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Design Regrets

“Absolutely no regrets.


Regrets are universal. Everyone (except Madonna) has them. According to Regretsonly.com: Regrets transcend age, gender, race, culture, nationality, religion, language, social status and geographic location.

Yet, as a culture, regrets seem to be rarely talked about. We are always ready to criticize; ready to point fingers and accuse. Rarely are we ready to admit we were wrong, and even rarer is there a public lament. I pored through five books by designers this morning: Milton Glaser’s Art is Work, Bruce Mau’s Lifestyle, Tibor’s Tibor, Kirkham’s Charles and Ray Eames, and Nicholas Burke’s Michael Graves. Except for Milton’s “12 Steps to Hell,” there was nary a word about mistakes, regrets, and those small, late-night “I wish I had done something differently” moments.

But I think it is helpful to learn from others’ mistakes. So I put it to the brave Speak Up writers and readers: looking back on the work you have done and the things you have been through in your practices, careers, projects and so on: Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Any regrets out there?

+ See also Speak Up: Screw-Ups, Low Points

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PUBLISHED ON Jun.26.2003 BY debbie millman
wick’s comment is:

I regret that I didn't make the commitment to studying graphic design earlier in my life. (I was an engineer until I switched careers at 30.)

I sometimes regret that I didn't make a deeper commitment by going to a better school. (Though admittedly my comparative lack of school loan debt feels pretty good.)

I regret not meeting more designers. But at least that regret is still pretty much fixable.

On Jun.26.2003 at 11:40 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

I sometimes regret that I didn't make a deeper commitment by going to a better school.

I went to Northeastern University for medicine. 2 years in I switched to graphic design. Sometimes I regret that I didn't transfer to a "real" art school, but then I realize that I wouldn't be who I am today.

Oh how cliche.

On Jun.26.2003 at 11:51 AM
Corey’s comment is:

The two biggest regrets that I can think of at the moment are -

Not paying attention to my history of graphic design teacher. It was a phenominal class, taught by an industry leader that I truly respect, but the class was unfortunately scheduled directly after lunch and the teacher had a very lulling voice. I don't think I finished a single lecture. There have been so many instances where I wish I could remember Depero (sp?) or the pyschology behind the 'little man' (characters like Bibendum) and a myriad of other topics covered in that class.

The other regret was a job I turned down because I didn't want to travel. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It would have opened so many doors for me, I would have met so many great designers and I would have learned so much. It's a shame.

On Jun.26.2003 at 12:32 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Don't dwell on regrets.

On Jun.26.2003 at 12:34 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Don't dwell on regrets.

Well, duh! Of course not, but we are just sharing here ;o)

Every single project I do, there is always a sense of regret that I didn't spend that extra hour(s) on it to make it even better. But hey, a man has to sleep... and keep Speak Up going.

On more specific projects...

On some logo concepts I did at marchFIRST for some wacked client, I showed one that was exactly like something Bruce Mau did (can't remember the name, but it was a bucnh of deformed O's in various colors interpolating.) I intentionally set out to do something like that, when we had an internal review somebody said that it looked familiar and I denied it. We showed it to the client but he didn't pick it. I would feel like shit if that logo had made it all the way through. Moral of the story: don't buy Life Style.

What else? Yeah, maybe that I would have paid some more attention in college, but not really, most of my teachers didn't have too much to offer.

When I was teaching at Portfolio Center I highly regret not pushing the students more. I was very loose and very "understanding." I feel like I should have done more, maybe one of these days I'll go back and kick all their collective asses.

On Jun.26.2003 at 12:57 PM
graham’s comment is:

regrets-i've had a few: but then again, too few to mention.

On Jun.26.2003 at 01:00 PM
graham’s comment is:

actually, the things i regret most are to do with not following single mindedly the first thought or idea on a project. for me, 9 times out of 10 things would have been a lot better for it-nothing i can ever prove, just something i feel, know, and always try to act more definitely upon these days.

On Jun.26.2003 at 01:03 PM
ss’s comment is:

As for design books, I believe Sagmeister: Made You Look lists a few regrets he's had.

On Jun.26.2003 at 01:06 PM
Eric’s comment is:

i have one really bad pit of my stomach feeling from something that happened about ten years ago:

I had just had a piece published in American Illustration and a publisher had seen the piece in the book and called me to congratulate me. He asked if he could see my portfolio and if i wanted some work. My response, and i still can't believe i said this, was, "but i'm still in school."

He kindly gave me his contact info and told me to give him a call when i was ready. I was too embarrassed to ever call.

On Jun.26.2003 at 01:35 PM
armin’s comment is:

So, what up Debbie? Your regrets...

