It’s easy to get caught up in creative energy and excitement. We can sometimes be so in love with a project that we seek to take charge of every element.
We want to draw every icon and illustration, we want to take every photo and do all the post production, we want to define every character that appears on the page, and we want to develop everything in the backend or print every page ourselves.
There’s a novelty in making something. It’s an addictive novelty and when we’ve done it once, we want a repeat performance of that feeling. So any chance there is to make something, we jump at it.
It’s how I operated for years. I have a strong curiosity, but it’s splinters too easily. I’m not just worried about the meal that’s in front of me, I want to know what everyone else at my table is eating. Hell, I want to know what every meal in the restaurant tastes like, then go out the back and learn how to cook it all myself.
It’s difficult to scale that impulse back. Doing so feels like I’m cheating myself out of an experience that I can have if I just divert my attention for scarcely a moment.
But such a schizophrenic way of operating leads to two things:
- 1. Exhaustion. Looking too much and too many things in too many situations leaves me exhausted and without the energy to focus on what’s important.
- 2. Shallowness. In looking at so much I don’t leave myself open to go deep on any topic.
At first this looks like an argument about specialization vs being a jack of all trades.
But it isn’t.
The problem is further down the road – it’s being aware of all trades. I’d be lucky to move up to being a jack of them all, let alone specialize in any.
In having been off my grind for a couple of years, I’ve been amazed at what’s greeted me as I returned.
It’s stuff. Lots, and lots of stuff.
Icons, typefaces, front-end development and design resources so rich in variance and quality that I wonder how much more of the web stack I even need to learn.
In years past I would have felt that I needed to produce everything myself. The notion of using free materials felt akin to a three-hatted chef using microwaved rice.
But my work suffered for it. I’d spend so much time doing things I couldn’t do well, that I’d end up with an element that didn’t look good, and less time on making the rest of the design something worth using. Everything suffered because of my egotistical lust for creative novelty.
It’d be foolish of me to suggest that everyone has their own little world and should stay within it. I know some people suggest that only illustrators should illustrate, and no one but the photographer should take the photo.
That’s a gross way to operate. I think everyone should chase down their creative urges, it’s one of life’s greatest rewards, and should be done as much as humanly possible.
All I’m saying is that I can’t be surprised when my work is of lesser quality because I continuously stopped chasing the animal in front of me to go after the one that comes into the lower corner of my vision as I run past.
For years I was convinced it’d serve me best to learn to play every instrument in the pit. But in trying to do so, I didn’t learn much more than the sound each made. I sometimes dashed past them so quickly I didn’t even pick them up, just poked at them.
I’ve lately been toying with the idea of the designer being the conductor. One to whom each instrument is deeply known and respected, but who knows they are not capable of pulling from it sounds beautiful and rich enough.
But boy can they bring them all together. They know when to push back some sounds and bring others forward. The give dominance to the right pieces at the right time. They know how to control the quiet spaces between the notes.
They know how to make dozens of instruments in a room not simply make noise, but make music.