9 Steps To Improve Your Design Confidence

How much of your design process do you share? Do you show your unfinished work in public? Are you afraid of the feedback you might receive? Most importantly how can you improve your confidence as a designer?

I'm not Superman

A few weeks ago Rosevita Warda posted Designing in the Open at 37 Signals. The gist of the post is that the more confident we feel in our design process, the more we show our work, resulting in more feedback that helps make us better designers.

This can be seen in the following 2 quotes from the post.

There’s a phase we go through in our maturity as designers. At first we don’t have a lot of confidence in our process, so we hide while we work.

When we get more confident a new phase opens up. We believe more in our process and we know that things are never perfect. So we start showing work earlier and start talking about our rationale at a given step.

I’m guessing most of you can identify with the first quote above. I know I can. Hopefully you can also identify with the second quote. I think I’m getting there.

The message is that designing more in the open leads to better work. The question then is how can we build our confidence so that we’re more willing to design in the open.

Abstract design around the word confidence

How to Improve Your Confidence as a Designer

Being confident in your work is not always an easy thing to do, especially where anything creative is involved.

The trick is to find a small measure of confidence and build from there.

Don’t Compare Yourself to the Best

It’s natural for us to compare our work to the work we want to create, but it comes with a price. You’re not supposed to be as good as the best when first starting so don’t let it get you down if your work isn’t as good as the work of your favorite designers.

Instead compare yourself to yourself. Are you doing better work today than you were 6 months ago? A year ago? Absorb the work of others to help yourself grow, but compare yourself only to yourself.

Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

If you lack confidence there’s a reason why. You’re likely focusing on the things you don’t do well. Focus instead on the things you can do well.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Realize there are things you do well and take some confidence from them. Realize too there are things you need to work at and improve.

For me a strength was something as simple as trusting my eye. Perhaps I couldn’t create designs to make the world say wow, but I could at least see wow in the works of others and see that I wasn’t delivering it myself. It might not seem like much, but it was enough to give me the confidence to keep at it.

Weightlifter and barbell

Sharing Your Strengths

You have some strengths so play to them. Maybe you’re skills working with type aren’t great, but you’re good working with color. Maybe all you think you can do well is see the good in the work of others. Share that.

Share any aspect where you do feel some confidence and enter the process of designing in the open.

Improve Your Weaknesses

It’s normal to be hesitant in sharing things we don’t do well. Identify one weaknesses and work to improve it.

Do you struggle with color? Learn more about how others work with color. Study sites you like. Grab some books and learn the theory behind color. Find techniques others use for creating color schemes.

Choose one aspect of design to study and dive in.

Practice safe design. Use a concept

Practice, Practice, Practice

Learning the theory is only one part of the equation. You need to practice the theory. Take that technique you learned for creating a color scheme and use it on your next project.

You have to practice in order to improve. I always strive to practice something new with each new site. I may have to fall back on something I know will work in order to get the job done, but not until after I’ve given something new a try.

Start Sharing More

As you gain more knowledge and experience with one aspect of design share more of that aspect. If you’re not yet ready to show your work write about it instead. Tell others what you’re doing and what’s working and what’s not working.

Create a simple demo showing how you approached the problem. You don’t have to share real projects to enter the process. Share what you can in any way you can.

Often on this blog I choose a subject I don’t know much about. Like most I’d prefer not to embarrass myself publicly so I put more into the learning and work harder so I can hopefully write something intelligently about the subject.

Abstract poster of feedback

Be Open to Feedback

As you share more you’ll get more feedback both good and bad. You can’t selectively listen to only the good or only the bad. Listen to it all. Don’t let the good go to your head and don’t let the bad get you down.

When you disagree with a critique move on. When you think someone may be right explore deeper what they said and what you can learn from it.

Ultimately you have to decide the value of any feedback you receive, but to do that you need to be open to receiving it.

Offer Feedback to Others

A number of years ago I took a writing course where students would spend time critiquing each other’s work. Most thought the value was in the feedback they received. I found more value in offering feedback to others.

Instead of offering a few quick thoughts I would dig deep into what they wrote and offered opinions on how I thought they could improve their work.

Whether or not people listened to my feedback was irrelevant to my growth. I found that in critically thinking how to improve the work or others I was greatly learning to improve my own work as well.

Rinse and Repeat

You can never stop learning and improving. Even the best among us have more to learn and room for growth. Continue to identify areas for improvement and areas of strengths and keep sharing both as you feel comfortable.

Objectively listen to the feedback you receive and let it help you grow.

