A Designer's Comfort Zone

Fred Yates

Being a designer, I’ve got a style I’m comfortable using to get the job done. This is a style that everyone is pleased with and can always be my go to method for creating a successful design. As fun as producing the same great design that impresses everyone is, I often want to explore new styles and try new things.

A predicament that I’ve always had with new projects is whether to try new things or stick with my tried and proven method of creating quality work. I’ve done both and never had a project fail or succeed because of the approach I chose to take. I have been happier with the result when using my standard styles and sticking inside my comfort zone. However, when experimenting with new styles I’ve grown as a designer and learned quite a bit. So which is the right path to take? In the end I definitely think the design path I choose to take needs to cater to the project specifics but that’s not to say the aesthetics won’t be influenced by styles I’m comfortable using.

Another issue that plays a factor is the thoughtbot design style. Do we have one? Do clients hire us in part because they like our specific style or just because they trust that we are good at design? I know some agencies like Happy Cog and MetaLab have very recognizable styles and are probably often hired because a client wants that style. If thoughtbot is hired to produce our style and I experiment with new things but still succeed in producing great design, is this a disservice to our clients?

I feel that since I’m a designer, I’m a creative individual and as long as it’s in the best interest of the project, I’m going to try whatever I want. I’m not a machine that just outputs good work, I am a constantly evolving source of fresh design. If you continue to produce the same exact work in any walk of life, you’ll never get better and it’s always a goal of mine to be constantly improving.

Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain had something very interesting to say about his recent Steinway project:

One of my personal goals for this project was to get away from relying on the same techniques that I’ve become comfortable with over the years… and it was actually harder than I thought it would be. I found myself resorting to the same button styles, shading techniques, etc… and having to force myself to go back and change things up. I figured that if these guys can spend a year making a single piano, I could probably spend an extra couple hours here and there on refining these details.

It’s nice to know that other designers make an effort to veer away from their comfort zones in an attempt to make the client happier. As a designer, how do you feel about experimenting during client projects? Do you always stick to your comfort zone or do you try new stuff? As a client how do you feel about a designer’s approach? I’ve always been curious about these things and look forward to hearing some responses in the comments.