Failing and doing it well

As a close to the first day of Reasons to be Creative, Mark Boulton took us through his thoughts on failure. In Mark’s opinion, failure is an essential part of anyone’s craft, and will make you a better designer, co-worker and general human being.

People have a bit too much of an obsession with perfection. In Mark’s eyes, perfection is a mental health disorder. One issue is that perfection is simply unattainable. However, more importantly, the closer you get to perfection in design or form, the more the cracks start to appear. This is the case for most situations, where the more you expect of the experience (think five star hotels, business class flights and high-end smartphones), the worse it is when a crack does appear.

Another important thing to remember with failing, is the importance of course correction. In the words of Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” However, the important thing is that when you do get knocked down, you need to get back up, assess the situation and change your course. Current culture, especially business culture, is constrained and hemmed in by process. Instead, we need to be inspired by the way that children play. Children have an innate ability when ‘playing pretend’ of changing course as soon as the situation isn’t going their way. “I’m a princess,” “Well, I’m a pirate who’s going to steal you,” “Well I’m now a shark and I’m going to eat your ship!” Mark found this when working on the Drupal redesign project, where the constant onslaught of feedback almost made him lose his sanity. In his words, “have a game plan, sure, but the most important thing is to be able to adapt and change.”

One of the techniques that Mark has found helps with the design process specifically, is the important of sketching. Because of the automatic response to sketches feeling like an unfinished product, clients are more often than not more willing to feed back on designs that are sketched.

A really important skill for anyone, not just designers, is the ability to critique. However, there are rules about critique. You need to listen to the critique. The critique needs to focus on the work, and not the person. Critique should be a conversation. Ideally, your work needs to be public to invite the best level of critique.

Another concept that Mark talks about is thinkering. That is, the time spent thinking whilst doing something with your hands. What people find is that when you’re doing simple craft, it frees your mind up to think of other things. When designers design and are being paid for their job, it often removes the love from the process, which removes the craft. This isn’t design as craft.

There are a few other pieces of advice that Mark gives about the design process. Be your own project manager, as those removed from the craft often end up being it’s downfall. Invite critique. Be agile, not Agile. Relying on a set process like Agile isn’t enough, you need to actually be agile in your process. Don’t hide from your clients, your colleagues or from anyone. Don’t be ambitious, be a dreamer. Ambitious people don’t get what they want.

Make mistakes. Be better.

In essence, listening to Mark talk is like getting a massive download of brilliant anecdotes and sage advice about design and the design process. It’s enough to make your brain hurt.

Published by Luke

Luke is one of Ubelly’s resident social media guys, occasionally switching hats for a bit of design. He is the in-house meme expert, uses foursquare a little too much and gets hot under the collar when it comes to design, usability and gorgeous code.

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