How Originality Kills You

April 8th, 2011

Sorry to burst your bubble, but trying to be original or as unique a snowflake as you can be isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Basically, don’t try to reinvent the wheel with your projects. You will probably be stuck on trying to create something completely original and totally miss the objectives of the design issue at hand.

Hindsight being 20/20…

Reflecting back on my past science fair projects, I realize that I thought I had to do something completely out of the box to get top marks, but I was wrong. Teachers wanted to see that I understood the concepts I was learning by applying them, in this case, the scientific method. What I needed was a simple scientific question, even a tried and true one, to demonstrate that I could write a thesis and conclusion or whatever. Instead I got marks for my writing, but by trying to be unique with my project ideas when I wasn’t really a science genius was a mistake. The real content wasn’t there in the projects I chose because they ended up not being feasible since I chased after ideas that were beyond my capabilities. I also spent way too much time thinking of how to be different, putting a lot of pressure on myself with deadlines looming, when I could have already written my report about a science project chosen from a book.

What I’m getting at in relation to design projects

Don’t think you have to be super original to rise to the top. Learn and apply the basics first, even if you have to create a very simple website. Once you’ve practiced the basics enough, new solutions will become apparent. Trying to be original won’t lead to those solutions.

Don’t think you need your own special style either. Approach every project as a series of problems to solve, and seek the best solution. Lasting success won’t come from just applying every Photoshop technique that’s hot at the moment. You will also evolve as you find inspiration outside of web design, and maybe even branch out into other types of design or art.

In relation to development

Especially when starting out, don’t think your app has to be something completely out of the blue that will just blow everyone away. You might not ever come across that idea, and you’ll be even less likely to implement it properly. Start by looking at current apps, or try solving some common problems, just for the experience. Along the way you may find different or better solutions. You may even spark a truly unique idea of your own and will have gained the know-how to make it a reality.

Have personal projects, and have fun with them

Your personal projects will show your skills and what you really enjoy doing. If you want to get into design or development, you will be showing that you practice it and have mastered the basics. Concentrate on having the basics be the most polished they can be whether it’s good design or clean code. If it’s employment you’re looking for, the employer will realize your skills and maybe see that with the right direction you’d be valuable on their unique projects.

I’m not condemning those who want to experiment. Experimentation with design and development is a great way to learn and discover what you really love. I’m saying that sitting around thinking you have to get ahead of everyone by being the most original is a trap that leads to poorer quality, if it leads anywhere at all. Also don’t fall into the trap of thinking “it’s all been done or seen before, why bother” — practice is a good reason to bother. You need to start somewhere. As you practice more and expose yourself to more experiences, the creativity will come.

Your thoughts?

Discussion about creativity and originality is very broad and I feel like I’ve only just touched on it a bit here and maybe not done it enough justice. Let me know what your thoughts are and feel free to link me to any good articles about creativity you may know of.

1 Comment

  1. I always try to go against the grain and come up with my own stuff. I try not to look at research and will totally obsess over something before I design. I will sketch and then go digital. However, I don’t have the idea of coming up with something original because that is impossible. Because there isn’t “original” ideas.

    How many times have you seen something you’ve done only to see it a couple weeks later in a magazine. I think you hit the nail on the head “practice is a good reason to bother.” I know that I want to design something cool so that keeps me going. Keep postin’.

    Comment by kirk visola — June 30, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

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