Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

My taste is why my work disappoints me

October 19, 2011, 7:37 AM

A thought-provoking piece, something that should probably be read as a mantra each morning, titled “Your taste is why your work disappoints you”:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have that special think that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one story. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass

In short, there is no easy way out. You have to sweat over everything you do if you want it to be any good. Of course, you need talent just to have a real chance of getting somewhere in what you’re doing, but that will only get you as far as ‘decent’ — you need perseverance to make it to the ‘good’ section. And, with a bit of luck, you might even see a glimpse of ‘great’.

It felt like a small epiphany reading this — too often I’ve found myself unhappy with my work. I’ve always thought that a good way of learning is to watch others how they do it. And it was, for me at least. I would often surprise my college friends by being able to work in their style after watching them do just one or two drawings. But watching is not enough. It can break the ice for you, but if you want to make it to the shore, you’re on your own, with no one to help you. You have to go through it alone, fighting your own damned self. Beacons (mentors, colleagues, other sources of inspiration) might guide you awhile now and then, but most of the time, you’re in the dark, swimming for your very soul. You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind. If you ever think “It’s easy, I know how to do this”, they’ve probably got you.

You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind.

The quote is a transcript from a video interview with Glass, the “On Taste…” part. You can watch it here on Youtube. Via Untitled Mag, Kottke.

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Comments:

If you knew how to do it, what’s the difference between being a designer and working in a factory, at the assembly line? The scare of not being good enough makes you think, makes you better, keeps you alive.

For me, ‘doing’ something refers to the full process, from the way of thinking to the way of actually ‘crafting’ it. Since you’ve mentioned the assembly line, I do believe there is a degree of skill, pride and thoroughness that the people working there should have (especially if those working on a Ferrari line :).

Just because our work is, let’s say, a bit more intelectual, it doesn’t mean that it is in any way more ‘worthy’. On the large scale, a masterfully sculpted chair by an unknown carpenter is just as beautiful as a poster by Paul Rand or Milton Glaser, if not more.

Thank you for your thoughts.

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I’ve read this before Probably because of this bit of text I haven’t quit yet.

[…] the pieces was the “your taste is why your work dissapoints you” quote from Mr Ira Glass that I wrote about a few weeks ago. This time it’s a talk from Mrs Lynda Barry, on the topic of […]

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[…] You might also like my post, “My taste is why my work disappoints me.” […]

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Wow, this quote really resonates with me. Good find.

Glad you like it — here’s the follow-up. Cheers!

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