency, it’s only through developing an idea that any value can begin to be associated with them.
Failure is an option
When Thomas Edison was asked how he felt about his multiple failures he answered:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 1000 ways that won’t work.”
It was from those failures that Edison was able to see what didn’t work and discover what did. He thrived on failure. We all know of Edison because of his accomplishments, but if it weren’t for his failures we may never had heard of him at all.
Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face. Children do it all the time. They get back up, brush themselves down and start all over again. Really, what’s the absolute worse thing that can happen? You might get a few emails saying, “Hey, I’ve wasted five minutes of my life on your stupid app.” Even if someone takes the time to decry your crappy product, that’s still a step in the right direction. Every time someone cancels from nusii I ask them why. Why did you cancel? What didn’t work for you? What didn’t you like? People will tell you, they’ll give you the feedback you need. The next version can be better, truer to the needs of you users or clients… or not. Maybe they don’t like your product or book or service because they’re not even your intended market. Failure is not always so clear cut.
No, the worse that can happen is that for two short seconds you’ll convince yourself that people are talking about you. Newsflash, people are more concerned about their own shortcomings.
Avoiding design burnout
Shipping your own product is also a great moral booster. Do you ever get down about client work or your day job? The solution is right there, in your hands. Create something for yourself, create something that is going to make you smile. In turn you may just make someone else smile. Stranger things have happened.
The day you receive your first email from someone who’s benefiting from your product… You’ll be on cloud nine, I promise.
And let’s not forget the creative freedom inherent in working on personal projects. You can have the best clients in the world, but there will always be that point of compromise. That place where your design is their design.
Create as you need to create, do something you wouldn’t have the balls to do for any client. Mix shit up :)
Why it needs to live in the wild
You’re friends and colleagues will always tell you that you’re great. If they’re really good friends they may just say, “mmmm, not sure about that one Nathan”.
It’s only by getting your project out into the wild that you can see if real people find any use for it. You need feedback from people who have no connection to you whatsoever. They’ll tell you what’s up!
Sure, it can be a downer when feedback errs on the negative side, but you should strive to take all feedback as positive. If someone feels strongly enough to give you the feedback, you know you have something to work with.
Whatever the gripe, jot it down. Find a fix, go to V2, rewrite the chapter whatever, just make use of it.
The next time you’re feeling bummed about yet another client project, think about doing something for yourself, get selfish. Remember, there’s no failure here. Even if the project bombs you’ll have invested time in something real. You’ll have learned things that all the reading in the world can’t teach. Of course if it takes off, well that’s another story altogether. It can push you to create more products, define bigger goals and even create an additional revenue stream. Hell, you might even find a new career altogether.
Here’s one final quote from our man Edison.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.”
Don’t be afraid to fail.