Daniel Nisbet

Episode 9  |  February 2, 2018

Why I’m not afraid to start over late in a design

Sometimes we take that dreaded step back and look at our design work that we've spent hours and hours working on. There's a sinking feeling when you realize that it isn't working. You get even more panicky when you realize that you have a deadline looming—like in the next 24 hours, or worse next 15 minutes.

I was a junior designer fresh out of college. I was about six months into my first “real” design job and I was working on a brochure for a client. It wasn't anything spectacular special or rages but, it was one of those situations where I realized that what I was doing wasn't working.

We had a deadline coming up fast.

My boss was one of those people that expected his designers to turn a lot of things out fast. It was at that moment, sitting there and realized what needed to be done—that I needed to start over. What I was doing wasn't going to be finessed into something that I was going to be happy showing to our client.

As I was having this eureka moment, my boss walked by and commented that it looked fine. I know part of it was to be encouraging and into help me keep moving forward with my process.

I remember the look on his face when I told him I needed to start over. It looked like I kicked a puppy. He wasn't happy that I was going to throw the design away and start fresh. I encouraged him and told him, “Don't worry. I got this.”

Over next few hours, I ended up putting together something based on everything I had learned to that point. It turned into a much better design, and in the end the client was super happy with it.

What we both learned from that process, was just because I had invested so much time into those initial conceptsm, it didn't mean that it was good. It didn't mean that it was something that had to be finished.

I think for a lot of people—especially non-creative people—its easy to scream “What do you mean! I don't understand!” It's a tough pill to swallow.

Don't get me wrong, but I think there's a part of the design process where we end up learning something that we didn't think of. Maybe we didn't think to ask the right questions or explore the right concept.

It doesn't become apparent until we go through our process or we try some of those initial ideas. We have to see that it doesn't work, and by going through this process, you can take those new lessons and start over again.

You might come up with something so much better that you wouldn't have got there any other way. And that's how I've always felt when I have to start over.

In the case of this brochure story, I spent the good part of a day racking my brain. Looking back, I was at the point of burnout without knowing it at the time.

I was banging my head against the wall and everything that I had been doing up to that point wasn't working. It wasn't jiving and I had to keep pushing. It wasn't until I took a step back and told myself, “let's try this again.”

I was like a well tuned machine. o of work, things started to click. I was finally happy with the final design that would ultimately show the client.

I felt like a well tuned machine. I finally got into the zone that I had spent too much time trying to force myself into. By taking that step back and realizing that it was okay to start over and giving myself permission to start over, I was able to hit another gear.

Going on ten years later, I still tell myself that it's okay to start over again. There's nothing wrong with it even if you put so much time into something that isn't working. Time doesn't always mean it was the right thing.

So hopefully this makes you feel a little bit better about your process and being stuck. The next time you're faced in a situation like this and you haven't started over, it might be worth considering.