Another recurring regret is not being more honest to clients, would it actually be so bad to tell them that their current branding (overall: logo, brochures, posters, toilet paper, body language) is not working? I always bite my tongue on this aspect. Someday... over the rainbow... oh, wait, that should be somewhere... I know, I'm being silly, but it's Sam Potts fault.

On Jun.26.2003 at 01:57 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Everyday at 530pm, I regret having spent more time than prudent posting to Speak Up, rather than finishing work I should've done. :-p

Kiran -- we're kindred souls. I wasted years in medicine before switching to design. But you know what? I realized since that knowledge of any kind is never a waste.

Man, that sounded corny. This should be titled Bad Cliches from Designers.

On Jun.26.2003 at 02:08 PM
armin’s comment is:

>Everyday at 530pm, I regret having spent more time than prudent posting to Speak Up, rather than finishing work I should've done.

We appreciate your business. Thank you. Come again!

On Jun.26.2003 at 02:14 PM
Paul’s comment is:

I regret that I didn't keep copies of all of the flyers, zines, handbills, t-shirts, party invites and all manner of crap that I made before I went to school and became a real Graphic Designer. (sarcasm intended)

Not that it was all brilliant. In fact, most of it probably sucked. But I'd love to be able to at least look at it with the eyes I have now.

I also regret that I didn't sleep with Madonna when I had the chance, when we were both so young and foolish...

On Jun.26.2003 at 02:20 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Like Graham, I've had a few. One big regret is turning down a job to be the editor of a small rock magazine in the '80's. I turned it down to support the editor at the time, and still believe I made the right moral decision, but I still fantasize about what it would have been like to have taken it, and what I would've done with it.

I, like Armin, sometimes bite my tongue when I want to say things like: "Oh, just what the world needs, another "water enhancer" or another "pre-cooked chicken meal" or other seemingly meaningless line extensions to a line extension." But sometimes I don't bite my tongue, so I just have to try harder to be more consistent...

And I also regret not having gone to an AIGA Brand Experience meeting in Las Vagas (death in the family) a couple of years back that ultimately took the little special interest group I had a lot heart for in a different direction than I was hoping.

But--regrets are interesting things. I think it is important to have them. I agree we shouldn't dwell on them--but they are important to learn from. And it could also give you the impetus to do things differently next time...

Oh and on a different theme...I regret I have never learned read music or learn another language. At least not yet...

On Jun.26.2003 at 02:21 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

Paul, be careful what you wish for! I recently found my high school yearbook layouts and almost cried when I saw what I did to Bodoni.

My regrets are usually about particular projects rather than career moves. I usually wish I hadn't sent that last (awful) comp because the client never fails to choose it. I alternate between wishing I had prettied up a title page and left it alone. I always kick myself for using a different typeface for the cover when the text face would have sufficed. Stuff like that.

On Jun.26.2003 at 03:16 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

I regret having taken myself SO goddamn seriously and not making enough time to enjoy this great, great field we're in. But hell, I'm 24...what do I know about regret?

I won't regret not regretting though, that much I'm sure of.

On Jun.26.2003 at 03:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, trying to be serious and reflective here.

When I started college, I regret having turned down the opp to attend Stanford, where I applied on a fluke and got accepted. Instead, I chose the financially secure route and stayed near friends and family. Oh well.

In college, like Kiran, I regret not having found graphic design sooner. I floundered for a few aimless years there. Sometimes I regret not looking further into industrial design or automotive design, but that's another story.

When I graduated, I regret not pursuing a job in NYC -- when I had a really good contact and a standing offer at a well-known firm. Instead, I opted for Minneapolis. Who the hell knows why?

I've always regretted not demanding more salary and vacation time at most of the places I've worked. The naivete of youth I suppose.

In my work, I've regretted not pushing clients further or myself further on too many occasions to count. Missed opportunities on annual reports, identities, and a number of stupid little jobs.

I once gave a filmed interview for AIGA MN that I regretted afterwards -- I sounded soooo green and stupid.

I've regretted fashion choices here and there. Bad shirts, bad shoes, bad haircuts.

Let see, I've regretted being too harsh to support staff on more than one occasion. I'm not mean or anything, but I can be very direct and blunt. And I expect people to put out as much effort as I do. At one agency, I held the record for making the most number of people who worked with/for me, cry. Not something I'm proud of. But I've gotten much better since -- I'm a pushover now compared to the ogre I used to be.

I regret missing the Fuse conference when it was in SF a few years back.

I regret not having started my own firm earlier.

And nowadays, I regret everyday not being able to spend more time with my kids. I know it's sappy, but they're only young once.

