You Snooze, You Lose – Reasons & Ways to Avoid Design Apathy

This is my reasoning on why procrastinating on idea development is bad, and my take on how to get motivated & avoid design apathy.

As a designer, I know what it’s like to have an awesome design hit me at 2:00 a.m. and think "I’ll do that in the morning", only to have it disappear in the land between sleep and awake. I also know what it’s like to have an amazing idea that you plan to "get around to later", only to see it show up on television, or in someone else’s portfolio. C’mon, You know you thought of it long before that guy! But, really, who’s gonna believe you?

What happens a lot of times also, is that you may not necessarily be the first to do something, but at the time when you thought to do it there were only a few examples of that technique. Sadly, when you finally get around to it, the style, technique or typeface that you wanted to experiment with has become a huge trend online and most likely lost its appeal. By that point, you simply write it off and move on to something else.

The problem with ideas—especially the good ones—is that they’re like treasure during the Gold Rush. If you know there’s gold to be found in the hills and you don’t go out and get it, then someone else is sure to find it. And once one person finds that gold, everyone else heads that direction and stays there until there’s nothing else of value. Unique ideas are no different. Your idea could be the beginning of a point of change in design.

Not that it was going to be revolutionary or anything, but my latest experience with orphaned ideas is the concept of using watercolor as a primary element in the design of this site. A while back, in an effort to go offline for inspiration in online design, I trotted on down to the nearest Hobby Lobby and grabbed two tubes of watercolor paints in two different shades of blue. Unfortunately, I sat on this one for a very long time and that idea that I neglected for so long was implemented by others who put turned it into something real once they decided it was something they wanted to do. Examples are Antonio Orozco’s new site, launched at the beginning of 2007, Happy Cog and Web Designer Wall, all of whom use watercolors as design elements. Needless to say, I had to take my design in a different direction. But, one thing I had to realize was that missing the boat on this one was all my fault. Foiled, yet again!

So, the question arises: How does a designer avoid being only a back-room innovator… an idea alienator… a teacher-but-not-doer… all bark and no bite? Here are a few pointers that I think might help.

  1. Solidify Your Initial Thoughts

    If you don’t have a sketchbook, then you’ll probably want to get one. It’s always good to convert abstract concepts into something more tangible. Jot down a brief, written explanation of what you’re thinking or try to rough it out. Even if your idea or the execution of it isn’t exactly clear in your head, scribble down what you have. It might be a bit cloudy, but a very rough sketch is better than a half-memory.

  2. Discuss Your Idea With Like-Minded People

    Don’t be afraid to start talking about your new idea. Once you start telling people about what you’re brainstorming, all sorts of good things can happen.

    If you’re one who’s afraid someone will take your new idea and use it, talk about it anyway. The fear of having it swiped from you could be the kick in the butt that you need to get moving! (Although, I would hope that your design peers are cooler than that.)

    Another good thing that could come out of peer discussion is that you get feedback on your concept. This feedback, along with peer suggestions can help you refine your idea and avert certain tough situations down the road.

    A conversation like this also gives you the opportunity to hear yourself talk about it. This has a subconscious impact. It makes a concept feel more real, thus making you more likely to follow through.

  3. Discuss Your Idea with Non-Designers

    This could be synonymous with “people who applaud you no matter what”. Take Mom, for instance. I don’t recall ever telling my Mom about something I plan to do, only to have her respond with: “Well, how will that approach impact the overall usability?” And, while siblings are usually not afraid to say things like: “Aaron, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard…” the chances of getting negative feedback from them and other non-designers are slim.

    They’re not going to be critiquing the concept; they’re just hearing you out. And what they say usually serves as the positive feedback that you need in order to get over any inhibitions that you may have. Call it moral support.

  4. Google It

    It’s always good to jump online and see what’s going on around you when you’re about to do something new. If you’re inventing something that has yet to be used, you want to make sure it truly is a unique idea before touting it as such.

    Also, you can get an awful lot of design inspiration from other designers’ work. Even when you’re striving to be unique in some aspect of design, there is nothing wrong with allowing another designer or artist’s work influence you.

    In my opinion, we are all influenced by each other’s work in some way or another. Sometimes these influences are subconscious, other times intentional. But either way, it’s usually constructive and rarely detrimental.

  5. Get Started

    You can’t finish something that you never start. If you do everything previously mentioned a million times over, but never do anything about it, you run the risk of becoming a serial planner whose ideas motivate others, but has no work to show for himself. While you may not realize it, your peer conversations have a sort of symbiotic effect: you benefit and so do your peers.

    So, chances are, that as a result of what they know you’re working on, they’ve gone home and started working on ideas that started churning in their heads during the brainstorming session. While it’s awesome that you were able to motive other people, you don’t want to be the only one who’s consistently trying to “get around to” creating your truly original idea.

The point of all this is: when you have a great idea, don’t sit on it. It does you no good to have the creative juices flowing if you don’t create anything that serves as a representation of that creativity. So, whatever you do, stay motivated, stay fresh and keep producing.



  1. Cody Marx Bailey writes:

    You cannot force the creative process. It has to come natural.

  2. Mayhem writes:

    @Cody Marx – I think you’re missing the point. Once you do get that creative drive, he’s saying not to pass on it. I doubt he’s implying you should sit there and force an idea out. But, again , once that great idea comes, don’t sit on it or someone else may have already done it – then you look like the copy cat.

  3. Kevin M. Scarbrough writes:

    One of the most important points you’ve made is to discuss the design with non-designers.

    My wife is a chef, which makes for amusing conversations whenever she glimpses through a show book and we come across packaging for culinary bits and the horrible impracticality so many impose because of the flaws in the design.

  4. @mrhaw writes:

    I e-mail myself ideas all the time! As web design is my side kick I do it from my full time job. Or when travelling and using public computers. I never need to go back to those e-mails or notes as I can remember why I wrote them.