I know I’m making the above sound easier than it really is, but it does work. Each small step you take leads you closer to your greater goal. In time you’ll feel more confident about more of your process and you’ll find yourself less hesitant to share in general.

Superman logo

Summary

All creative people struggle with confidence at times. It’s the nature of doing work where the quality of results is part subjective.

It’s not just you or me. It happens to all of us. It leads many to hide their design process and work in secret, which only feeds into the lack of confidence you feel.

The more we design in the open, the more we’re willing to share and open ourselves to feedback, the better we get and the more confidence we gain.

You don’t need to share everything at once, but the sooner you enter the designing in the open process, the quicker you’ll improve as a designer.

Also know that while this post has specifically focused on design the ideas above can be applied to anything in your life where you lack confidence and want to improve.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

19 comments

  1. Nice article Steven, and I totally agree about designing in the open.

    I think there is a tendency to want to hide behind the work-in-progress thing, but that can really limit creativity coming from others. Confidence is really important!

    • Thanks Jay. Confidence is definitely important. It’s not always easy to come by though. That’s where the hiding comes in. I think taking small steps towards more confidence is the best way to overcome any lack of it.

  2. Great post, I found myself agreeing with almost all of your points.

    I too get a lot of reward from providing quality feedback to people, it makes you think of what they may be doing “wrong” and ways which you would do differently, to gain a better result…it’s a win win.

  3. nice post. I think both of the scene are brilliant, to give a feedback is a opportunity to think about something out of your mind and improve your own sense of design with what someone else is doing and It is fantastic to gave a feedback and different outlook for whatever we are creating. That is even important to keep you motivated in the process.

    I really liked that article.

    • Thanks Wellington. Giving feedback can certainly improve your own work. Sadly I don’t think many people put in the time and effort to give good feedback, because they don’t understand how much it can help them.

      It really can be a great way to improve your own work.

  4. I have recently finally started sharing my wallpapers over facebook and surprisingly i am receiving lots of appreciation. I thought my friends may not find my ideas interesting but they did.

  5. i don’t think there are good designs and bad designs… every designer has it’s own ideas thus it should not be judged as bad if one designer has a more minimalistic aproach while other loves working with tons of colors!

    great post by the way

    • Thanks Steff. I agree with the idea that much in design can be subjective, however I do think there is good and bad design. Imagine a website where the navigation is so confusing that no one can find anything. That would be poor design.

      I do agree though that one design that uses lots of colors and another design that goes with a more minimalist approach can both be good designs for the same site. There is certainly a measure of subjectivity.

      None of us would come up with the exact same solution to a design problem. However I think we can still look at those solutions objectively and determine that some work and some don’t.

      I’m glad you liked the post.

  6. Very nice article! I wish I saw this when I first started designing when I interned. Would have been boost my confidence. But I really like that n will figure out what I’m good at n consider working on areas to improve on.

    PS. This is the first article I ever wrote feedback. I like it alot. Thank you!

    • Thanks Kristy. Sorry I didn’t write this when you were first getting started. :)

      I think no matter where any of us are in our careers we can always use more confidence. All creative people go through times when they don’t feel so confident about their work. It’s the nature of the creative process.

      Cool that this is the first time you commented on a post. I’m honored and happy this post struck the right chord.

  7. Thanks Steven, like the article.

    One of the largest struggles when I share my ‘not finished work’ is that everybody seems to have some knowledge about design nowadays. And before you know it, you are in the middle of an never ending story.

    So, I try to figure out how to keep a balance between ‘open’ design and sharing nothing.

    Maybe you have an article about this?

    • I know exactly what you mean. I think the main thing is to decide for yourself who’s opinion you should listen to and under what circumstances.

      Try to figure out who’s feedback helps you the most and show your work to those people. You don’t want to only show it to people who’ll tell you you’re great. You want to seek as objective an opinion as you can find.

      If you ask 10 people for feedback on 5 of them all tell you the same thing about your color scheme I’d listen. If all 10 offered I do or don’t like your colors and little more it’s not very meaningful.

      If you can find people representative of your site’s visitors I’d pay more attention to what they say.

      Ultimately you have to decide for yourself. The feedback is mainly a way to get what’s hopefully an objective opinion, but you don’t have to listen to any of it.

  8. Great post. I have been in the web design industry for over 7 years and still get massive insecurities about my work. I think I’m reluctant to share my early process because often it looks absolutely terrible until the last 10%.

    • Thanks Alex. It’s normal to feel insecure about your work, especially when the work is creative. Trust me, my early process looks pretty awful to. Maybe you don’t share that first attempt, but think about sharing earlier than the last 10% and see what happens.

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