As creatives, we all do it, don’t we? We are naturally curious creatures, and as such, we just can’t help but look around at what other designers are doing. That might mean noticing posters in the train station on the way to work or getting design-envy over a book cover or magazine spread or piece of packaging on a shelf.
The thing is, we’re surrounded by other designers’ work, and we can’t help but analyse it. It’s normal to have moments where we compare our skills with others – and that can be a very healthy thing. It can keep us on our toes, help us try out fresh ideas, and encourage us to be better at our craft.
But nowadays, we live in a digital world, where we are not only casual observers of other people’s design but also force-fed it every minute of every day. We see it every time we check our social media pages; we see it on websites and pop-ups and emails and digital newsletters. Right now, many of us are in danger of suffering from a very recent phenomenon; “comparison fatigue”.
OK, so maybe it’s not entirely a new thing, but it’s certainly a lot easier to be exposed to it than it was in the past. I’d like to explore that a little. Because as the title of this article suggests, comparison can be healthy, but it can so easily become an all-consuming, paralysing thing that stops us from being our best.
Should we be checking out our competition or avoid doing that altogether?
Why we might compare
We don’t - and shouldn’t - work in a vacuum. Outside design can inspire us and influence us to break out of our comfort zones and try new things. Purely from a design perspective, a little comparison can fire us up.
Knowing what the latest trends are, how they work and who they appeal to lets our clients know that we have a handle on modern design. And one of the ways we do that is to look around at how other designers are doing it.
It can also be useful from a business viewpoint. Like it or not, most of our clients don’t want to be given old-fashioned or outdated designs. For them to sell their products, it’s vital that they are able to appeal to the masses – and (perhaps, unfortunately), the masses want what’s ‘right now’.
If you’re set on making money from our business, then even in your own branding, you have to be able to balance your appeal to your audience with your own individual identity. Yes, you want to stand out and be recognised, but you don’t want to be so ‘out there’ that your branding is off-putting.
It’s impossible to avoid comparing ourselves to other designers, and while we need to realise that it’s useful to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, it’s also important to know when to draw the line…
I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and I still find myself looking at what other designers are doing and thinking, “should I be doing the same as them, or them, or them…”. It’s a trap that many of us fall into from time to time – I think that’s pretty normal and most definitely human. We’re conditioned to ‘fit in’, aren’t we? Right from the days of wearing school uniforms and sitting in neat little rows on the classroom carpet, our lesson starts early. To be liked and accepted, be like the rest.
Perhaps that’s why it’s become normal to compare ourselves so much. We are almost afraid to break out of that mindset, so we seek validation that we’re ‘doing things right.’
But hang on – isn’t it true that the clients who hire you to create their websites, their branding, their brochures, etc., choose you because they like your style and how you do things? So, if you were to do the same things as your competitors, then why on earth would businesses choose you over them? They’d have no reason to, would they?
Sure, you might look at what other designers are doing with a pang of envy, but the thing to remember is that the people that buy from them are not the same people who buy from you. Your clients want something that only you can offer, but if all you’re doing is mimicking another designer, then why shouldn’t they choose them? They are, after all, the genuine article.
This translates not only into your design but the way you do business and conduct yourself. There have been plenty of times when I’ve questioned my own decisions – should I have remained with my last agency? Did I do the right thing by going it alone? Should I have done what X did, and would I have ended up being as successful as she is if I had?
Again, it’s common to feel that way. But trust your own instincts – they’re usually right. Everyone’s path is different, and the fact that somebody else looks like they’re doing better than you isn’t always the truth. And I’d be willing to bet that by following your own way, you’ll find that there are plenty of people who admire what you’re doing and are thinking, “should I be doing that?”.