How repetition makes you a better designer

How repetition makes you a better designer

There’s this famous story of a high school teacher experimenting with how we learn things. 

He divided his pottery class into two groups that would be graded differently.

The first group had to dedicate the entire period of 2 months to create a single pot. It would be graded based on the quality of their pot. However, the second group had to create the maximum number of pots they could in the same period of 2 months. It would then be graded on the quantity. 

So what do you think, which group would produce the highest quality pot? 

We’ve been taught our whole lives to focus on quality and perfection, so a common and obvious guess would be the first group that was dedicated to Quality.

Fast forward to the end of the semester, despite not aiming to produce the perfect pot, the students in the second group had produced far superior pots both in quantity and quality. 

The first group had been handicapped by two things:

  1. Cripplingly high expectations, which lead to the fear of failure and imperfection.

  2. Believing that there was only one goal to achieve—perfection.

In the first case, those students were so cautious about avoiding imperfections that they did not use one of humanity’s greatest gift — the ability to learn and grow from failure. 

In the second case, those students had been limited to what was needed to be done and became disinterested in the subject after making what they considered was a “quality” pot.

The students in the second group were no longer handicapped by the fear of failure. Instead, they had the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, iterate, and develop their creativity and intuition.

While true for pottery, the lessons of this experiment are also true for design. 

Swallow this hard pill” when you’re starting, you will create bad designs. 

This is not to demotivate you, but to make a shift in your mindset and make you more comfortable in making bad designs when you’re in your beginning days. 

You may or may not know that they’re bad ones, but when you’re ahead in your career and look back, you’re gonna cringe for sure (like I do).

The valley of disappointment

We all browse throughout Dribbble and Behance all day long and look at the insanely-cool looking designs by creatives far more experienced than us.

This constant consumption of “really good designs” increases the level of our “taste”.

We now know what an amazing website design, illustration, or iconography looks like.

So when we’re designing them, we have this image of a “Really good design” in our minds and we compare ourselves, either consciously or subconsciously.

This puts us into a place where no matter what we’re designing, we don’t like it -- especially when we’re in our beginning days. 

I call this “The valley of disappointment” -- a place where we’ll be saddened by our designs because no matter what we do, there’s always someone with a better design.

To get out of this “valley”, the only way is to climb by practising. Practise designing, practise quantity over quality, and you’ll soon increase the level of your creations and narrow the gap between your taste and creations. 

So...quality doesn’t matter?

The idea I’m advocating for is to pay more attention to frequency, to practising your craft, to increasing the quantity. 

But that doesn’t mean Quality doesn’t matter. It surely does. 

Your mindset while practising should be to improve your designs with every practice session. 

Remember, your biggest competitor is your past self. So when you’re thinking about Quality, think in terms of improving yourself. Your quality will improve over time.

So pay attention to Quality, but don’t obsess over it, otherwise, there’s a “Perfection monster” creeping behind you, waiting for the moment to come in and say hello. (and honestly, you don’t want that to happen).

Because once you get into the rabbit hole of Perfection, you won’t push the submit button and won’t increase your practice. 

Also, practising more as a beginner will allow you to make more “Experienced” decisions when you’re working on real projects where stakes are high, especially if you’re working in a startup - where the responsibilities are huge and your mistake can cost a fortune to the company.

So don’t hesitate at all in making mistakes and repeating the same thing a thousand times. 

And if I’m not able to convince you yet that Quantity matters more, here’s an extract from the Biography of Steve Jobs, an extract about Apple - with its top-notch quality products. 

“It’s a process where they discover the product through constantly creating new iterations. A lot of companies will do six or seven prototypes of a product because each one takes time and money. Apple will do a hundred — that’s how many they did of the MacBook. Steve Jobs doesn’t wake up one morning and there’s a vision of an iPhone floating in front of his face. He and his team discovered it through this exhaustive process of building prototype after prototype.”

So remember, 

The more you practice in your drafts, the less bad designs you’ll produce. 

(Okay, the original one’s “The more you pratice in peace, the less you bleed in war” by Norman Schwarzkopf)