Overcoming Failure by Doing

Failure is an interesting topic. For some of us it is what we fear most, and for others it is merely a fleeting thought. I greatly fear failing in life. From a young age I was taught that if one does their best, then the outcome does not matter. Thus, in a way, to fail would be to not do my best. This fear of failure only reaches a critical point of anxiety when it comes to things that seem earth-shattering or life ending. For instance, I greatly fear failing my classes and not being able to graduate, or making a mistake that will destroy the rest of my life. However, failure is vital to progressing and learning. Failing is painful, and I know no better teacher than pain.

The mantra of “fail forward” is fundamental to the areas of both graphic design and art. The work of a graphic designer almost always starts out with failure. First is the failure of human communication. To varying degrees, the graphic designer will interpret the client’s ideas differently and display them differently than the client had envisioned. Sometimes, one will even have a client who is unable to fully and clearly communicate their vision. The first idea you have to bring the client’s vision to life is generally not the best idea. Succeeding in this case takes going back to the key concepts of the client’s vision until the designer creates a design that puts the designer on the same wavelength as the client. This was the case at the non-profit I interned at over the summer. Not only did my employers not want my specific style that I spent three years creating (through failures), they also did not want my ideas. Thus, I had to fail over and over again to try and match the style they wanted, and translate their ideas into a simple icon. Around 20 of the 30 icon versions I proposed to my employers were rejected. However, in the last two weeks of my three month internship I was able to think like my employers and design what they wanted in a few tries.

The field of art is much the same. No beginner just makes great pieces. At some point along the way, there were failures. Ira Glass said something to the effect that “at first the work you are making is really not that good”. I have been sketching since I was around 8 or 9 years of age, but my first attempts at celtic knots looked atrocious. However, the more I failed, the more I learned, and the more creative I could try to be. In order to make something as creative and beautiful as you can, you have utilize everything you have learned, the culmination of your failures. That opens the artist up to the possibility of failure, because they are pushing past what is comfortable and known in order to make something greater than before.

Celtic/nordic dragon

In both graphic design and art, the only way to progress is to fail many times. It is this failing and doing that causes the artist and designer to progress. If you want to be good at something, you are willing to suffer for it. Art and graphic design are two of the things I enjoy most in this world, but both of these things can feel like I am sliding my arm along a sharp piece of class. If I did not feel that way, I would not see much worth in doing graphic design and art. The consistent failure and betterment found in doing is very rewarding. Therefore let us push on, breaking our fear of failing by doing.