The (Re)Designer’s Itch

The (Re)Designer’s Itch

Nov 28, 2012 Opinions

So, let’s say you’re a web designer. Having just recently finished what you thought was the best client project ever, you slowly transition back into your personal work. You look at your design mockups, wireframes, your archive of personal styles and palettes of idea.psds. You look at your development sandbox, your in-progress, half-finished experiments, you look at incomplete draft articles, a discarded art-direction idea for your blog and finally, you look at your own website.

Then, you notice how much you’ve learnt over the past few weeks with your last client. The new techniques you’ve brushed up. The new kinds of oeuvres you’ve come up with. You then sit and think, mumbling to yourself, whilst switching back and forth, command-tabbing between your client’s project and your stale designs. You take one long look. You scratch your chin. Your eyes glimmer. You want to do a redesign.

The Itch

There’s nothing more liberating than redesigning a personal blog, side-project, or even, and entire identity — like a portfolio or a website perhaps. The feeling that you can design whatever you want (even more so provoked after working with a client) is incredibly liberating. You get to work on a design that’s free of extraneous choices, over-the-shoulder critique, and the odd smirk given by a colleague. In its essence, its your own work that you’re criticizing yourself. You think of it as a new way to apply and refine the new skills you’ve learnt, and refine them as you use them. Or, maybe you just think of it as replacing an old, worn-out design.

But it’s all for the better of you. When you’re redesigning, you’re essentially smearing over your last piece of work, blurring what you once thought was brilliant. You think you’re improving the way you view yourself as, with the new styles and techniques you want to show the world you know. And because of this pressure of keeping up with your show of the trend, this redesign of yours, is basically an obligation you’ve set upon yourself. An obligation you’ve formed in which you’ll spend countless hours staying up late working on. An itch you’ve formed yourself — and it needs scratching.

The Scratch

Just as anyone would tell you, “don’t scratch that itch else it’ll get worse.” The idea that over-satisfying this obligation is in fact, a true reality. If you spend lots of time scratching long and hard enough, there’s a huge chance that this obligation will become an overflowing pustule of an addiction. There are many of you who know this already, and one might even say you have already experienced this as a minor case once before: You start an illustration, or even, a small chunk of a webpage perhaps. You then work to get something you most definitely like, only to come back later just to completely hate what you’ve made. So you “reiterate” to satisfy yourself, only then to hate it later yet again. This first choice, out of all your full reiterations, would have been the best out of all because you designed it with purpose and instinct. Not pleasure nor satisfaction.

Taking it back full-scale, redesigning can be overdone. And you don’t want to redesign so much and too many times until that itch of yours turns into a red, consuming lump of mass. And no, that’s really not a good thing.

Like any other obvious reason on why you shouldn’t scratch that itch, redesigning is purely time-consuming. There are many other things you could spend time on instead of fixing what isn’t broken. Remember that old idea you had? Why not turn it into a reality — a fully fledged beneficial project. Else, you could simply spend time with the people who appreciate you rather than with yourself.

Anti-itching Cream

Now, perhaps you’ve given yourself some thought on whether you should redesign or not — or even, asked yourself what counts as a “redesign.” After all, if you keep a design for long enough without the slight urge of scrapping it and starting from scratch, then your current design is the most likely fine as is. If you’re confident enough with your design, then it is assumed that most people will like it, too.

A perfect example of this is John Gruber’s Daring Fireball weblog. It’s design, being critically acclaimed, has never been changed for over ten years.

So the next time you get the impulse to redesign, ask yourself, is there anything wrong with my current design? Does it effectively convey its message? Is the coat of paint still fresh?

If so, your impulse might simply be you wanting to scratch your itch. Your longing to spend so much time and effort redesigning, spending all of what you think you can do on something you may regard as your best work ever, is ultimately for yourself. In the end, don’t confuse an itch with an infection.

  • R

    Good food for thought.

  • Dan Eden

    I suffer from “The Itch” an awful lot. I tend to redesign my blog about 3 times a year, each one “better” than the last. Bizarrely, when I look back on the designs of my blog, I recognise that the newer iterations are better; however, when it comes to client work, I feel as though I did as well as I could – if not save for a few small changes and refinements. I think this is down to the fact I consider my own site more of a sandbox for exploring design techniques I’d otherwise avoid in client work.

    “The Itch” is certainly not a bad thing. What is bad is scratching said itch with an entire redesign – throwing out the baby with the bathwater, if you will. I had a similar thought when I participated in a playoff on Dribbble. I know Dribbble is a place for fun as much as it is for criticism, but many designers who redesign a website throw out many of the long-lived patterns in the existing interface or design, without considering how the original designer arrived to that solution. Working within the constraints of an existing design—tweaking and improving in small stages—is what makes a better designer.

    • Joshua Sortino

      I think this is the difference between designing for a client (which requires a deliverable) and continuous product design. When designing your blog, you are building a product that satisfies your needs. You continue to use that product—your blog—months later. Over that time, you find flaws and your instinct is to improve them. However, client work usually consists of a deliverable. At that point, you are emotionally and mentally detached from the project. While the client may find flaws over time, you will not because you’re not actively using the product.

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