Creators and the Incurable Disease

A brief observation of the neuroses of creative perfection

Nathan Beck, January 2014

Among the many ailments suffered by designers and creators of all types, few afflictions equal the persistent discontent with one's own work. We’re never happy. And typically, the longer we spend on any project, the deeper our discontent takes root. We learn quickly, and thus our knowledge becomes rapidly outdated. So we revisit and revise, investing in enduring improvement. Or we give up and leave our creations to stagnate.

The finest example of this, in the case of the web designer, is the eponymous portfolio site. It is our ultimate lab. The palette upon which paints blend and mix, but never find final form. It exists in a state of flux, as we apply our newly-discovered knowledge and skills, testing and tinkering and every so often scrunching it up and tossing it in the bin. Nothing is more attractive, and terrifying, than a blank canvas.

This site has existed for many years as a dusty untouched canvas. I saw mediocrity creep in amongst fellow designers, as the fear of that itching restlessness urged them to take the easy way out. Grunge and gloss and 8-bit aesthetics gave way to the Cargo Collective. Fun experimentation without fear of failure bowed down to sterility, the focus on nothing but the content. The more watered down and inoffensive designers’ portfolio sites became, the harder it was to fall out with them, to want to fix them. To feel much emotion toward them at all. The Swiss had it figured out a long time ago.

Arrogance and idleness caused me to jump ship. I no longer desired late evenings spent fiddling with fonts and jacking around with jQuery. I dismantled my portfolio site, and I stopped blogging. There were too many others, more prolific and dependable, saying much the same thing. I took a backseat to focus on learning, and applying my skills in a commercial environment with clients that required them much more than my peers. I thought this would cure that perennial discontent. But of course it hasn’t.

I am a designer. I work with an amazing team at BLISS. Occasionally I write, and sometimes I teach. I fiddle for my own amusement (steady now), and occasionally for that of others. I love what I do. But I don’t do it for awards, for the adulation of my peers, or to get featured on showcase websites (although that’s all very nice). I’m not saving the world. I do it because it’s my job. I do it because I have a knack for something that others don’t. And people pay me to do it. And every day I’m grateful for that.

But sometimes you have to face the fact that some itches can never be scratched. Looking at this weary canvas disappoints me. I miss having a portfolio site I can fiddle with. Something for myself. An anthology of experience and a measure of my progress. Perhaps it really is nothing more than a sash of scout badges, but I’ve come to the decision that there’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you’ve achieved.

So, as I’ve said many times before, soon there will be a new website in the place of this text. Let’s just say sometime in 2014, I wouldn’t want to make a promise I couldn’t keep!