The frailty of creatives is that they never get 100% content with their creation. As Leonardo Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It resounds true to most designers. There’s always a little bit of regret when closing a project they’ve spent several hours to a couple of weeks refining to the pixel. Creatives seem to have a problem on how to embrace imperfection.
As a writer I understand this too. I paint pictures with words and there are literally hundreds of ways to project an image, but only a handful of them put together will give the “right feel”.
Here are some questions for you:
- When designing, do you trust intuition or reason?
- Do you simply know what will work perfectly together or do you have a set of checklist to follow?
This article may be a bit gnomic in nature, perfect with your morning coffee when you are about to start your day with a flair but terrible to act as an “emergency” advice.
In any case, how can you turn imperfection into creativity?
Let’s find out!
A Little Bit of Disorder Is Okay
“What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” – Morticia Addams
One of the problems new designers face is the fear of criticism. And rightly so, words should be feared, for they can return and haunt. Realize that you can’t please everyone, and that everyone will have their own opinion about what you create.
Take Facebook, for example, with its redesigns over the years. With every redesign, a lot of its users clamor for the old interface, saying that the new one is terrible. But do you hear anyone complaining now? Thought so.
Another example is to look back to your very first design. I bet you were completely satisfied with it, singing praises for it even, but if you will look at it now, you’ll most likely spend a good chunk of time laughing and cringing.
Here’s a short story I’ve always loved that demonstrates my point.
A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master.
One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.
When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”
After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”
Beauty of Procrastination
Two possible scenarios exist if you will skip this post: either you’ll actually skip this post and read it later or totally forget about it. What does this demonstrate? Another problem many creatives experience: procrastination. Well, everyone has their bouts with procrastination, but I would argue that creatives experience this more in a grander scale.
You see, starting something is always the hardest part. What colors should I use? Should I place this element here or there? Is this the way my client envisioned his website? How many hours will I spend working on this project? How many versions should I present as a prototype/draft?
So many questions, yet so few answers. This is what happens at the beginning of any task. You get loaded up with questions that the thing in front of you appear to be a very big and daunting task waiting for you to (squirrel!) start working on.
But nah, you still have three weeks to finish it, right? Why not watch two episodes of Hannibal first then play one game of League of Legends, then finally start working. What do you think?
That’s the story of my life. It’s the reason why I submitted this article to my editor two days late.
As a procrastinator to another, I am learning to deal with this problem by accepting that there is indeed a problem. And look where it got me, it got me to write this article! That is actually my main motivation behind this post.
So, how do you turn procrastination into creativity?
1. Figure out why you procrastinate.
Is it because you had a similar experience before that didn’t register well with your mind? Like, say, instant rejection of your first draft? There is this thing called experiential avoidance where you will do anything it takes to avoid experiencing discomfort, hence looking elsewhere to delay the inevitable. But as it turns out, procrastination is in the genes.
So, the first step is to realize there is a problem and that you want to solve it. Sure, running away from the big and scary stuff is easier, but it won’t get you near your goals.
Once you accept that there is one, and you pinpoint exactly what that is, you are ready for step two.
But don’t do it this way, though.
2. Stop asking yourself questions and instead list them all down.
Then answer them one by one. This is the most basic form of this beautiful thing we call planning. By listing down the questions you need to answer, you are giving yourself a smaller view of the pieces that comprise the whole.
3. You don’t have to do anything at all.
As it turns out, procrastination helps with creativity. Well, unless your life is being ruined by your procrastination, please go back to the first two steps.
3. Burnt out? Rise like a phoenix.
One way or another, you will burn yourself out. It doesn’t matter if you hold great passion with the work you do, you will get burnt out at least once in your life. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s your mind’s way of telling you that you have run out of creative juice, that you’ll need a respite from your routine.
While it may seem counterproductive, it’s actually the opposite if you will spend some time doing the second best thing you love, or the third, fourth, even fifth.
Remember when everyone loved Gangnam Style? Yeah, everyone listened to that song too much to the point where they started hating it. It’s the same with work. No matter how much you love your work, even if it’s your priority in life- you will hate it at some point in your life.
I love writing. I consume four notebooks a year and write on my blogs daily, at least I used to blog that hard. Then I burned myself. For weeks, I stopped writing simply because I can’t. Starting a sentence was a…death sentence. Nothing felt right. How did I combat it?
I spent an entire weekend away from my trusty tools: pen, notebook, laptop, and my phone. My entire Saturday afternoon was spent reading Wuthering Heights in a cafe I’ve never been to, without care for the outside world.
The next day I attended a meditation class (which turned out to be a recruitment center for some sort of cult *laughs*), got lost in the city I grew in, got off the bus five kilometers away from my home just to walk, and slept like a baby when bedtime arrived.
Monday came and I felt absolutely refreshed. Prior to this, I spent my weekends thinking about work.
Learn how to separate your work from your personal life.
If your number one passion is making beautiful designs, don’t spend your day-offs designing. Spend time doing something else, like gardening.
I can’t fully emphasize the importance of this since you’ll have to experience it first. So, how about trying it on your next day off?
There are three main problems people in the creative field experience on a daily basis: perfectionism, procrastination, and running out of creative juice.
Yes, perfectionism is an issue. In a way, it kills creativity by adding anxiety to every step taken; there’s a pressure that keeps creativity at bay. But once you manage to overcome your tendency to look at things as either perfect or trash, you will realize that little cracks or imperfections here and there are actually essential.
That brings us to procrastination. That anxiety I mentioned earlier is most likely the reason why you are procrastinating. Subconsciously, your mind tells you to avoid that feeling. But it still depends, maybe, you just want instant gratification.
To end, I want to share a Japanese repair technique called Kintsukuroi.
It means to repair broken things with gold. Broken things don’t necessarily mean they should be thrown away; they can still become more beautiful.
Rean concurrently served as the Head of Operations and Editor-in-Chief of 1stwebdesigner from 2011 up until Aug 2014. He regularly writes about freelancing, technology, web design, and web development with a little touch of internet marketing here and there.