How to build creative confidence

31 January 2023

Creative Confidence

The failure to create comes from fear.

Fear of failing, fear of the blank canvas, but more importantly, fear of being judged. The problem with fear is not fear itself but its by-product: the lack of confidence in pushing your design skills. In a fight, fear can beat skill anytime. But here’s how you can beat fear and as a result build creative confidence.

1. Writing

I find that writing is still generally underrated by designers. This is perhaps because the act of writing itself can generate a separate type of fear. But think of it this way, you are likely to be more experienced in writing than you are in designing (assuming you started writing earlier), so technically speaking your skill level should be higher.

Start writing down whatever crosses your mind, especially the problem that you are trying to solve. Handwriting is better here since it requires neuro-physical activity and has a meditative feel to it. Write the problem over and over again. Use different words. Expand on it. Give it a first-person point of view. This usually helps you to empathise better with the user or target audience.

See what sticks out and simplify the language if possible so that it feels more approachable and you feel like you can take control of it and understand that even words can relieve you from designer’s block.

Immediately moving to use your design application might limit your ability to translate an idea into an actual concept.

2. Sketching

This comes a close second to writing in terms of being underrated. Do not jump the gun. You need to be able to make mistakes and there’s no better way of doing as many mistakes as you can in pencil and paper. You don’t need to a be skilled illustrator for this, the point is not to have something looking polished and beautiful but to create as many ideas as you quickly can. Set a timer and challenge yourself to how many ideas you can create within a defined timeframe. Adding limitations is another way of helping with idea generation. The inverse is also true, especially with time. Heard of Parkinson’s Law?

Immediately moving to use your design application might limit your ability to translate an idea into an actual concept. The causes can be various, from lack of software literacy to too much focus on the tool you are using, but the result should never be defined by the tool you are using.

Imagine you’re working on your favourite software. At this point in time, your focus is on the application you are using and it’s hard to break out of that frame of thought. This might limit you in achieving the desired effect just because you don’t know how to achieve it using that particular software. But what if you take a step back and consider other tools, other software, other devices, and maybe even assistance from a colleague, friend, or even AI?

3. Fake it

Create an Instagram account with a pseudonym and start sharing content there. Nobody will know who you are and you will receive unfiltered unbiased feedback. This will help you shake off that fear and improve simultaneously. Our biggest fear is being judged and even when using a pseudonym, our work can be judged but this helps us detach ourselves from our work, which is a skill that we need to learn anyway. Use this as a temporary solution to get feedback. However, if you want to grow your personal brand as your main design practice, it always helps to have a real person behind the account.

Using a pseudonym allows you to take more risks and try new stuff or even make mistakes, which is often where really interesting and unusual ideas come from.

4. Ask for help

Don’t just ask for feedback. Anticipate it by asking for help instead. There are many options for asking for help. You can find subs on Reddit or other community groups on Discord or Slack. You’d be surprised how your peers are always willing to help. Eventually, you will have the chance to return the favour so don’t hold back from asking.

Asking for outside help gives you the luxury of an outsider’s perspective. Their approach to problem-solving might be completely different from yours which is precisely what you need when you’re stuck. Staring at the same screen from the same seat won’t get you anywhere, and knowing there’s someone ready to help lets you know that you are not alone.

5. Define and refine a process

A process is designed to help you build a structure. Structures themselves give us confidence because we can anticipate what the following steps are. They have a start and an end and they break down a project into smaller more digestible steps.

But structures can also make your work repetitive or predictable. It’s important to recognise that a process’s goal is not to dictate what the outcome should be but to assist us in achieving an outcome so don’t get too attached to it. Keep the process fluid, keep refining it and understand that the five or six steps used in your last project may not necessarily all fit with the new project’s brief. At Hangar we use a process called The Design Method but over time we have given it our own twist as we learned and improved what works better for us and our client. So start building your process and refining it until it fits your habits.

6. Embrace Failure

In a beginner’s mind, the lack of confidence stems from the fact that one could fail which is the main driver of fear. What if my work isn’t good enough? What if the client hates it? Can I turn back? Can I improve it?

Understanding that failure is part of the learning process can give you the confidence to take risks and try new things. Remember that everybody was a beginner and yes, even the most talented failed. Even the most valued company in the world had failures. They’re still the most valued company nonetheless.

Finding confidence in your work doesn’t happen overnight and it may take longer than expected depending on your personality, but it is a challenge that anyone can overcome if the right moves are made.

If you’re interested in finding more, watch David Kelley’s Ted talk and subscribe to my newsletter The Pilcrow below for more monthly updates.