Design your own way

17 August 2004


A Blue Perspective: Design your own way

Last week I was depressed. (Don't worry, this won't be an angst-ridden LiveJournal entry; I was just at an imagination impasse) It was around about 3AM on Thursday that my frustration reached its peak. I was tapped of ideas, and the site I was working on just wasn't coming together. Off to bed.

In the course of five hours of restless sleep I approached the design from a number of angles, placing myself inside the heads of other people and imagining how the site would look if they designed it – Zeldman, Cuban Council, 2Advanced, Da Vinci. And then I figured out what I was doing wrong – I was trying to design like someone else.

A new design is always daunting, accompanied as it is by the immobilising terror of a blank canvas. On any project you always start out wanting to create something revolutionary, totally different and ground breaking. So you try and reinvent the wheel 52 times a year, struggling to learn a new language while forgetting old ones. Yet trying to deny yourself of your past experiences – to create something totally devoid of history or signature – is a needless, often harmful struggle.

All the artists, designers, performers and musicians that people admire have their own distinctive style, their own uniqueness that makes them who they are. You can look at a site and say "yep, that's so Doug Bowman" and it won't be a bad thing. When you're starting out in any given field you'll try and emulate the examples you see around you because you don't have your own style; but you gradually make your own. And once you have it, presumably clients/fans/stalkers will approach you because they like it, so why not enjoy using it?

If you look at the processes which the great artists have followed, certain themes permeate different stages of their work. Each iteration enables them to explore and refine the ideas within that theme, until they ultimately perfect it, or find it so irksome that they are forced to dispense with it. So, too, should your own work find its themes, allow you to play with them, probe their depths and lead you to discover others.

My lack of sleep was brought about because I was consciously trying to not design like me. Sure: study, learn, admire, be influenced – but you've always got to put some part of yourself into your work, otherwise you'll just end up with a broken reflection of someone else's.


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  1. 1/9

    Sam commented on 17 August 2004 @ 05:46

    What is it about hearing the struggles of others that makes ones own feel validated (Especially when the one who struggles is the proprieter of the great web dev blogs)?

  2. 2/9

    Erik Simmler commented on 17 August 2004 @ 08:21

    Thanks, I needed that.

  3. 3/9

    Bart N. commented on 17 August 2004 @ 10:48

    I've had the same problem today ( also lack of sleep ). It's exactly like you say, you have to put something from yourself in or it just won't work.

  4. 4/9

    Unearthed Ruminator commented on 17 August 2004 @ 22:01

    If you don't put something of yourself in it, it's just a job (and you won't be happy).

  5. 5/9

    Keith commented on 18 August 2004 @ 04:28

    This is something that used to plague me as well. Then I came to the realization that even though I would never be "THE BEST" designer out there, I did have a style of my own that wasn't half bad, and that was something that no-one else could own.

    I can say you've got a style going that I think is great (if my opinion is worth anything) and it'll be great to see how you develop and evolve it.

  6. 6/9

    Nathan commented on 18 August 2004 @ 18:03

    This would explain my 6 weeks of sleep-deprived nights... Thankyou for this insight you have just inspired me to be inspired by myself for once and I feel better already... Lets hope it works and I donít make a dogs breakfast of my current project!

  7. 7/9

    AkaXakA commented on 19 August 2004 @ 22:30

    Well put. Very well put.

  8. 8/9

    RMCox commented on 21 August 2004 @ 00:00

    I recently had a similar experience with this when designing a site from scratch for a personal side project. Everything I came up with looked like a bastardized version of Digital Web (

    What finally got me through it wasn't any one thing, though, and it was like magically a light went on one day, and I came up with something I'm really very proud of. Often times I feel like, when creating sites at work, the time constraints take-away from what could be a much better site if I were only able to gestate a little longer.

    But reading this really helps nail down a few more lessons regarding what can help pull me through the difficult times, and being aware of the peril that total disassociation from previous work can lead to -- and being reminded! -- could shave off valuable time it takes for design conception.

    Great post, thank you.

  9. 9/9

    Rick commented on 26 September 2004 @ 10:46

    What I really hate is working in my sleep; and doing something over, until I get it right - or realize I'm not actually connected.

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