Fearing the Unknown

As designers we work a lot, we work for customers and clients and sometimes we’re lucky enough to work for ourselves on our own projects.

I’ve had the privilege of doing all three over the years and whilst having a conversation with Vic Bell a few days ago I realised there was a residing emotion and feeling which stayed with all three. It was fear.

The conversation surrounded Vic wanting to try her hand at web design when her work predominantly is illustration and graphical work like icons etc. Vic is incredibly talented in what she does but wanted to try and expand her portfolio and move in to web design.

Whilst Vic is hugely confident with illustration and icon creation, when it came to designing for the web an immediate wall came up where she thought they didn’t know what she was doing and everything that Vic tried was rubbish.


The fear of doing something wrong invoked psychological barriers which stopped them from having the ability to be creative. It was painful to watch as I could recognise full well that I’d been through that many many times before. We chatted about “but other people do web design like X”, “X designer uses gradients” and “their UI is more shiny and appealable”. I offered the advice that just because another designer designs in a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. Every designers style is different, some use gradients and some don’t, some use flat color and many don’t.

We chatted more about doing what you just wanted to do without restraint and then critique later. That way, the style that you want to use isn’t constrained by anything giving you the freedom to do anything you want.

But why is it, when we do start designing do we have so many heart-stopping moments of “this isn’t working”? Why do we go as far to look at other designers work for ‘inspiration’ to merely become followers of trends? Do we really appreciate other designers work because they’re liked by so many people. Can we not just do what we do because that’s what we feel is right and that is ok?

I personally suffer from elements of this even when I can justify many of my own decisions. There will be a part of my design process where I question myself to the point that I’ll start completely fresh feeling that if I received feedback on it, it would be heartbreaking feedback when indeed it might not at all and it could be quite positive.


I’m currently at Build Conf and sat in a talk last night listening to Aaron Draplin. It was one of the most profound, inspiring and honest talks I’ve ever seen. I felt myself agreeing over and over again with what he was saying. Aaron seemed to have this natural knack of being able to ‘just design’, and shortly before he showed a set of files to the audience which he sent to a client I queried in my head how he handled feedback. The files which he showed were approx 12 grouped art boards chock-full of designs to get feedback on. The turnaround for that piece of work was super quick where he had to design with another designer and then present the designs for feedback before editing and finalising the files. It would seem that this enabled him to just do what he needed due to the time constraint, he didn’t have time to think more than “that’s shit, I’ll leave it out” and that’s as far as the self-feedback went.

It’s about time I abandoned my fear of the unknown and embraced the feeling of being free to design in any which way I want. Fearing the unknown is tiring, I’m always second guessing it and I don’t want to do it anymore.

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Head of Interaction and Service Design at DigitalDWP.

One thought on “Fearing the Unknown”

  1. Well said!

    I don’t really have clients I have to work for. I either work for myself, or my day job, and so I have been moving towards creating things that are ‘good enough’ and then iterating and improving as I realise things aren’t working… rather than wasting months polishing and improving things.

    I think sites like Dribbble – whilst inspirational – make lots of people feel inadequate or worry that they won’t measure up – where actually sites don’t need to look like artworks – they just need to serve a function.

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