Taking Trips Outside of Your Design Comfort Zone


Humans crave comfort, familiarity and routine. It applies in our work just as it does in the rest of life. I admit that I have more than my share of eccentricities when it comes to the way I work. For example, I start each morning off the same way: I turn on my computer and open the apps I need – all in the exact same order. So you could say that I take things a bit seriously.

But it’s not just my startup routine. I also find this type of behavior in the way I go about designing and building a website. There are certain styles and layouts that I’m comfortable with. Don’t get me wrong, I do like some variation in how things look – but there are certain design “truths” that I subscribe to. So when someone asks me to deviate from them, I get a bit unnerved.

There’s both a level of fear and frustration when leaving one’s comfort zone. But it can actually be a much more rewarding experience than our brains will allow us to believe. Let’s explore why projects outside of our sweet spot can cause discomfort and some things we can do to take them on with enthusiasm (or cautious optimism, at least).

In a Happy Place

Success breeds complacency. That’s why, in the world of sports, it’s incredibly hard to win multiple championships in a row. Well, that and the fact that everyone else has an extra level of motivation to beat whoever’s at the top of the mountain.

In web design, successfully completing a project makes us feel great. That success can also result in becoming a bit formulaic in how we do things. Over time, our process evolves in some areas. But overall we do what we know has led to a positive outcome in the past. It would seem like a very natural reaction.

Then there’s also the added benefit of efficiency. When we have multiple projects to manage, it makes sense that we keep doing things the same way every time. There’s just not enough time to stray from what we know has worked. It’s just how we get things done.

That is, until someone comes along and disrupts our pattern.

Thanks for Ruining a Good Thing

Have you ever had a client ask you to create something that just isn’t your style? It can really throw you off your game.

Recently, I had a situation where I was asked to design a site that was going to look quite a bit different than what I would normally do. I was a bit taken aback by the request. Not because the client was in any way being hard to work with. It was more that I immediately had the feeling that I was going to fail.

My thought was that, if I’m going to go that far out of my comfort zone, there’s no way I can possibly succeed. This project was setup to completely destroy any design mojo that I had going for me. As a result, I simply dreaded putting a mockup together.

Of course, this was pretty much an irrational way to approach the situation. I’ve been at this for long enough to where I really should know better. But, like it or not, that’s usually my first reaction when life takes me to unexpected places. I wouldn’t call it one of my strongpoints.

Thanks for Ruining a Good Thing

No Reason to Panic

The biggest hurdle in these situations is often just sitting down and getting to work. Whether it’s the fear of failure or the sense that you don’t know what you’re doing, it seems that the longer you avoid doing uncomfortable things, the worse you feel.

Time and again, starting is the worst. That held true with this particular project. But I found that, after I fumbled around with some design concepts for awhile, things started to improve. All of the sudden, a decent idea grew into something better. My comfort level rose, as well.

Problem solving is part of design that doesn’t always occur to me. When you’re handed the same problem over and over, you solve it the same way. This time, I was handed a more unfamiliar riddle and was unsure of the answer.

When it was all said and done, I was happy with the way the design turned out. That doesn’t mean it was perfect or that it was even going to be approved by the client. But it felt like a positive step.

With that in mind, here are the things I’m going to tell myself the next time I face a project that isn’t in my happy place. And maybe they just might help you, too.

You’re Not Being Punished
When I have to do something that makes me uncomfortable, it feels like some sort of cosmic curse has been put on me. Of course, I know that’s not really the case (at least, I don’t think it is). But the thing to remember is that it’s just another challenge in a life full of them.

You Might Fail Initially
The first idea may not be the best one – but that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.

You’ll Get It – Eventually
Working a different way often takes some trial and error, which also takes a bit more time. But if you keep working, you’ll end up with the answers you need.

You’ll Be Better for Having Conquered It
Oftentimes, the best way to combat being uncomfortable with a project is to force yourself to do it. The reward is that you’ll feel a rush of confidence for having taken it on.

No Reason to Panic

It’s All Part of the Job

When you think about it, web design (and life) would be pretty boring if we did things the same exact way every time. Still, when someone asks us to create a design that goes against our instincts, our initial reaction may be to run as fast and as far away as possible. But that just leads us to complacency and stagnation.

It turns out that the key to dealing with these kinds of projects is to work through your fears and preconceived notions. You’ll find out that your design skills are much more flexible than you might have thought.

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