Design Superstars

Get Back in the Game: Tips for Overcoming a Failed Design Project

January 17, 2013 Design No Comments

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Not every project is going to turn out as you expect. There are even a handful of those that will fall into the failure or unsuccessful category. But what you do with those projects next is really what will help you move forward and become a more successful designer or developer down the road.

A lot of design has to do with the person receiving the work. These are the learning experiences that matter and the ones we will focus on. (This is not an article on how to deal with a major, job-threatening mistake or error.) Sometimes it can be tough to get back in the game and think fresh after a project does not work out. Take your time and don’t rush into new projects too quickly, think about small victories along the way and takeaways for the next project to make the most out of the experience.

Why Projects Fail


Projects can fail for a number of reasons. The most common failures are artistic or creative and those that are fundamentally flawed. With design, especially, taste is a common factor and differences in artistic opinion can be tough to overcome. This is an almost-unavoidable failure. Even though a completed project may look great and work, the final product did not have the look that was wanted or desired.

Fundamental failures often result from a lack of communication between the designer and the client (or whoever the project is for) or bad practices on the part of the designer. All of these are avoidable. Designers must work to commit to and establish accurate timelines, budgets and proposals for each project. They need to stay in constant contact and communication with the client as well and meet the wants and needs of that person or group. Designers tend to think in more creative and free-flowing ways and must be cognizant of time management and organizational skills in relationship to meeting deadlines and completing tasks.

Things to Learn


But focusing on a failure is not the way to move ahead to more successful projects. You need to take some time to evaluate why something did not work and how to do things differently moving forward. Turn your failure into a future win by learning a few key things along the way. First, think about what went wrong. Was it avoidable or a difference in opinion? Could communication or other details have been better expressed?

Accept that you will fail. There are just as many failed design projects out there as successful ones. Understand that just because a project was not successful does not mean it is a total loss. Ask for feedback for the next time around. Even if you don’t want to hear it right away, these “post-mortem” thoughts can help you moving forward.

Take with you what you can. Have you ever designed a certain element (from a user interface tool to button) that you just loved but maybe could not use? Save all these little items for later. It will save you time and rework and likely the parts will come in handy for another project.

Learn to revise and follow directions. Regardless of what you think, the client is always right. They are paying you. Make revisions, adjustments and corrections as they desire. It is fine to argue a creative point, but in the end it is the client’s decision. Respect that.

Learn to show, not tell. Almost any project will be more successful if you can beat deadlines and present visuals along the way. That way there are no surprises along the way and both you and the others on the project team are on the same page from start to finish.

Jumpstart Your Creativity Again




Sometimes it is easy to get into a creative rut when a project does not work out. But it can be just as simple to get the juices flowing again.

Start by clearing your design plate. Finish up small projects so that you can really think about the next big thing. Clean your files, email folders and work station of everything from that project gone wrong. Out of sight and on to the next thing!

The final step to getting back in the game is to create again.

Take time out to be inspired. Take part in another creative event. Go to a concert, browse the web for design inspiration (Behance, Dribbble and Pinterest portfolios can be very inspiring) or sketch or draw or craft something just for fun. Reactivate the creative part of your brain again.

Create a positive work environment. Add a plant or artwork or music to your surroundings. Chat with co-workers or other professionals. Give yourself time and space to work. Carve out a few hours for creative thinking or brainstorming at a time of day when your mind naturally clicks better – for some that may be in the morning while others may think better later in the day.

Get out of the office and take frequent and productive breaks from the computer screen. Read your project outline and get out while you think about it.

Understand your knowledge and value. You’ve done plenty of good work. Look back though it. Use those successes to help start new projects. Know what you are good at and use those skills to your advantage.

Try to minimalize outside factors – get plenty of sleep, try to keep outside stress at bay and work with, not against, deadlines to avoid that feeling of being crunched under pressure.

Design Inspiration







Many of our opinions and attitudes about success actually come from failure. Even the worst projects can create a learning experience. Use that to your advantage to help make future projects even more successful.

About the Author -

Carrie Cousins has more than 10 years experience in the media industry, including writing for print and online publications, and design and editing. You can connect with her @carriecousins.

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