One of the easiest ways to create mediocre work is to think about the end before thinking about the beginning. What I mean by that is, first considering any project in the context of your portfolio, resume, etc. is toxic and reductive to its quality. By questioning whether or not any given project has the potential to become a “portfolio piece” is to reduce the work down to a means of presentation—to suggest its mere visual representation merits more importance than its reality of nuance and experience. What happened to creating “stupid shit?”
The thought, “Will this be a portfolio piece?,” comes with the expectation of what you think a portfolio looks like. Such expectations result in a regurgitation of trends and gimmicks, not in the practice of design or in design concepts, but in presentation. Casting the expectation over every project that it must be able to fit into your portfolio—to a fault—doesn’t allow any room for failure. Avoiding the vulnerability which comes with experimentation or following a hunch makes for a cookie-cutter portfolio.
Whether artist or designer, your profession extends beyond simply building a body of work. Failing to understand this is to buy into the “idea” of your craft and not the craft itself. Don’t allow yourself to lose the unexpected process of discovery and improvisation. Don’t allow yourself to grow out of the phase of challenging your own views. Don’t neglect to see the value in vulnerability.
I fear that we rarely create for creation’s sake anymore. I fear that we rarely create to learn. Instead, it seems as though creations intent is built on the purpose of gaining exposure. Everything we create is a tactical move to increase likes and, if possible, increase monetary gain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course we should want to grow in popularity and also make some money in the process, however, the “will this be a portfolio piece?” mindset is inherently limiting.
When you run everything through this filter, you prevent yourself from truly growing as an individual. Instead, you grow according to everyone else—you become a response. When you become so caught up in whether or not what you’re creating is good enough to put on your website or share on social media, you’re not building a body of work, you’re building facade. The ability to create freely and on impulse is incredibly necessary to your personal growth. Not to mention, it’s usually the stupid shit we decide to work on that end up being the coolest, that end up being the most enjoyable to work on, that end up being worthwhile, that we end up yearning to do again. Often times, the projects which excel are the ones we least expected to.
“Will this be a portfolio piece? Will this do good on dribbble? Will this fit in my Instagram feed? Will this get me a promotion? Will this make money? Will this be successful?”
These are all reasonable questions, but they aren’t necessarily the questions you should be asking. Instead, perhaps you should be asking the very simple question of, can I make it? Very often the answer is yes, but we cloud our thoughts will all of these other weightless and deceiving questions.
What good do any of the questions above do other than prevent you from creating? We convince ourselves that these questions serve as a filter to prevent us from doing stupid shit and for maximizing ROI, but sometimes the stupid shit is the most fun. Sometimes the stupid shit challenges us the most. Sometimes the stupid shit is what makes us grow the most. Sometimes the stupid shit is the most successful. Sometimes it’s so crazy, it just might work.