tools of the trade by Annemarie Gorissen

Design for yourself

If you ask me, designing for yourself is one of the most difficult things to do. First of all because I am my own worst critic. And there’s no sugar coating it when it comes to criticizing myself. Either I love it or it’s sh*t. I tend to work on something for quite some time, get a bit lost in it before I take another good look and realize it’s not going where I want it to. So I wipe everything clean and start over. So much wasted time (and yes, Thomas Edison failed a thousand times attempting to invent the light bulb and he learned from his mistakes and changed our lives in the end. Bla bla. But I bet he was frustrated).

There’s no sugar coating it when it comes to criticizing myself. Either I love it or it’s sh*t.

The second thing is there is no real deadline. There’s always an opening for updating, adjusting or even starting over. Sometimes that means I work way too long on something because I feel it needs to be perfect. But at times I also ‘finish’ something just because you have to stop at some point. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it’s just done for now and I can always come back to it tomorrow or next week.

There is a middle road somewhere, there must be.

Tools of an illustrator. Illustration: Annemarie Gorissen
Tools of the trade // illustration by Annemarie Gorissen

I’ve designed quite a lot of things for myself and I learned a thing or two. Let me share some tips (note to self: listen to your own advice every now and then).

Start with being your client, before being the designer.

  • Brief yourself. Start your own projects as you would for a client. Start with being your client, before being the designer. Write down what you want. What should it feel like, who is it for, what does it need in terms of design.

I’ll take this blog as an example. I needed a name, a logo, a website (including all the huh-say-what-stuff like hosting), a target audience, a tone of voice, subjects to write about, categories. What do I want to share and who would want to read it? Just the basics. I’ve been thinking about most of these things subconsciously for a while. So I had a vague idea of the contents of the blog. I figured I had something to share that might be interesting for all you dreamers, creatives and adventurers out there.

  • Brainstorm. Write, draw, sketch. Everything that comes to mind. One thing will lead to the next and you will get somewhere. I promise. I sat down and started looking at blogs and possible templates, reading about successful bloggers and finally thinking of names. I came up with the lamest things and wrote everything down, starting with keywords and ending with possible names.

You’re dying to know right? Okay then, just don’t laugh. Live play make / eat play love (that one was already taken) / creating my life / the creative dreamer / drawing up plans / the perpetual creative / make this work (already taken obviously) / sharpening my pencils / the drawing box (I was getting somewhere by now) / pencils and pasta. There it was. And it was available. Jackpot. And this isn’t even half of what I wrote down.

  • Research and plan. Okay, so you should have an enormous to do list by now. Write it down. First things first. Small steps. I felt quite overwhelmed with this big plan.

I wanted a blog. So I did the research: blogger, wordpress or…? Turns out there’s a wordpress.com and a .org. What? Free, premium or business account or self hosted? (Actually I ordered Premium and then canceled the day after. Deleted the wordpress.com account and started over at wordpress.org. You live, you learn). I wanted my own design, but I also wanted wordpress. And I am not a coder, so I compromised and I bought a template I could live with – another struggle of designing for yourself: It’s never exactly as you want it. I had to come up with a logo. That came pretty quickly. The upside of designing for yourself: you cán just do it yourself. That is a big bonus, I realize that. I needed to get this whole thing up and running somehow. And I needed to start writing content before I could show anyone. At this point most of all, I needed another to do list.

Brushes in a jar
Get to work // photo by Joshua Niedermayer.
  • Get to work. Do your thing. If I get excited about something I can work day and night. I kind of did. But if you’re not like that: make time in your schedule and keep to it. Be reasonable. It doesn’t have to be done tomorrow, but you also don’t want this to be another great idea that never left the pages of your sketchbook.
  • Let it rest. Don’t hit publish just yet. As I would do with a commission (if there’s time), I leave it be for a day or so. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.
  • Adjust. While you were away from your project you probably thought about it and came up with a few smart solutions. I have my best ideas in the shower. When it’s impossible to write them down. When you look at what you made the day before, you might want to change a thing or two. Go ahead.

Step away from your work. I have my best ideas in the shower. When it’s impossible to write them down.

  • Be your client. Take another look at your initial briefing and the work you’ve done. Then try to be objective. Leave all the hard work you put into certain parts out of the equation. Be honest, should it be changed, can it be better, should you add or remove something? So now you have a new to do list.
  • Adjust. Yep, once more. Off you go.
  • Be proud. You did it. Lean back and feast your eyes on your hard labour.
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2 thoughts on “Design for yourself

    1. Thank you, Kim Anne! It will probably always be a struggle, right? It really helped me to see it as a ‘real’ assignment instead of a personal project.

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