Your Last Design Is Not Your Career


As designers, we’ve all had those moments where a design starts slipping toward disaster. You can’t balance artistic needs with the client needs, or the concept and the execution aren’t mixing, or it’s 1 a.m. with the deadline tomorrow and you’re just not sure where the heck to go from here.

And if you’re a freelance designer—or a newly hired designer with a lot to prove to your agency—the bad thoughts probably set in. “This is it. My career is over. I’m finished.”

But, here’s a really important thing to remember: You are not that design.

Your skills, education, potential and passion are not summed up in that one project, no matter how awful. Even if you lose the client or have to go back to the drawing board, your career still does not equal this failure.

Now, hold onto that, because there’s a bit of bad news, too.

You’re not your best design, either.

Yeah, those ones that come so easily it’s like you dreamed them up? The ones where the client oohs and ahhs and sends it to print with nominal editing while simultaneously handing you a shiny new contract?  That’s not you, either.

You know why? Because your career isn’t defined by one design, good or bad.

Instead, it’s a continuous cycle of projects. So what really matters is how you move from one project to the next, and the way your skill and professionalism develop over time. Also, tenacity is key—tenacity to move forward when you know your best and worst designs will soon be yesterday’s news.

So if you’re trapped in a bad design, take a deep breath. It doesn’t mean the end of your career. And if you’ve just finished a good one, take a deep breath. You’ve still got to do that approximately 932 more times before retirement. 

And always remember: Your career is continuous and transformative, and it never boils down to just one design.

We’ll leave you with this quote from designer Sean Adams, shared by HOW Design. It perfectly sums up what we mean:

“I didn’t know that time is forgiving. Saul Bass told me that success is defined by a series of successful projects over an extended period of time. I didn’t listen. I was convinced that every project was my last chance to succeed. Alternatively, each failure signaled the end of my career. Saul was right. Some projects were as ugly as something the cat coughed up, but the next one was better. And some projects were incredibly successful, and then the next one came along and it was left behind. The world isn’t black and white.”