Designers: Kill Your Darlings

Mike Aleo · January 16, 2019

The expression “kill your darlings” is usually attributed to the great Southern author William Faulkner. In giving this advice to writers, Faulkner meant: you know that word or sentence or paragraph that you feel the proudest of, that you think is the prettiest thing you’ve ever written? — get rid of it. Your work will be better for it and the reader will thank you.

Sometimes, designers have to do this too. As in any creative field, it is easy to become attached to something you’ve created that you think is especially pretty. In design, as in writing, sometimes you have to tear apart or even outright “kill your darlings.”

Many new designers are attached to the visual aspects of their work. As we grow and gain more experience, we realize that aesthetics are just one small part of effective design. For clients, “pretty” is one item on a long checklist. It’s important to understand what business goals the client is trying to achieve. Become the user’s advocate, rather than your design’s advocate.

Maturing as a designer is seeing the difference between decorating and protecting the user’s interests. Being the user’s advocate is what will actually achieve business goals for the client. Although a client may initially choose to work with you based on your style or your aesthetic, ultimately these are not the things you’re being paid for. What clients need are your ideas: your feedback, your ability to recognize business goals, your ability to present information, your ability to innovate and improve functionality so that your work improves their bottom line.

Clients care about results, not your feelings. Remember that their critiques are not personal. Don’t take it personally if your design is torn apart. In fact, tear it apart yourself. The best approach is to be aware that you are all working toward common goals. 

Keep the discussion on ideas, results, and goals rather than your feelings. The end product, and your emotions will be better for it in the long run.