Graphic design is a competitive field. It’s competitive in college, and it’s even more competitive when you’re on your own. I’ve noticed that, in any creative field, comparing yourself to others quickly leads to self-sabotage. It’s an extremely common challenge that designers face. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful for dialing down the self-criticism.
1. Look up to, not down on.
Once you start looking for design jobs, you get exposed to more and more talented designers. My first few years searching for the right job (shout out to Superhuman!), I was intimidated, and often felt I wasn’t producing work at the level I wanted to. So, I forced myself to start thinking of these exceptional creatives more as role models. Eventually, I found myself comparing less and growing more. I started channeling the time and energy I spent doubting my own work into learning and reflecting on what made their ideas so compelling.
2. Seek out new ideas and abilities.
Obviously, there’s a difference between direct replication of someone’s work and being inspired to create your own. Use the amazing talent pool surrounding you (whether online or in person) to gather insight. There are always new techniques and trends that are worth incorporating into your work. There are many cheap or free resources out there, (my personal favorite being Skillshare), so don’t hesitate to take advantage of them. Use these tools to explore new styles and challenge yourself to make them your own.
3. Make it a team effort.
At Superhuman, I’m extremely thankful for the level of communication and feedback designers give each other. We have meetings to discuss what is currently inspiring us. We share what we’re aspiring toward, to encourage and support each other. We have a system that ensures open dialog because we believe collaboration pushes everybody to achieve together. If you don’t have access to a design team, find friends and family or an online forum and simply ask what they think. Sometimes the best feedback comes from non-designers.
Part of growing as a designer means accepting that the industry is always changing. That can be scary, but also exciting! Even when you’re at the peak of your confidence, there’s always someone better than you. Instead of freaking out about it, use it as a challenge to up your game. If you’re feeling stuck, vulnerable or down on yourself, I encourage you to put in the effort, keep learning and be supportive of your fellow designers. In the words of Disney’s 2006 runaway smash hit film, High School Musical, “We’re all in this together.”
Illustration by Ashley Zimiga