How Designers Fail

Always Right, Always Best, All the Time

At its root, failure is the opposite of success, but few young designers encounter failure. Worse, they are over-confident because of how adept they are (or think they are) with computer media: parents or former art teachers have patted them on the back for years, praising their performance with Adobe, iWork, or iMovie. These adults lavish the youngster with wowie-zowie amazement creating what I call the Blue Ribbon Craving: an overabundance of shallow praise too often and too early creating a desire for more praise more often.

Unfortunately and incorrectly, this praise somehow translates into I am good at art or I am good at design, manufacturing the false notion that they are always correct, and so long as they click it up on the computer, it’s good. And they expect the same in school, where the youngster takes the congratulations they have amassed over the years and heads to the classroom with pie-in-the-sky dreams, and a sense of entitlement: I have earned my parents and high school art teachers’ praises; I know the computer; I am ready for college and I will conquer it with a succession of A+ grades. The truth: it’s not like that. When these students do less than grade-A work, tears will flow; when they do grade-C work, they hit a depression so deep that some cannot recover. (Let’s not even talk about grade-F work, which stirs a panic attack beyond anything George Costanza ever experienced.) Rather than learn from the critiques and repeated suggestions to change one thing or another, they leave for another major: All of these changes? My work is bad? Forget it, I’ll go elsewhere. Some will argue that these drop outs play into the natural state of attrition, sorting out the can-do students from the cannot. Does it have to be this way? Why can’t all design students learn to cope with stressful critiques and do-it-over suggestions? Because some of them have been fawned over during years of grammar and high school, and it’s not easy to teach them new tricks.
But that’s what college is for, and students can learn to manage these failures—if the instructor prepares them for the long journey. Unfortunately, few instructors teach students about coping with failure, it’s only the thick-skinned ones that can survive on their own. For the rest, there’s no recovery, no chance for making it. From grammar school through college, I always expected a challenge and knew that rewards were hard-earned. Having endured the disciplined grade school classrooms hosted by Sisters Eileen, Ignatius, Joseph, and Maureen I was prepared for the worst any teacher could throw at me (literally) when entering high school and then college. Not every student endures similar Catholic school rigors, but it helped me appreciate that success required problem solving, overcoming obstacles, and working at something until it’s right (and then working on it some more until you were disgusted or somewhat satisfied, or just plain old out of time).

based on Jason Tselentis’ lecture How Designers Fail,

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