On Jun.26.2003 at 03:53 PM
Damien’s comment is:

I regret all the time and moments that I think I know 'it all' and I am incapable of seeing beyond that and just how much I really don't know. It has often slowed me down and on occasion embarrasses me that I imposed some of my behavior and 'design' on others.

I don't, however, regret any mistakes I've ever made. Most mistakes I didn't learn from until I repeated them enough and the others were big enough that I probably walked differently after them. I left school earlier than some, started my first firm earlier than most and failed at a lot of things that I am very glad I tried.

I suppose I could regret not asking for 'her' number when I had the chance...

On Jun.26.2003 at 04:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

This thread sorta reminds me of the Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life. Always a good laugh on cable.

On Jun.26.2003 at 06:16 PM
priya’s comment is:

like tan and kiran, i also played the pre-med game in undergrad. only for me it lasted about a year and i applied to the art school and got in for my sophomore year. i'm thankful for the quick recognition that medicine wasnt for me although i regret not transferring out of here and going somewhere where the design community wasn't as.... non-existant. (and if i'm wrong and they are existant here in Buffalo, i wish they would make themselves more available to the design students at my school)

not much else left to regret. do soddy relationships count? if so, i regret that.

i must say, this thread is quite nice to read as i finish school.

On Jun.26.2003 at 06:47 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

Beautiful work Priya!!

I recently found my high school yearbook layouts

I regret not having worked on my highschool yearbook and learning about paste-ups and grease pencils.

On Jun.26.2003 at 06:58 PM
eric’s comment is:

my first year at art center they spent a ton of time drilling us with the importance of technical pens and compasses.

in the category of "all knowledge is useful" i'm thankful that i'm not a complete loss, but i sure do regret spending all that money and time trying to get the gouache the right consistency for the ruling pen. that junk has done nothing but rot in my closet since 1988.

And Tan, love the pre 1990 Albert Brooks (i've not yet seen Nemo). But for my money this is more of a Burt Reynolds in The End type of thread.

On Jun.26.2003 at 09:53 PM
priya’s comment is:

:) thanks kevin. i share your thoughts about not learning the traditional method.

i learned typography straight up on the computer. that's how my college teaches it... everything in freehand and quark and photoshop. no tracing letterforms and whatnot. i sorta wish i learned it that way and then the computer application. ditto with pasteups.

i think i regret an awful much.

On Jun.27.2003 at 02:05 AM
lyndi’s comment is:

i could easily say that if i think about it, i do regret some decisions i've made in the line of design. but honestly if all i think of is the regrets, i'm living in the past and not focusing on the future. my life is ahead of me, not behind me.

i say the same thing for all aspects of my life.

we all do things for a reason, to live and learn.

On Jun.27.2003 at 04:11 PM
Amanda’s comment is:

I regret not focusing on my illustration work sooner. Because that is the jazz that really makes me excited.

On Jun.30.2003 at 02:58 PM
Ben’s comment is:

I regret thinking when I was 17 that Triplex Condensed Black was the perfect headline face to match Mrs. Eaves. Still makes me cringe.

On Jun.30.2003 at 05:13 PM
luumpo’s comment is:

I recently found my high school yearbook layouts and almost cried when I saw what I did to Bodoni.

No big deal, it is bodoni after all. I think what you did to it could only have made it better.

On Jun.30.2003 at 09:21 PM
laserbeam's ’s comment is:

I was offered to do a Robobits camera job during a massive layoff at the tv station I worked at for 17 years. I started doing it but got real scared and decided to take the buyout instead. Now looking for work in televison I am regretting not trying the robotics job more.

I keep saying to myself "Don't Look Back" but it's so freaking hard.

I learned something though,


On May.14.2004 at 08:48 PM
Michael Browers’s comment is:

I have to echo Debbie's sentiments for regretting not learning a second language... Although, I am working at changing that as my fiance is Azeri, so learning Russian is important as it would allow me to communicate directly with her relatives, my future father in-law in particular. So far I am very good at learning the english parts of "Learn in Your Car: Russian" tapes... for example: "I would like to buy a ticket at the train station."

On May.14.2004 at 09:30 PM
Anthony Edwards’s comment is:

I regret never posting to Speak Up. Only watching on the sidelines. Well, now that I've got that out of the way.

I regret believing for so many years that drawing could not be learned. Those arty types really make you think that divine intervention and a 4B pencil is all they needed.

On May.15.2004 at 09:48 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I regret not picking up my pencil enough to draw. I don't mean sketch, doodle, or thumbnail. I mean Draw. Looking. Seeing. Observing. Meditating on an object. Be the ball... be the ball... be the ball. Quicktime sound link.

On May.16.2004 at 01:48 AM