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Failure Is Always An Option

I love that line “Failure is always and options”. I first saw it on a T-Shirt worn by Adam Savage of Mythbusters. In his case, it applied to science and engineering, but it applies just as easily to the world of design.

Failure is what lets us learn. Failure allows us to improve, to expand, and to grow. If you fail badly enough at something, you probably won’t repeat the same mistake.

In your case as a designer, when I say failure, I’m talking about your designs being rejected by clients. That excellent logo design you created that wasn’t accepted by your client, no matter how hard you worked on it or how much you loved it. Or that cutting edge poster you did that was “too wild” for the event it was promoting. The designs may have been great in your mind, but they were still rejected, making them failures.

Who knows why? Maybe the client has different tastes than you do. Perhaps the market isn’t ready for your innovative approach. Or, and I’m just putting this out there as a possibility, maybe your idea stank. Whatever the reason, your design failed.

In researching this podcast episode, I looked up some famous quotes on failure. Here are some great ones that could apply to designers.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. – Henry Ford

You have to be able to accept failure to get better. – LeBron James

One of my favourite ones is from Winston Churchill who said

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

As a designer, you can’t let rejections get you down. And yet I see it all the time in design communities. Designers mopping because a client didn’t like their idea. It happens, don’t fret on it. Pick yourself up and get back at it and try again.

Think of your draft process when you’re designing something. Chances are you don’t just come up with one idea and present it to your client. If you do, then I think I found the reason why clients are rejecting your designs.

If you're like most designers, you go through dozens if not hundreds of ideas and incarnations of those ideas before settling on a design you think is presentable to your client. If you look at those earlier design drafts, most of them are very poor compared to the presented version. Each one of those earlier drafts was a failure that led to improvements. Those failures allowed you to progress to the next version or next idea which was an improvement over the last one.

When a client rejects one of your designs, you shouldn't look at it as a failure. Instead, see it as one more step in the process. Maybe you showed it too soon. Maybe there are more variations to explore or refinements to make. Perhaps you hadn’t stretched your creativity enough to come up with the next, even better idea.

It’s all part of the creative process, and you shouldn’t view it as a failure. Doing so is not productive. If a client turning down your design pushes you to create something even better, then nobody will remember your previous unsuccessful tries.

Don't get attached to your designs.

The trick to getting past failure as a creative is not to become overly attached to your ideas and concepts. I know, it’s tough. You work hard to create something that you think is amazing. Something you know will blow the client's socks off. And then you're shocked when it doesn’t. You feel defeated because, in your mind, it was the perfect design.

That’s the problem. When you become so enamoured with your design that it blocks your creativity and prevents you from improving your idea. You’ll never progress as a designer if you allow that to happen.

Don’t get me wrong. Being proud of your work is ok. But those great pieces you create are still just stepping stones to even better ideas yet to come.

If you want to be a successful designer you need to learn to brush off rejections. Use the failure as a learning experience to improve your skills and abilities and become a better designer.

One more thing.

Just because a client rejects, a design doesn’t mean it’s a bad design. If you like it, put it aside and recycle it in the future if there’s ever use for it. Maybe, after time you’ll start to see the flaws in it you couldn’t see before. Or, if it still holds up, you can adjust it and present it to another client who will appreciate it.

Remember that design is subjective. Not everyone has the same idea of what looks good and what doesn’t. When you present something to a client, no matter what you think of the design, the client has the final say and failure is always an option.

What stories about failure do you have?

Share your stories about design fails you've had by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Mark

What is your policy on sharing the source files with your clients? Some years ago I created a series of packaging labels for a small coffee roaster. Years later, a person I did not know e-mailed me, mentioning that he was now doing a project with the client and needed the photoshop files. 

Although this was an easy task for me to do, it just didn't sit right with me.

I contacted the client to verify this person and they told me they were working on an advertising campaign and that person was in marketing. In the end, I sent the marketer (flattened) psd files and interestingly enough, I ended up working with him on a future project. 

I have had discussions with others about openly sharing source files with clients. Some say they (the clients) paid for them by paying you for your service while others say absolutely not. What do you say Mark?

To find out what I told Mark you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Podcasts

In honour of International Podcast Day on September 30th (and the third anniversary of the Resourceful Designer podcast) I encourage you to 1) find new podcasts to listen to. 2) Encourage others to try podcasts.

Podcasts are a great way to learn, discover, laugh and be entertained, With over a half billion podcasts available there's sure to be one for whatever hobby, interest and curiosities you have.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com