From Ruthless to Encouraging: Competition in Design


From Ruthless to Encouraging: Competition in Design

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.”

Before I took the leap to go full-time freelance, I talked to many creatives, including veteran freelancers and those in full-time corporate jobs, about their experiences. One thing I heard over and over was “the world of design is cut-throat.”

It’s true, the world of design (in general) can be ruthless. If you’re in it long enough, you’ll see a lot of nasty things. It can turn friends against each other in an instant—just so they can be the “best” designer in the room. People you’ve known for years can throw personal attacks or get unnecessarily defensive in a design critique. I didn’t like seeing ideas stolen and presented as “original,” credit not given to those who deserve it, and friendships being used for professional gain only. I didn’t like how people would get “above” doing certain design projects (and make you feel less than if you did them), or how those that bailed others out and worked late hours were overlooked. And these things happen everywhere. Huge corporate design studios, 5-man shops, college classrooms and yes, even in the freelance world.

It also doesn’t have to be like this. I’ve been speaking against this way of thinking from the start of my career, and even though it didn’t help me climb the ladder when I was in the corporate world, now…being a freelancer, I fully believe it’s a major reason for my success the past 4 years. Being able to work with almost anyone, being collaborative vs competitive, being able to take constructive feedback, being willing to work on smaller projects (like I’ve said before, these often lead to the big projects!), working weird hours that aren’t conducive to 9-5 and most importantly, staying humble and true to who I am.

I try hard to cultivate in myself a spirit of generosity and abundance rather than scarcity. I firmly believe that there is enough work for everyone (think of all the awful logos, signs, ads, etc. you see on a daily basis…they all need us!!). I believe that all creative ideas can and should be heard. Creatives (and specifically, freelancers!) should support one another, share their tips and tricks openly, and help one another climb the ladder to success instead of pulling each other down. (That’s one reason I started this blog in the first place!)

Everyone deserves a chance to hear “This is AMAZING!!” in a design review. Or to win that huge project from a prestigious client. Sometimes that’s going to be you, sometimes that’s going to be me. When it happens, we should be genuinely happy for one another. We should be smiling and high-fiving and feeling no hint of jealousy, because it feels great to be in that situation. We’ve all been there and will be again. Let’s not hoard all that goodness for ourselves, let’s share it!

We may not always be able to pull this off or get it perfect, but if our intentions are pure and aimed in the right direction, that’s what matters. This way of thinking not only helps us individually to feel less stressed and more compassionate every day, but it also helps build and keep relationships as we move through projects and work with clients, coworkers and friends!

So next time you find yourself feeling envious or competitive, remember that tomorrow it might be you who’s winning the project, getting the new client or receiving rave reviews—how would you want everyone to respond to your success?

Here’s to teamwork!

For insight into what inspired me for this post, check out these recents reads/listens: