I’ve always found the work of design to be difficult. 

When I started working as a designer, it was difficult because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was tripping and stumbling in the dark, messing around in Photoshop and InDesign, trying to lay out magazine ads and technical manuals proficiently. I don’t think the work was particularly good; I may have had good taste, but I lacked the required skills to get there. 

Now that I’ve been working as a designer for over nine years — ten in October! — the primary challenges are different. As I get older, the blank page becomes more daunting, probably because I don’t want to repeat myself. I’d rather be like George Carlin and come up with new material for every project. But even once we get passed the blank page (try pen and paper first), the middle — the process — is hard. Design is not a straight line.

Good design resources about the process are scarce. I assume every designer struggles with this (especially post-COVID, when so many work alone from home with less immediate feedback), but none of us share the struggle in the messy middle. We just share the beautiful end results in our portfolio. 

In that respect, design is an odd creative field. Authors love to write books about their writing process. Filmmakers make documentaries exploring their craft. Musicians release demos as bonus tracks. But designers don’t share the process. We hide it like it’s some trade secret. Even Dribbble, ostensibly a platform where we can share what we’re working on,” is mostly used to share work we’ve finished.

The process is ignored.

My favourite video on the internet is Aaron Draplin taking on a logo challenge from Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning). I watch the video every time I get stuck, so I’ve seen it a few times: Draplin makes jokes, draws freely, zips around Adobe Illustrator and, most importantly, talks about all the cool stuff he has lying around his workspace.

The first several times I watched the video, I was amazed by the amount of junk Draplin collects (and worried that a key part of success as a great designer would involve becoming a pack rat). But I eventually realized that Draplin isn’t collecting these knickknacks; he’s noticing them. That act of noticing – of focused observation – is his process.

I think we as an industry could do a better job sharing how we work. A few years ago, I audibly groaned when a friend who was new to the design industry asked if I preferred Sketch or Figma. (I was kind of a jerk, I know. Dear friend, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.) That question isn’t particularly interesting to me, although I think the evolution of our tools and the impact they have on us is worth watching and considering.

The questions that I think are most important: how do we do the work? How do we create focus? Where do we get our inspiration from? How do we survive the middle?