My eyes open wider as I browse through Pinterest, Dribbble, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m so captivated by the amazing designers who don’t hesitate to publish their work, including items that are “in progress” which teeter more along the lines of incredibly buttoned-up pieces of art.
As designers, it is imperative for us to present thoughtful and cohesive work, especially within our portfolios and websites. Thanks to the rise of showcase platforms like Dribbble and Behance, it’s easier than ever to publish work and find great designs. But I look at these published works and picture some type of magician that created them, not a designer like me.
These pieces offer endless inspiration but often leave out much of the iterative process. Just as they can be helpful resources when starting new projects, they can also be rabbit holes to get lost in. Though I consider myself a good designer, I’m sure we’ve all come across designs on these showcase sites and hopelessly think, “Damn, I wish I could do that” or, “Man, that is so good.”
Despite the positive aspects of these communities, it feels like the act of displaying these “works in progress” has become a some sort of design-validating popularity contest. I question what is more important: getting likes on Dribbble, or solving real design problems?
Being active in the design community, I’ve attended a plethora of presentations, panels, and networking events but rarely have I heard about the “true side” of a mind-blowing project. It wasn’t until I attended Designer Trek this past May that I realized I wasn’t the only one interested in demystifying the creative process.
As part of the product team at Braintree, I traveled to Portland, Oregon with ten other creatives and entrepreneurs to attend this fantastic design retreat. The small group setting made it possible to hear everyone’s story and connect without posturing. For three days we hiked, explored, and, most importantly, talked about our lives -- how people got to their current roles, creative burnout, dealing with rejection, and everything in between.
Disregarding our work titles, years of experience, and skills, having these discussions was motivating and inspiring to everyone. At no point did I feel like I was networking or trying to sell myself. It was amazing. Sharing our unique experiences helped us realize that without the highs and lows, we wouldn’t be where we are today. These were the experiences worth discussing.
I think it would be worthwhile for the design community to open up a little and talk about false perceptions. Maybe trade the showcase conferences for panels, discussions, Q&As. Just as we can learn from great people who share their amazing work at conferences, we can also learn from asking each other about the challenges we face and how we overcome them. The process is just as important as the art itself, and when we continue to share more openly, we all become better at what we do.
Following this retreat, I have been able to confidently bring back my experiences to the design team at Braintree in an amazing way. I decided to be more open about explaining the process of a project; its strengths, its weaknesses, where I struggled and where I succeeded -- and that has made for better dialogue within the team. Doing so has opened up conversations about other topics between all of us; we’ve started to discuss how best to work with other teams, what does giving and receiving useful feedback look like, our activity within the design community, and how the speedy growth of our company impacts the team as a whole.
As a result, we’ve seen instant improvement in terms of communication and shared solutions. Our weekly design meetings have become more actionable and full of feedback, conversation, and process presentations. We’ve exposed the way we solve problems and, really, we’ve exposed how our brains work. As a team we have realized the importance of learning from each other. I can confidently and openly say there is a direct correlation between this change in communication with my coworkers and my growth as a designer at Braintree.
Looking back on the time between Designer Trek and now, I’ve noticed the way I look at showcased design work is very different. I can honestly appreciate the skills of talented designers and artists, instead of feeling incompetent in comparison. It takes time and practice, and, as of recently, openness and the ability to share -- authentically.